The chances of Solo: A Star Wars Story successfully navigating the many crises that have dogged its production and turning out pretty well aren’t too good. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired for deviating from the script, to be replaced by Ron Howard, and an acting coach had to be roped in when Alden Ehrenreich struggled to channel his inner Harrison Ford.
Is this where the rot sets in for the company’s prize cash cow? As divisive and muddled as The Last Jedi was, it still managed to reap enough lucre to build a fresh Death Star every other year. Star Wars fans are effectively a captured shop: even the most vociferous, keyboard-bound haters will still end up seeing each new instalment at least four or five times. You know, just to make sure it isn’t any good.
On paper the story of a young Han Solo should be a sure-fire hit. Ford’s cynicism and brashness in the original trilogy helped sharpen Lucas’s wide-eyed fantasia with a sense of dirt and danger. Hence the delight of his reprisal in The Force Awakens (and, by comparison, the failure of The Last Jedi’s ‘grittier’ Luke) – 30 years later and he’s still cocking an eyebrow at the absurdity of it all. Who wouldn’t want more of what he’s having?
The problem is that Han Solo’s appeal lies in that delicate balance of maturity and adventure (Ford was in his 30s when he filmed A New Hope). Going back to his roots will by necessity foreclose the former in favour of the latter. Solo promises us a Han kicked out of the Imperial flight academy, meeting up with his shaggy companion Chewbacca, and getting involved with some similarly charming reprobates.
These include Donald Glover as Lando (a character cruelly neglected by the newest trilogy), Woody Harrelson in his Hunger Games guise as Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett, and Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra – glamourous friend but fellow scoundrel. This isn’t a cast to turn your nose up at.
Disney is indeed full steam ahead on the Marvelisation of Star Wars. With TV shows, a Rhian Johnson led trilogy, a separate series of films by the creators of Game of Thrones, and Episode IX on the horizon too, this space opera is set to crush all opposition for decades to come.
How Solo will fare in this tidal wave is hard to say. Yes, all signs point to something lesser, but if Han has taught us anything over the years, it’s this – never tell us the odds.