After directorial swapping and rumours (or outright reports) of production issues, Han Solo swaggers onto our screens again – or is that a limp? Ron Howard’s rescue job is a creditable and, most importantly, likable affair, but it drags in places and shows its seams in others.
Alden Ehrenreich (you’ll know him from Hail, Caesar! or not at all) is our young rapscallion, mired in poverty on a nowhere planet as the Empire spreads across the galaxy. With his paramour Q’ira, played with surprising range by Emilia Clarke, he tries to scam his way offworld, and succeeds, with the catch that Q’ira is left behind, stranded in the criminal underworld. Han resolves to return for her, but needs a ship to do so.
Jumping the action forward a few years finds Han a reluctant cog in the Empire’s machine, but when he grabs the chance to join up with Tobias Beckett (the ever able Woody Harrelson) and his gang of thieves. This kicks off the real meat of the plot, as Han and Tobias manoeuvre to pay off a debt owed to the generically nasty and pointlessly scarred Paul Bettany as criminal boss Dryden Vos. Their slapdash plans bring them into the orbit of a young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) among others, and play out as a series of mini-heists.
Solo’s pacing and plotting is mediocre – its holds surprises in places, but more often unfolds procedurally, and noticeably lacks the intercutting that is such a staple of the main saga films. Its central performances are similarly patchwork – all of its most marketable starts, Ehenreich, Clarke and Glover, offer some perfect deliveries, and all of them offer poor ones. So much, so reshot; a patched-up movie feeling patchwork is hardly a shock.
Yet Solo also brings sparkle to the table. When Ehenreich is on form, and he predominantly is, his naturalistic aping of Harrison Ford’s Han is so excellent as to be unnoticeable; Clarke’s eager romanticism in the film’s opening moments is charmingly done; and Glover’s sensual tones are well suited to Lando’s suave preening.
Moreover, and as always since Disney’s takeover, the strength of set and prop design here is stunning – the much-vaunted lived-in aesthetic of the Star Wars universe has never looked grittier or better. They’re not always given the luxury of much screen time, but droids, horizons and ships alike look unique, and uniquely ‘Star Wars’. Some moments clearly echo altogether different histories, however, from the Westerns that fuel both a late standoff and a revived steam-train heist to a grungy take on Casino Royale’s gambling glitz.
These details, and their sense of reality, show the promise that Solo must have held at the design stage. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t live up to them as a coherent whole, but there are charming sequences be found in its muddy depths.