So now some of my initial thoughts on seeing Solo. I’ll avoid any major spoilers.
To be honest I find myself in the position of looking forward to these spin off movies more than the “episodes”.
Episode 7 was “fine”. Well, to start with anyway, but as it went on I got more frustrated with its inability to do anything original.
Rogue One on the other hand I loved. I ended up seeing that in the cinema three times, something I’ve not done since I was a kid.
Then episode 8, again “fine”. Yes I’m damming with faint praise, but at least it tried to do something different.
But really I’m treating the sequel trilogy as glorified fan fiction where I’m not particularly thrilled with the new characters and the direction it’s going in. And I find I’m not particularly looking forward to Episode 9.
So here we are with the Solo spin off, with its very troubled production history and shouts of “no one wanted this movie” and “you can’t recast Harrison Ford” and “I’m boycotting it because The Last Jedi sucked.” Seriously.
Well I liked Solo perfectly fine. It’s nothing Earth-shattering but I found it fun. It’s a very different movie from the other instalments. All of the others to date have been about the “Star War” if you will. Including Rogue One as that’s inextricably linked to the original Episode IV. Solo is the first movie to be set in the Star Wars universe and not really have anything to do with the War. I find this quite welcome.
The early scenes are set on Han’s home planet Corellia where the teenage Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are teenagers pressed into working for an alien crime boss lady. Han wants nothing more than to escape with Qi’ra off Corellia and they flee to a spaceport where they try to get on a ship. I found those scenes very effective with Han being chased by both the criminals and also trying to avoid running afoul of the Imperial Stormtroopers.
Things don’t go to plan and Han finds himself enlisting in the Empire with the intention of becoming a pilot. Some folk online have not liked the origins of Han’s surname here via the recruiting officer but I liked it fine. I always thought the name Solo might have originated because of something like this. Incidentally I liked the recruitment office’s use of the Imperial March in universe
Flash-forward three years and Han is not the pilot he dreamed of being but is stuck as infantry in a ground war on the muddy planet Mimban. Here we have a very World War 1 kind of vibe complete with trenches, going over the top and a new type of Stormtrooper with a gas mask. It is on Mimban that Han first encounters Tobias Becket (Woody Harrelson) and sees a chance to get away from the Empire.
(I don’t believe that the name Mimban is used in the movie. It previously appeared in the first Star Wars spin-off novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster, published exactly forty years ago in 1978.)
There are certain boxes that need to be ticked in a Han Solo origin movie. How he met Chewie. How he met Lando. How he got his hands on the Millennium Falcon. Oh, and maybe about how the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.
And it is great fun and very satisfying to see Han and Chewie meeting for the first time and quickly becoming inseparable.
There are a number of big action sequences, the most notable being a train heist and later on another heist in the Spice Mines of Kessel. As well as that Kessel Run
The droid character L3 seems to be divining opinion. A lot of people seem upset by that character but I found her quite amusing. She delivered one of my favourite lines in the movie plus there’s a lovely bit of business to explain why the Millennium Falcon’s computer gave C-3PO such headaches in The Empire Strikes Back.
Special mention to Paul Bethany who played the principal villain, crime lord Dryden Vos with such impressively casual insincerity. Donald Glover is also clearly having fun playing the smooth cape-loving Lando.
The movie exhibits a bit of a Western vibe in places. The train heist sequence and the confrontation with the marauders near the end come to mind. Also the marauder leader Enfys Nest turned out to be a more interesting character than I expected.
So what about the casting of Alden as Han Solo? I have to say I liked him perfectly fine. I think he played the more youthful Han very well. There is enough of Han’s trademark attitude and swagger there. One of my favourite moments is when Beckett tells Han not to make eye contact with the guests of Dryden Vos and Han casually mingles with eyes downcast. But Alden also portrays younger Han as having a little more youthful optimism and idealism. He tries to convince Qi’ra that he’s a bad guy but she calls him out on it. She and the audience know Han is anything but.
The end of the movie keeps things very open for a sequel. Who knows if that will happen? Apparently Solo has been underperforming at the box office. If we don’t get another instalment it would be a shame.
So in summary Rogue One remains my favourite of the new movies but I liked Solo much more than either of the “episodes”.