Sunday 3 June 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story by Kasdan & Kasdan

As you will be aware, unless you've spent the last few years in a fallout shelter (tempting, I know...) there are now two series of Star Wars movies running in parallel. 

Firstly we have the mainstream films, which continue to explore the core narrative, like The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

And then there are what I suppose we might call the sidestream movies, which have the subtitle 'A Star Wars Story', I guess to make the point they are not part of the Star Wars story.

So far we've had of these two sidestream movies. The first was Rogue One, which I think is a disgracefully bad piece of film making. A lousy script and an utterly inept piece of storytelling. 

I say this knowing full well that tens of millions of people loved this movie, and you dear reader may be one of them.

If so I apologise, but I stand my ground. Rogue One was awful. Which makes it all the sweeter to report that the new sidestream movie is just plain splendid. I simply loved it and can't wait to see it again.

Solo: A Star Wars Story has the tremendous advantage of a script by Lawrence Kasdan, the best screenwriter every to be involved with the franchise, working in collaboration with his son, Jonathan.

It is, of course, a prequel which fills in the back story of Han Solo. Solo is played by Alden Ehrenreich (not an easy name to spell), who made such a favourable impression in the Coen brothers' Hollywood satire Hail, Caesar! where he played a laconic 1950s cowboy star with a fantastic command of the lasso. (He was also excellent in Stoker and Beautiful Creatures.)

The Kasdan's have come up with a strong, simple and rather smart concept to motivate the young Solo: he's in love. And early in the movie circumstances force him to separate from his sweetheart Qi'ra (pronounced Keera), played by Emilia Clarke.

Fans of Game of Thrones will know Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen (another bloody difficult name to spell). Now, there is no bigger fan of Game of Thrones than me. But I didn't even recognise that the actress playing Qi'ra was the same one who played Daenerys — her appearance is so different in this film.

What I did recognise is that Clarke is terrific, and fantastically fetching, in Solo. Her costumes in the movie also often have a kind of cowgirl thing going on, which sort of carries on the Western theme introduced by Ehrenreich's prowess with the lasso.

But Solo doesn't draw on Westerns. It's basically a heist movie. Indeed it begins as a heist movie in the middle of a war, which suggests that the Kasdans might have fruitfully studied Troy Kennedy Martin's great script for Kelly's Heroes.

As he's drawn into the heist plot, Solo teams up with Beckett (at last an easy name), played by Woody Harrelson and Val (ditto) played by Thandie Newton, who gets to say lines like, “Viper droids headed your way.” 

Beckett and Val are kind of a Bonnie and Clyde setup — and there’s convincing chemistry when they kiss. Newton is gone all too soon from the picture.

But the Kasdan's expert story has already propelled us to a new and engrossing situation as Solo finds his lost love — only to discover that she's the captive plaything of a genuinely nasty villain, Dryden Vos (great name), played by the outstanding Paul Bettany.

Which is not to suggest that Qi'ra is some kind of passive ornament. Indeed, she's basically a kickass film noir femme fatale. 

Although, as leading lady, she has some serious competition from the fabulous L3-37, a (literally) rebellious female droid unforgettably brought to life by Phoebe Waller-Bridge a British actor, comedian and writer best known for Fleabag.

To say any more would be to spoil the fun for you. But I will just remark that this is a really standout cast, making great use of a peerless script in which all the icons and tropes and characters we associate with Han Solo (Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon, Lando Calrissian) are skilfully and joyfully introduced.

The movie is directed by Ron Howard. He took over from the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), reportedly because they were taking too many liberties with the Kasdans' script. 

If so, they deserved to go.

Anyway, this is Ron Howard's best film to date — certainly his best since The Missing. It also has excellent music by John Powell.

Oh — and Chewbacca's hair looks great.

(Image credits: all the posters are from Imp Awards where, I kid you not, there are 45 to choose from. Even so, Thandie Newton as Val is scandalously under-represented.)

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