Solo spin-off review: A One-time Watch

The Skywalker melodrama has long dominated the going-ons of a galaxy far, far away. But when its most raffish and swaggering member got bumped off at Starkiller in The Force Awakens (2015), it shook up every Star Wars fan to the core. 

Time‘s Stephanie Zacharek wrote, ‘I never knew how much I cared about Han Solo until it was too late.’

Except in a franchise world, chock blocked with remakes and reboots, there’s no such thing as mortality. Three years later, the Corellian smuggler has transmuted into Alden Ehrenreich’s smirk face to spearhead a gratuitous origins story, Solo: A Star Wars Story.

What it really is though is a glorified Han Solo trivia file checking off celebrated myths of a fan-favourite character. 

Question is: How Han Solo is Han Solo in the absence of Harrison Ford? Ford and Solo’s gruff masculinity and smug humour remain so deeply intertwined, it’s impossible to tell one from another. 

While it’s brave of Ehrenreich to step into his boots, the young actor is out of his depth. Nothing about him indicates that sarcasm and risk taking would become the future Solo’s defining attributes. As impressive as he otherwise is, Ehrenreich’s boyish ardour is not the same breed as Solo’s cynical, conceited space cowboy.

What comes forth is no rogue, no upstart but a starstruck knock-off unable to wipe off his grin on holding THE blaster pistol. I wonder how things would have turned out if the Jennifer Lawrence as Han Solo rumours had turned out to be true.

Directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), stepping in after original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) got fired over creative differences, Solo is anything but subversive.

In this intergalactic coming-of-age tale, Han Solo wants to get out of his crummy planet, pilot a groovy spaceship and reunite with his sweetheart Qi’Ra (a spectacularly tepid Emilia Clarke with whom he shares the dullest chemistry).

When most official organisations cannot handle him having a ‘mind of his own,’ he joins a cheeky thief named Beckett (Woody Harrelson, easy peasy) and his crew to learn the tricks of the trade and make a few quick bucks.

Throw in a mandatory Droid (voiced by an excellent Phoebe Waller Bridge) and you’ve got a frame filled with quip-ready oddballs, which soon dissipates to entertain the scar-faced Paul Bettany’s glowering villainy.

Along the way, we learn how Han Solo got his name, met his Wookiee BFFF (Best Furry Friend Forever) Chewbacca, procured his precious pistol, came to own his prized spacecraft and made the Kesslar run in less than 12 parsecs.

Amidst these historic particulars, Danny Glover’s Lando works up a sneaky, hang loose vibe that is delightfully oblivious to the pressure of playing the original owner of the Millennium Falcon.

It’s the only time Solo feels like a prequel.

Otherwise it’s funny how often Solo gloats in its own nostalgia. It’s like Chewbacca’s groaning presence, John Williams classic tune and other familiar props and paraphernalia, everything is just doing its bit to compensate for Ford’s sorely missed devilry. 

There’s a surprise cameo too, a personal favourite from the Star Wars canon, towards the end that reiterates the aforementioned principle of franchise immortality.

But as long as Solo is a series of neatly sewn high-octane action spectacle — the speeder chase in the opening sequence, a zippy train heist amid icy mountains to steal some high value coaxium or Falcon bolting out of a fiery space tornado and giant tentacle monster — it’s an unobjectionable, one-time watch.

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