I’ve been watching so much sci-fi recently that I find myself wanting to watch even more sci-fi. On Saturday night, I almost started The Expanse but I realised I have far too many series on the go. I want to finish at least one before various free subscriptions run out. Instead, I thought I’d bite the bullet and get a film out of the way that I’ve been reluctant to watch. I’d heard bad things about Solo; not just reviews but about the trouble of its production. Never a good sign when filmmakers quit or are fired. Even worse when they’re replaced by Ron Howard.

I don’t know why I always have it in for Howard, except I remember his early films. Maybe it’s because he carried all that Happy Days luggage. He made Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, and Apollo 13. They were films I should really have loved (though Parenthood marked the decline of Steve Martin, in my eyes) but always left me disappointed. It felt like Howard could bog down a good story with too much dry drama. He was a decent director for middle-of-the-road fare. Instantly forgettable. The living embodiment of safe. No risks. So, when I heard he’d taken on the job of finishing Solo, I knew it was another sensible but uninspired choice. No man is better suited to steering a troubled ship into port. The plan was clearly to minimise losses at the box office and to then move rapidly on.

Yes, I’ll admit it now. I’ve probably been a bit of an arsehole. I allowed my opinions to become firm prejudices. I hadn’t been paying enough attention. I’d not noticed that he also made Front/Nixon and Angels & Demons, which I know I should hate but, damn it, I have a strange soft spot for that religious hokum.

Now he has also finished Solo which might just be my second favourite Star Wars movie.

I guess I owe Howard an apology. I really did love it. Empire Strikes Back is hard to beat and Rogue One has so much that I like. Yet, Solo might have even more. It’s so well balanced between character and action, and just enough of an origins story without boring me with too much backstory. I’d heard that Alden Ehrenreich was struggling with his role but it took no time to forget he was meant to be a young Harrison Ford. He carried the film with his take on the good guy hidden inside the rogue. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones so I didn’t know anything about Emilia Clarke before this but I think she stole the film, reminding me most of Karen Allen in the first Indiana Jones movie. Again, it was pitch-perfect: not the annoying kind of sassy we got in Temple of Doom. Just a strong lead.

I probably also enjoyed it because it leaned fairly heavily into other genres, mainly Mad Max and any cowboy movie you care to mention.

My only two complaints are that there wasn’t enough of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and they’re not making a sequel. Perhaps it’s understandable given we know where the Solo story goes but I think Disney are missing a trick. They’re clearly useless at making trilogies and have had more success with the stand-alone projects. Solo also proved that they need not have a Jedi in every film. The universe that Lucas created is big enough to contain a multitude of stories, touching on very different genres. In fact, the one film I want to see made is based on about three seconds from one of the prequels (I’m guessing the second, Attack of the Clones). There’s a scene where a dropship swoops in and lands troops in a battlefield. It feels cinema verité but combined with the Star Wars aesthetic was for that brief moment breath-taking.  

If they keep making standalone films this good, I think there’ll be life left in Star Wars. If they carry on milking the franchise with bloated trilogies, then I for one won’t be too interested. In a strange way, watching Picard and Solo within the same week emphasised how the two franchises are so different, yet both make the same case for striking out and staking new territory.

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