All Style And Little Substance
Elvis once put together a little ditty people like to call, “a little less conversation and a little more action.” The man knew how to spice the room, rile an audience, send a room into a rock-out, funk-down frenzy. “A little more bite and a little less bark. A little less fight and a little more spark.” There ain’t no sense in talking the talk if you ain’t gonna walk the walk. It appears that a curly-haired, trouser-flared Lawrence Kasdan took that to heart as a young man and saw Star Wars as the unfettered vehicle through which to turn up the dial. Unfortunately it seems, as the years have gone by, that the dial has maxed out. The script that Kasdan (co-writing with his son, John Kasdan) puts out is all action with an afterthought of conversation.
Torn from his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) on Corellia, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) joins the Imperial Navy as a way of earning a ship and returning to save her. When Solo happens across a 196-year-old Wookie and a gang of smugglers, they fail in stealing a valuable batch of a fuel called coaxium and, indebted to a gangster called Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who has employed Qi’ra in his services, they are sent on a much more dangerous and intrepid mission to square their debts. Employing the reluctant services of a certain Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), they find the perfect vehicle for their mission – the Millennium Falcon.
Even writing up a synopsis feels incomplete because it’s hard to grapple with the defining plot points. Dialogue is slapped together. Character development is swept off the table. The lurch from action to action is given such little room to breath that when the script stops for overwrought exposition, we’re panting and suffocating rather than finding a moment to take a pause and reflect.
In the first moments of the movie, when we are introduced to Qi’ra and Solo in the bowels of the shipbuilding plants on Corellia, Kasdan whips together a diatribe of exposition in the need to explain the entire movie background in 30 seconds. Rarely does the writing allow for the audience to discover connections or draw patterns. For every three quick-fire whips of expositional dialogue, the story could move forward with one and allow the audience to participate and engage rather than be pushed back in their seat.
Ron Howard at the helm does little to quash or balance the inconsistencies in the script. Considering the messy backstory of the movie’s production (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the original directors, were unceremoniously dumped from the project after some “creative differences” and reports of Kasdan’s “shadow-directing”), it’s hard to know where to assign the blame. Perhaps the inconsistencies come from the Frankenstein-ing of two different visions, but the exhausting pace with which the film consistently moves suggest that is a flaw much grander than the directorial conflict.
On the other side of the camera, Ehrenreich fights an uphill battle in replicating the iconic performances of a young Harrison Ford. With only a fleeting physical similarity, Ehrenriech’s charm and confidence valiantly works to overcome his deficiencies, but ultimately the gruff, maverick-styled Han Solo that we all know and love is left in the archives of the originals. Bettany, Clarke and Harrelson all strive admirably to overcome the inadequacies of their characters, with perhaps Bettany doing the best in the short amount of screen time he is allocated, and the even shorter amount of time his character is given to develop. Glover’s Calrissian is perhaps the only character that we are given enough time to get to know and love. Again, the onus of that success can be squared on Glover’s shoulders, but in a disparate and inadequate script, Calrissian is the one character that shines. Offsetting the success of Calrissian, however, is the hair-pulling waste of Thandie Newton’s Val. Unceremoniously wrenched from the script in the first act, the quality of her performance is a distant memory after moving at hyper-speed through the remaining hour-and-a-half.
The Howard-Kasdan combo has certainly created a spectacle. The film is never far from an inter-planetary action sequence or a fast-cut, multi-angle fight but ultimately it is all scope and no substance. They go straight for the action and leave little to bubble below the surface. The young curly-haired, trouser-flared Kasdan might have had the funk-down frenzy he was looking for, but it’s hard to imagine he, too, wouldn’t have left the cinema feeling a little empty.