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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Film review: Why Solo: A Star Wars Story is a disappointment 

Alden Ehrenreich lacks the charisma that made Harrison Ford’s incarnation the most lovable rogue in the Star Wars universe

The great and the good of the galaxy were in attendance at the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The actors on the famous Cannes red carpet included stars Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton and Emilia Clarke, as well as director Ron Howard. Stealing the show was Chewbacca, although it’s unclear who was under the costume as the actor who plays the Wookie in the film, Joonas Suotamo, walked up the carpet in his dinner jacket.

Thandie Newton wore a dress that pointedly showcased the small selection of black characters with prominent roles in the Star Wars films. After all the build up and fanfare, Solo: A Star Wars Story, the much-hyped origin story of one of the Star Wars Universe's best-loved characters, was quite disappointing.

Alden Ehrenreich plays Han Solo as a young sly rebel, but he lacks the charisma that made Harrison Ford’s incarnation the most lovable rogue in the Star Wars universe. Ehrenreich doesn’t seem sure whether he should mimic Ford, or give his own interpretation, thought to be fair to the actor, he’s not given much of a script to work with.

Perhaps some of the difficulty in deciding what angle to take came from a lack of direction. It’s not entirely surprising that the film feels so uneven given its troubled production - the original directors of the film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), were fired midway through the shoot over creative differences and replaced by the steady hands of Ron Howard (Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind).

Han Solo is the first of the Star Wars universe characters to be showcased with his own origin story. The opening scenes of the film establish that he grew up in a time of chaos and from a young age had been using his wits and guile to survive life on Corellia, a planet seemingly born under a sun with a permanent monochrome lens filter.

He grew up alongside his first love, Qi’ra and together they concoct a plan to escape from their tyrannised homeland and its dull colour palate. In the great traditions of the Star Wars movies, the pair are split up when only one of them escapes. No prizes for guessing which one.

Writer Lawrence Kasdan wrote Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and he wants to evoke that memory in the plotting. However, along with his son and co-writer Jonathan, he has forgotten to give Solo what made those films so memorable - a definitive villain. This film really lacks a Darth Vader to give a sense of jeopardy and evoke the power of the dark side. The ostensible villain is Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos, but the character comes across as camp rather than sinister.

In the process of Han fleeing from his home planet, we get to discover how he met his likeable furry sidekick Chewbacca, how the Solo name was bestowed upon him and that he spent three years in pilot school, where he learned the tricks to escape from TIE fighters and the like. We also see the card game that won him the iconic spaceship the Millennium Falcon, which also marks the start of his love-hate relationship with Lando Calrission (Donald Glover). Glover is one of the movies highlights, and illuminates the screen whenever we see him.

Another important relationship for Han in this film is the one that he has with Beckett (Woody Harrelson), a world-weary trader who becomes his mentor and doles out the advice to trust no one, a facet of Solo's character that will be familiar to fans of the previous films.

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This is a film featuring dubious, dastardly characters living on their wits and it should be a riotous fun affair, yet it is in those moments when the action slows downs from all the space chases and explosions and allows time for the characters to collect their thoughts and breathe that it really shines.

Its biggest strength is the on-off relationship between Han and the feisty, duplicitous Qi’ra, which is the perfect catalyst for Solo becoming the cad we know and love, and explains why he is so weary of the ladies by the time he meets Princess Leia in Episode 4.

The action is surprisingly disappointing. Most of the blockbuster moments feature so many fast cuts that there is none of the epic quality that is a mainstay of the franchise. With no tension or sense of menace these scenes drag rather than exhilarate.

When the Star Wars franchise was rebooted under the Disney banner, it was Ford’s Solo that shone in The Force Awakens. He was gruff, silent and slightly cantankerous. In stark contrast, it’s hard to be enamoured by Ehrenreich’s talkative, bratty, wide-eyed incarnation of Solo.