* * * 1/2
Since you’re going to see a movie about the young Han Solo – not a boy or teen, though, a young man, a little younger than Harrison Ford in A New Hope – you generate some expectations. You’d like to see him do that Kessel Run in under however many parsecs. You want to see him win that Millennium Falcon off Lando Calrissian in a card game. And you definitely want to see him get tangled up with Jabba The Hutt.
I won’t tell you how many of these vital questions get answered. What I will say, happily, is that Solo: A Star Wars Story actually tells you what you really wanted to know, and tells it very, very well: How Han Solo met Chewbacca, and how they become co-pilots, smugglers, and best friends.
The actor playing Chewbacca, a six foot eleven inch Finn named Joonas Suotamo, is pretty remarkable, and the chemistry between him and Alden Ehrenreich (whom I’ve already declared rather brilliant in Hail Caesar and Rules Don’t Apply) is palpable, believable, and deeply satisfying. It’s easy to forget the wonder, all those years ago, of being introduced to a character who’s partner in crime was a wookie, but you get it all back here, and it makes sense.
The camaraderie and banter between the two is complemented well by a motley crew of bandits, vagabonds and nightcrawlers in what is essentially a heist movie. Actually, it’s a movie with three heists, each adding a character or two or taking some away. Solo’s there throughout, obviously. Chewie joins first, then we get a dodgy crim called, rather hilariously, Tobias Beckett, played, rather hilariously, by Woody Harrelson; cascading behind him come Thandie Newton, Jon Favreau, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and, of course and already famously, Donald Glover as Calrissian. Sneaking in sideways, not so much a partner in crime as – and I did not see this coming – a serious love interest, is Emilia Clarke. And she’s great. I have never rated her on Game of Thrones; she’s always been that show’s weak link for me. But here she’s tremendous, game, up for it, and displaying just the right lightness of touch. All up, the gang is a lot of fun.
As for Ehrenreich… he’s excellent. He was served a tough, and thankless, gig, but he’s proved the naysayers wrong, as far as I’m concerned, with a performance that honours Ford without slavishly copying him. By the time we met Han in A New Hope, he was already cool; Ehrenreich’s Han is not yet cool, but he’s learning, trying it on, and occasionally making an ass of himself. It’s a funny performance but it’s also nuanced and, dare I say it, really very brave. Seriously, talk about taking a risk when taking a role!
I laughed out loud half a dozen times during Solo, and to me, it’s most enjoyable as a romp. The action really never stops, there are heaps of witty references, one-liners and sight gags, and everyone’s fun is infectious. There’s no rebellion and no force, so you don’t have to keep track of who’s got the force and who’s strong with the force. There’s a good villain (Paul Bettany) and a surprisingly heartfelt romance. But when I think back on it, the heart of the film remains with the relationship between one man and his wookie. It’s the bromance of 2018.