Solo: A Star Wars Story Cert: 12A 2hrs 15mins
You can see Solo: A Star Wars Story as a movie that, exhaustingly, is just one sci-fi film staple after another and proves that Alden Ehrenreich, the young actor who takes on the role of Han Solo in this prequel, is no Harrison Ford.
And there were odd moments when I was in danger of seeing it that way too.
But you can also see it as relentless franchise fun, bristling with brilliant visual effects and superb production design, and boldly going where few science-fiction films have gone before, prior to these #TimesUp times, with flirty female droids, feisty black female outlaws and a female lead who is far more than just a pretty face.
Alden Ehrenreich (above) might not be Harrison Ford, but Solo is relentless franchise fun, and while it is not be the greatest Star Wars film, it is certainly a good one
Thankfully there were far more moments when that was the way I saw it too, eventually coming to the conclusion that while Solo is not the greatest Star Wars film, it is certainly a good one.
The sudden sacking of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who had made The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street, and the bringing in of the hugely experienced Ron Howard, who made Apollo 13, has paid off.
At heart, what’s he’s delivered is a Star Wars western full of shoot-outs, bar brawls, card games and double-crosses, in which the young Solo, having escaped the slave-like existence of his home planet to become a pilot but left his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) behind in the panicky process, can never quite decide whether he’s an outlaw or the good guy.
Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is far more than just a pretty face, as the female lead in a cast that includes flirty female droids and feisty black female outlaws who shine in these #TimesUp times
But we, of course, know better because we’ve seen the 1977 original that turned Ford into an international star.
Will this turn the little-known Ehrenreich into a star too? With facial expressions and a vocal delivery that often seem more reminiscent of a young Dustin Hoffman than a young Ford, he gives it his best shot without ever setting the screen alight.
But, giving the sort of performance that suggests Han was born with that extraordinary inner self-confidence rather than picking it somewhere along the galaxy-spanning way, he just about holds his own, which, when you’re sharing the screen with the likes of Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany and Donald Glover, is not a bad effort.
Ehrenreich just about holds his own, which, when sharing the screen with Woody Harrelson (above centre) Thandie Newton (above left), Paul Bettany and Donald Glover, is not a bad effort
Summarising a story that goes on relentlessly for the best part of 135 minutes is just about impossible, so let me just get you on your way by telling you that Han, having dropped out of the Empire’s Navy to become a mere foot soldier, befriends Chewbacca in prison, escapes to team up with the outlaw Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and attempts to steal some dizzyingly expensive starship fuel known as coaxium… only to discover that what they really need is a fabulously fast spaceship. Like the Millennium Falcon, perhaps.
But unfortunately that happens to be owned by the great gambler Lando Calrissian (Glover). Anyone else feel a game of ‘sabacc’ coming on? And, no, that’s not a spoiler, it’s in the 1977 original.
Oh, and by this time Han has also met up with Qi’ra again, who doesn’t seem quite the ‘nice’ girl she once was, having come into the orbit of the fatally volatile gangster Dryden Vos (Bettany).
There’s very nearly too much comedy thanks to Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s initially very funny but eventually over-indulged voice and motion-capture performance as L3-37
There’s always been comedy in Star Wars films and this time there’s very nearly too much thanks to Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s initially very funny but eventually over-indulged voice and motion-capture performance as L3-37, the straight-talking, filter-free droid who makes camp old C-3PO look like a shy wallflower.
Various fine details from the original trilogy are satisfyingly explained here, as we learn the origins of Han’s lucky dice, his favoured gun and how he did the Kessel Run in ‘less than 12 parsecs’.
Despite these, however, this feels like a film that will please younger franchise fans rather than those, like me, who were there first time around.
Despite explaining details from the original trilogy, this feels like a film that will please younger franchise fans, rather than those who were there the first time around
For just as Ehrenreich is no Ford, Games Of Thrones star Clarke is no Carrie Fisher, at least in Princess Leia mode.
Or, to put it another way, for all the dizzying action, I could have done with caring a bit more.
Show Dogs (PG)
The Little Vampire (U)
Normally, I’m not the greatest fan of live-action films featuring talking animals, but Show Dogs is silly enough and funny enough for me to make an exception. You just have to take a deep breath, think OK, it’s a film with lots of talking dogs, three prolix pigeons and an angry tiger, and jump in.
The success of what ensues is down to a well-polished script, some nice canine characterisation and a well-chosen voice cast. Rapper-turned-actor Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges is spot-on as Max, the grumpy, macho police rottweiler who believes he could solve every case himself if his bungling human handler (Will Arnett) didn’t keep getting in his way.
But stealing every scene is Stanley Tucci as Philippe, the petulant and ever-so-slightly-camp Belgian papillon who reluctantly becomes Max’s sidekick as he goes undercover at a Las Vegas dog show in pursuit of an animal-smuggling ring.
I also loved the film references (Lassie, Lady And The Tramp), the comedy set-pieces and the chilled-out, philosophy-quoting Hungarian sheepdog.
With a well-polished script and a well-chosen voice cast, Show Dogs is silly enough and funny enough to prove an exception to anyone’s dislike of live-action films featuring talking animals
Hot on the heels of John Hurt’s That Good Night comes Edie (12A) a more life-affirming exploration of our senior years with Sheila Hancock playing the 83-year-old and recently widowed title character who sets off to finally conquer the Scottish mountain – Suilven – she’d planned to climb with her father. Simon Hunter’s direction is slow and far from subtle at times, but the photogenic Hancock is game and the scenery is stunning. It charms in the end.
The Little Vampire is a European cartoon about a clan of vampires being pursued by Rookery (voiced by Jim Carter), a somewhat accident-prone vampire-hunter. Thank heavens Rudolph, at 13 the youngest of his clan, escapes and is befriended by a mortal boy of the same age. Can friendship bridge the divide? Good fun, despite the occasional violent threat seeming a little at odds with a U certificate.