Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Donald Glover
Released: 25th May 2018 – Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival 2018
Reviewer: Rehna Azim
Solo is the only major Hollywood showcase film at Cannes 2018. Big budget studio films from the USA have generally been rare this year. Apparently the major studios are preferring to launch their awards contenders and big guns at the upcoming autumn festivals rather than take on the costly Croissette.
So, Solo, swaggered in last night as the critic proof blockbuster, for its European premiere. It would not be unfair to say that some in the press pack had visions of a minor disaster that would irreparably damage the Star Wars behemoth. Largely because, although much anticipated, the film has had a rocky journey to its unveiling. Ron Howard took over six months after production began because of ‘creative differences’ between Disney and the original directors Lord and Miller. Then there were rumours of Alden Ehrenreich requiring an acting coach because he wasn’t quite cutting it as a young Harrison Ford. He had been a somewhat controversial choice anyway as some fans complained he looked nothing like Ford. Also, for a long time the buzz simply wasn’t there. Solo was dubbed the origin story no one had asked for. A box office pasting was predicted.
However, in recent weeks the film’s fortunes began to change. Test screenings met with a positive response. Tracking has it opening big at the box office and the press queues last night were huge and excitable.
So, is it any good?
The film starts loud and fast and doesn’t let up until the end when things quieten down in search of a sequel. The story plunges headlong into the Star Wars universe without much exposition and quickly establishes Han as a loner and cocky hustler who doesn’t exactly suffer from modesty. He’s in love with a childhood sweetheart Qi’Ra played by Emilia Clarke who, like him, comes from the wrong side of the tracks. They are on the run from bad guys with dreams of making it big together one day when Han’s ship, literally comes in. The two are quickly separated, however, with Qi’Ra being left behind and Han joining forces with a new set of bad guys (and gals) determined to come back and find her. He’s also on a mission to become the ‘best pilot in the galaxy.’ The leader of this new gang is Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who becomes a good guy/bad guy/frenemy/mentor to Han.
This early part of the film is frantic in the way that a film desperate to be loved can be. The thinking seems to be that if it doesn’t let up on the action, chases and explosions the audience won’t have time to think whether its enjoying the ride or not. Sometimes this approach works, sometimes it doesn’t because an audience has to invest in the characters and story before it can care about the explosions and chases. Solo assumes its audience is already invested in its iconic lead and to an extent that helps this early, slightly clumsy section because Ehrenreich isn’t immediately Han Solo. He is noticeably shorter than Ford, particularly evident when he’s next to Harrelson, really doesn’t look like him and lacks the air of world weariness that Ford had even as a young man.
What also helps the opening act is the humour. The sarcastic wisecracks start coming early and add a welcome levity to the film. Harrelson brings his ‘elder statesman in a big franchise’ factor to the proceedings and Clarke, though she looks like she’s in a ‘50’s musical, brings an attractive freshness.
From the slightly shaky start, however, the film builds up nicely. Ehrenreich grows into the role and his first meeting with Chewbacca is actually rather moving. Beckett teaches him to trust no one and as each betrayal seems to prove him right, you can see him developing into the Han Solo who stole the original Star Wars from under the bland nose of Luke Skywalker.
The rest of the film is basically a heist movie with elements of a western and a love story thrown in. Just when you think, it’s enjoyable but not really a Star Wars film, it deftly throws in a Star Wars element and you get all nostalgic. It is however, the first Star Wars film without light sabers which brings me to the subject of light. I’ve seen the film being described as shot in ‘warm golden hues’. I must have missed that because for ¾ of it all I could think was ‘let there be light!’ This was Star Wars as film noir. I longed for someone to just switch the light on so I could properly see what was going on.
About 10 people in my screening walked out early. They might have hated the movie or they might just have had somewhere else to go, Cannes is a busy festival, after all. But the rest of the huge audience stayed. And, from brief comments I overheard as we walked out, largely enjoyed this latest addition to the SW saga. It’s not an iconic SW film but it’s a perfectly enjoyable one. Ehrenreich finds his feet as Han fairly quickly, Donald Glover is charismatic as Lando, Chewie gets a bit of a backstory, there’s a hilarious new android L3 voiced brilliantly by Phoebe Waller-Bridger and overall, all remains well in a galaxy far, far away.