Solo? No No. Duo.

If you have not seen Solo: A Star Wars Story then please stop reading. This is a ‘review’ of Solo and a conversation but don’t blame me if you see something that spoils the movie for you. Especially since I went to all the trouble of putting this big picture here.

Don’t know if it is true or not but there might actually  be a link between Electric Man and this movie. When we were filming we had a need for lots of extras – not Ben Hur exactly but lots for a little indie movie. And amongst those extras we actually had one Lorne MacFadyen as a comic shop customer. We later heard that he actually made it down to the last two in the casting for the part of Han Solo – not sure if it is true or not but it’s a brilliant rumour – and Lorne has certainly moved on from being comic customer No 1.

Unfortunately Lorne didn’t get the role (damn sure we would be shouting louder if he had) but Alden Ehrenreich is more than acceptable.

That’s great Bolt –  but this is supposed to be a review of Solo and not yet another story about you.

Right you are, sorry. Well, first things first – is it any good?

To be honest you won’t be expecting much in the way of enthusiasm from someone who had so much to say about The Last Jedi – and, you would be wrong. I really enjoyed this movie. Because it is hardly a Star Wars movie at all.

Please forgive any errors but I write these things from memory – there are no notes, when I go to the cinema I go as a punter and I judge the films as I would any other film.

Solo plays like a western from the very start. They even tell you in the traditional text legend opener that this is a lawless time and place. But which western? You’d think that with a name like Solo it would be about a lone gunslinger – but it ain’t. This is no High Noon and it isn’t The Good, The Bad and The Ugly either (although they are all present.

Nope. This movie might be called Solo but it isn’t really about a single character and there are very good reasons for that. I’ve seen people wondering why Han Solo isn’t more of a smart arse? Why he isn’t darker?  And the reasons are built in to the original films.

There are certain aspects to the character of Han Solo from those original films that you cannot escape or change in the same way that there are parts of James Bond that you just can’t change. Whenever anyone is handed a James Bond movie to write, or anything that is part of an ongoing series there is a bible for that series. You don’t get to change things just because you want to. I hate to bring it all back to Harrison Ford but Indiana Jones isn’t Indiana Jones unless there is a hat and a whip involved at some point.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Actually Indiana Jones is a very useful example because when they went back to do his origin story in The Last Crusade they did exactly what Solo does. All the little characterising details are introduced and explained. You find out why he hates snakes, you find out where the hat came from and so on. Solo does exactly the same thing. His blaster, how he meets Chewie, how he gets the Falcon… even those little dice that I never liked in the latest main series. Solo does all of that, but with one minor handicap. Han Solo was never meant to be a lead character. He was never designed to carry a film on his own.

Throughout the original series we follow either Luke or the Droids and even when they are not the sole focus of the film Han Solo is never really alone. Leia is there, Chewie is there.

Because Han Solo is a comedy character at his core. The thing about Solo is that they were given a secondary character to work with (albeit a very famous one) and asked to turn him into a leading hero. Do they manage it?

Nearly, very nearly.

Han Solo is cocky and overconfident. He is, mostly, wrong about things  and he cannot be described as lucky. But he is handsome and charming and as Leia says…

That’s his whole character though. He is brave and he is good but he was never the prime mover, never the central hero. There is just too much comedy in him for that. The scriptwriters had to take that character – with all his flaws and his shallowness – and transform him from ‘comedy character in a supporting role’ to ‘leading role’. They had to take this character and make him both familiar and new at the same time. Not an easy task when you think about it.

And for the most part, they have managed it superbly.

The whole film has the same task. Take something old and familiar and make it new (but not too new or the fans will go mental).

See what I mean? And they solved it. There are cantina scenes, there are space chases and there are call backs to the original movie. Is it all highly original? Hell no. Wouldn’t have been allowed because if you change the character or the world too much then we don’t recognise them as the people who turn up at the start of Star Wars. Han Solo can’t be a deep thinking gazillionaire coward in this one and then turn up as the character Harrison Ford plays.

