Saturday, 23 June 2018

Film Review No. 40 Solo: A Star Wars Story (12+)

Strong Points:
Likeable characters
Easter eggs
Brilliant special effects
Extreme wide shots and almost painting-like backdrops
Great acting by all, especially Paul Bettany and Alden Ehrenreich
Some good laughs
Tense action sequences and dialogue
Subtle score references and remixes

Weak Points:
Very busy on screen at the beginning turns an action scene into a swirl of colour
Emotions didn't always continue as you'd believe
Some themes weren't subtle, some too much so
Some characters should have been in the film more

Prequels never really allow you to invest in characters who you know must meet their end or disappear in the film to allow the canon to work

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
Solo: A Star Wars Story tells, unsurprisingly, the story of Han Solo before the events of A New Hope. It also seeks to fill as many plot conveniences and character tropes from A New Hope with either throw away lines or a larger chunk of the story. It mostly succeeds and is able to tell an entertaining adventure in the process, although whether it was entirely needed is up for debate, especially with the recent case of Star Wars fatigue.

Han Solo, as much as he wouldn't like to admit it, is the hero of the story. Alden Ehrenreich gives the character youthful optimism compared to the more cynical Harrison Ford but both give the same effect - you root for him to succeed. You also believe he will, and the way he and the other actors navigate their way through the dialogue is great. The film revels in being clever and doesn't quite cope with subtlety as well as it does showing off. Qi'ra's character is constantly being questioned and while Emilia Clarke does manage to show a lot of complexity in the character, sometimes the script and what's happening on screen are slightly at ends with each other.

This is true for other scenes as well. For example, after a large death occurs (in terms of personal stakes) in the first third of the film, the remaining characters seem more frustrated about how it affects them and their own goals. These characters were mostly well developed within their short screen time and I would have liked to have seen them expanded further in the story or at least have an effect on the other characters, past an inconvenience.

Paul Bettany's turn as the villainous Dryden Vos was my standout moment of the film. The menace and constant mood switches were of the classic mobster leader and while there wasn't much substance past that, Bettany excelled in making the character a 'love to hate' type of villain instead of just a lousy cliché. It also gave us those heat daggers, allowing another artistic fight scene like the Praetorian Guard fight in The Last Jedi.

The action scenes are a typical mix of fast movement, bright colours and ever decreasing odds. While it took a while for the film to engross me, with the first chase scene being slightly too busy to allow for immersion, Solo soon grew on me. It even made me tense up in certain scenes, making me forget, for a moment at least, that any time Han Solo's in danger, there is no real danger. He needs to make it to A New Hope after all, which is definitely one of the main problems of making a prequel to such a well-known series. I wouldn't call the film predictable in the sense of each twist was seen a mile away. In actual fact, I didn't anticipate some of the twists at all, especially with Qi'ra. Instead, the film is predictable in that everything that happens with Solo is fan service and explaining parts of the character which we already know.

That doesn't stop the fan service from being great however, with multiple references throughout the film. Without going into spoiler territory too much, everything from the Kessel Run to Han's own name is touched upon and explained. While some of these felt necessary to explain, a couple were parts of Solo' character which you just accepted and moved on from. To have these aspects then explained was, at times, jarring.

If you didn't think that the humour in The Last Jedi worked with the rest of the films tone (I personally did), then Solo will be more your style. Less philosophical questions, and more classic action and banter. From the gambling scenes with Lando, to Lando's quest to document his adventures and Lando's facade of stubborn bartering disappearing quickly... Basically, anything with Lando in the film is great fun.

This air of adventure and hope does come at the expense of some of the larger questions posed in the film. L3-37's character, a droid who is fighting for droid freedom everywhere, has her ideals sort of shoehorned into the plot in a haphazard way. The way her story was done made me less empathetic for her cause and more annoyed at the character - it should really have been the subject of its own separate piece of media. By trying to shoehorn these extra themes in the film diluted both their impact and the films entertainment value, causing them to both fall slightly rather than boosting each other.

The visual effects show that Disney are putting just as much of their budget into the anthology films as the main saga. Breath-taking backdrops, detailed character models, intense vehicle chase scenes and even a giant squid inside a cloud of gas falling slowly into a gravity well while also reaching out to grab the Millennium Falcon which is itself about to explode. Yeah, the film doesn't do things by halves, but it's definitely exciting. The visual effects are almost so good now that they meld into the physical effects Star Wars is known for, so much so in fact, that I'm starting to not notice which is which. And don't get me started on the awesome extra wide shots which made some of the film look like a painting (and something which is getting increasingly common in films as of late)

Conclusion: an exciting, if not entirely needed romp through the galaxy. Has enough action and twists to be worth watching, even if you know nothing about Star Wars. The real winners here though are the lifelong fans (or at least the ones who open their minds to something more than A New Hope), who are treated with Easter Eggs and cameos galore.

Rating: 83%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

Note: sorry for the drought of posts recently, we've had exams for the past month which didn't leave much time for the consumption of media, let alone writing about it. They have finished now and more posts should be up soon!

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