By Dushyant Shekhawat May. 25, 2018
It isn’t too difficult to understand why Solo: A Star Wars Story flatters to deceive. At the centre of it all is a disappointing, yawning, Harrison Ford-shaped void that is impossible for his successor Alden Ehrenreich to fill.
A long time ago, in a galaxy we call home, a religion came into existence. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope released on this day in 1977, and 41 years later, the Force is still with us. Today is also the worldwide release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, marking the tenth time audiences have been transported into George Lucas’ fantastical space opera since the original first clapped a stranglehold on the zeitgeist. Ever since the revival of the series in 2015, each instalment has been met with breathless anticipation from millions of fans across the globe, but this outing was to be special. After all, it was the first to feature a character from the original films as a protagonist, and the character was the cult favourite Han Solo.
Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda… Even if you haven’t seen the films, you probably know who I’m talking about. Such was the impact of Star Wars on public consciousness that these characters have attained a mythical, almost godlike status in pop culture. In Western canon, these films have attained the status of modern epics, and are treated with an accorded degree of reverence.
We know a thing or two about getting offended when someone tampers with our epics here in India, which is why it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand why Solo flatters to deceive. It takes a legendary hero, and then presents him to us before he becomes either a legend or heroic. The charm of Han Solo lay in Harrison Ford’s effortless portrayal of the charming but roguish smuggler; that’s with whom the audience fell in love. Replacing him with a cookie-cutter protagonist – one who relies on tired tropes like a Harry Potter-esque humble origin, and the strained relationship he shares with his mentor, reminiscent of Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins – is like giving up a perfectly cooked rare Kobe steak for a McChicken burger.
Exactly like cinematic fast food, there’s no intellectual nourishment to be had here. There’s requisite amount of jaw-dropping CGI that makes the space battles and futuristic action sequences come to life. The makers went hammer and tongs on providing fan service, with enough in-jokes and Easter eggs to keep the Star Wars faithful nudging and winking at each other throughout the two-hour-plus runtime. But at the centre of it all is a disappointing, yawning, Harrison Ford-shaped void that is impossible for his successor Alden Ehrenreich to fill.
Ehrenreich’s Solo is bound by the narrative constraints of having to check off items from his character’s Wikipedia page
There are some roles that become synonymous with the actors bringing them to life. There can never be another Gabbar Singh after Amjad Khan. If there was no Clint Eastwood, there would be no Dirty Harry. Jared Leto, a proven thespian in his own right, tried reviving The Joker after Heath Ledger made the character his own in an Academy Award-winning performance, and we all saw how that turned out. Sometimes, an actor and a role are soulmates, meant to be with each other and nobody else. It’s the same with Harrison and Han. Any outsider trying to pick up the mantle was as doomed as a rebound fling after a long, happy relationship.
In Solo, the unenviable task of bringing young Han Solo to life falls to Alden Ehrenreich. There’s an uncanny likeness between him and a young Harrison Ford when you take off the 3D glasses and squint just so, but that’s where all the resemblances stop. Where Ford played Solo with a devil-may-care nonchalance that made me wonder if he actually cared about anything other than his own profits, Ehrenreich comes across as a goody-two-shoes trying to hide his earnestness with a few (woodenly delivered) flippant one-liners.
It doesn’t help that the surrounding ensemble of actors, including True Detective’s Woody Harrelson and Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, are allowed a greater emotional range throughout their character arcs. In contrast, Ehrenreich’s Solo is bound by the narrative constraints of having to check off items from his character’s Wikipedia page, like his first meeting with Chewbacca, acquiring the Millennium Falcon, and, as any Jedi worth their lightsaber should know, completing the notorious Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. This one-and-done approach to what should have been significant plot events turns Solo into a half-hearted re-enactment of beats that have already been covered extensively in the previous films.
The burden of fan expectations is necessary evil for any franchise as long-lived as Star Wars. The franchise’s acquisition by Disney was a good news-bad news situation, as it assured fans regular new instalments, but also came with the danger of undermining the preceding films. Despite Han Solo being one of the most enduring and popular characters from the series, this origin story falls into the latter category.
There’s an old saying about how you can’t catch lightning in a bottle. Solo: A Star Wars Story has created the perfect bottle, but without Harrison Ford playing Han Solo as only he can, there’s no lightning to be seen.