Alright, who's to blame for this? The team in Rogue One did not fight and lay down their lives for a mediocre Star Wars film. Do we blame Batman Begins, who started the trend for films to explain every single detail of a main character's journey to immortality. Do we blame the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has led us down the path of siphoning off characters for sub-franchise tangents instead of the films we actually want to watch. Do we blame Disney, whose billions of dollars have given them a toy box packed with nostalgia-filled properties to repackage and sell to us as extended merchandise adverts. Or do we blame ourselves, the viewer, who now demand a regular fix of our favourite franchise that comfortably fits within our narrow pre-determined perspective on what these films should be. Who is to blame for Solo: A Star Wars Movie being so approachably bland, so passable, so instantly forgettable, so lifeless?
For those unfamiliar with who Han Solo is (and these people are probably not going to get much out of this film), here he is a young street rat who, in escaping one criminal underworld, finds himself partnering with nefarious characters to take part in a series of heists all while trying to save his friend from the life of crime she has become part of.
In the original trilogy Han arrives fully-formed. It doesn't matter how he ended up on Tatooine, how he end up with a wookie as a partner, how ended up on the wrong side of Jabba the Hutt. A prequel feels unnecessary, the details covered here are ones I did not need to know. As the film moves forward at its relentless pace, little of it impacts. There are occasional sparks of life in this film. An early action scene on a train as it twirls and whirls its way through a winter landscape is effective. There are fun moments between Chewbacca and Han who quickly click and become friends. Bradford Young's cinematography has an epic sweep to it but comes undone in a browny-grey murk for the interiors. And, at the very least, the costumes, and in particular the capes, are just fabulous. Solo's real heroes are the costume designers Glyon Dillon and David Crossman.
The cast feel mostly wasted here, battling a chunky, clunky script. Alden Ehrenreich is an effective, often charismatic lead who feels too passive to match Harrison Ford. But that is such a mammoth task that he deserves credit for having any impact at all. The rest of the ensemble feel like talent unused. Woody Harrelson is effectively reheating his performance from the Hunger Games. Donald Glover, as Lando Calrissian, has the swagger but not the screen team he deserves. Emilia Clarke is saddled with a love story that is just not compelling, in a film that can never seem to nail down her motivation. Thandie Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are both criminally underused. Paul Bettany has some impact in the villain's role but disappears for much of the film, potentially a victim of the film's reshoots.
I have purposefully not talked about this film's troubled production. It is a fascinating story, one we will be talking about long after Solo has left our collective memories. The film ends on the promise of more adventures with Han and I'd be lying if I didn't feel a pang of curiosity of where the series goes next. I am programmed to be curious about Star Wars, a franchise I have loved since I was a child. But a 'just fine' Star Wars is a crushing blow for any of fan of the series. And after four film's in the new Disney incarnation of the series, one has to question where this is all going. Star Wars has been so driven by the creative force of George Lucas (both for the better and worse of it) that it now seems devoid of an artistic centre. Are we now doomed to an eternity of mediocrity, paying fan service without adding anything new or exciting? If this is the case, I have a bad feeling about this.