'Solo: A Star Wars Story': Some heart, not enough

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Another year, another Star Wars anthology film built to expand the galaxy far far away has arrived. While 2016 saw fans of the series contend with the suicide mission that was Rogue One, 2018 brings to the fore the young Han Solo.

Starting off on Correlia, a planet repeatedly described as a sewer among other creative names, 'Solo' starts off with a grand ambition to show us a young and idealistic Han Solo and the journey that made him the cynical smuggler we all know and love from 'A New Hope'.

The film begins on a fast note with a car chase and Han already warming up to scamming people he works for, but after a separation between him and his girl Qi'ra (Clarke), Han finds himself working for...the Empire.

Of course, since this is Solo, no job really lasts forever and he quickly befriends a group of thieves masquerading as Imperial soldiers, led by Tobias Beckett (Harrelson), to steal a tonne of fuel for cash, meets Chewbacca and deserts his post in the process.

What goes on from there is a not-so-colourful journey as Han finds himself under the employ of Dryden Vos, portrayed in an efficient albeit average performace by Paul Bettany in your standard villain-of-the-week fare, as Han enters the tuelage of Beckett and with the begrudging aid of Lando Calrissian (Glover) and his droid L3-37 (Bridge) - who has a penchant for dirty talk - learns the tools of the trade while attempting to pull off a really risky heist job and try to steal raw fuel from an Imperial mine, leading to a visually intense presentation of the legendary Kessel Run on the Millenium Falcon.

The film was mired in a controversially complicated production with directors and actors coming and leaving as Disney scrambled to get a film around the early days of Han Solo out in the theatres. Matters were also not helped by a marketing campaign which started barely three months before the film's release, normally not a good sign - and unfortunately, it's for good reason.

The film tries - and barely manages - to tackle some critical plot points, which mostly surrounds introducing characters that we know from the Original Trilogy in Han, Chewie and Lando. Unfortunately, that seems to be the extent of the fare as the rest of the characters seem to be of little consequence. Even Qi'ra, who started out as a cornerstone of Han's quest, returns in the most unceremonious fashion, sending his entire motivation for a toss.
 
The film also suffers from the need to create a prequel film instead of standing on its own. Unlike Rogue One, which gave us organic storytelling in addition to being a prequel, Solo seems content with ticking items off a list with little room for organic development of characters. Even Han and Lando, who were seen as friends in 'Empire', seem to be on a fence and barely have any meaningful interaction. The film's lack of ability in standing on its own also manifests as a blatant sequel-bait.
 
Where the film does succeed admirably is its music. While the score for the film has been composed by John Powell ('How to Train Your Dragon'), the return of the classic Star Wars theme by Williams is always going to be a welcome addition. Additionally, despite the shoddy direction, a byproduct of the troubled production, the cinematography is crisp and clean. Special note must be made to the visual effects team for creating accurate-feeling environments, be it on Correlia's industrial streets or the Spice mine of Kessel, every set looks and feels authentic.
 
Solo had a lot of potential to rise as the quintessential backstory for Han Solo, the quirky smuggler who could always find a way out of a pinch, but the troubled production was more than it could handle, and what came out of the bout was less a prequel and more a mechanical process to familiarise people with Han Solo's chequered past, and maybe sell some toys in the process.
 
Score: 3/5

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'Solo: A Star Wars Story': Some heart, not enough

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