The plot has a MacGuffin after a MacGuffin that is the same thing really and I am not thinking too deeply about it. It works on its own terms and there are the usual ridiculous coincidences that seem to happen in science fiction.

Because why not?

Emilia Clarke we are looking at you here.

The plot is thin and proceeds in a fairly straight line but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that there are no bloody death stars, or plans for death stars. The empire gets mentioned sure and there are stormtroopers but no one is using the force and there are no lightsabers. This is not about destiny, it’s about (for the most part) money. And that is a good thing. The lower stakes allow us to invest more – to identify.

This is so much of a western they even have a train robbery with its own (forgive the terminology) red indians but they add to that a sassy feminine droid who brings not only humour but also a current attitude to equal rights. The blend is lovely.

I just rolled along with this film. Only vaguely aware of where we were in time. Sure, the maelstrom appeared and the name of the planet told me exactly what was going to happen – but I didn’t care – it was all such fun. Donald Glover does indeed steal the show and we knew what had to happen before the curtain fell. We knew that Han Solo had to end up in the millenium falcon with Chewbacca.

Job done.

Han Solo does not become a solo hero. Because he needs Chewbacca or it doesn’t work. They are a double act.

You can’t have Butch without Sundance.


Check One Two

There are two main careers when you are young. Pretty soon, however, you discover that you just don’t have the speed, physique or skill to be a centre forward. Which leaves one… rock legend. I have never shown the slightest hint of musical ability but the dreams don’t die just because they don’t tally with reality. Everyone dreams of being a famous musician don’t they?

How to write a blog post when you aren’t really allowed to talk about the thing you want to write about? Tricky.

Just spent two or three days in Oxfordshire and it really was idyllic. Like most countries England looks great in the sunshine and we were not far from Chipping Norton – home of David Cameron, Clarkson and the like. You can see why they would choose to live there. It is the very definition of the green and pleasant land.

Why was I there? No, not the advance party for the next uprising – although we did cause a fair bit of mayhem.

No, I was working with this bloke. Fish.

And it was an absolute riot. We were there to film some interviews for a documentary and hosted by Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn, Banbury. A lovely place, somewhat thrown out of whack by our arrival. Not sure why we took enough equipment to film Game of Thrones but we did.

We arrived in the centre of Banbury at around 4.30pm on the day before the shoot and decided it might not be a bad idea to just put some of the kit on location that night so we didn’t have to do it in the morning.

And Charlie, who was working the bar, couldn’t have been more helpful. We turned the Globe Room – you’ll see it when we cut the documentary, into our store room for the night. Which, given that Cromwell held court in that very room back in the day, seemed very generous of them.

This was a somewhat seminal moment. it is not often that Fish and Marillion are in the same room together and we wondered what it would be like. You’ll have to wait and see the documentary but it was fascinating to listen to them as they talked about the process of making (what turned out to be) their final album.

Clutching at Straws came after their monster hit album Misplaced Childhood and it was a very difficult process by all accounts. Many of my pals were Marillion fans (some still are) and this album is a favourite for a lot of them.

So we spent an entire day together talking about the album, the tour, the break up and what not. As I said, I can’t go into too much detail here but I will say one thing.

I was never as glad in my life to be a writer/film maker.

Life as a rock star is insane. We got a few of the stories on camera but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The cars, the drugs, the women and the drugs and the drink and the… you get the idea.

I was given a brief glimpse of the lifestyle through listening to these stories and I am frankly amazed that these people managed to survive at all. When you hear of an Amy Winehouse or a Kurt Cobain or whatever that is a tragedy but the truly astonishing thing is that it happens so rarely given the excess that goes on.

I was then given another glimpse through action. The kindly folk of the Olde Reine Deer Inn are part of a company that also own the Hook Norton Brewery. This five storey building has been there for nearly 120 years and even though it is at the end of Brewery Lane you would pass right by and never see it. They showed us around, let us try a few samples and took no offence when we bemoaned the prevalence of union jacks and a lack of saltires. Then one of these blokes did the sensible thing and went home.

I was not that bloke.

After the tour we went to dinner and having sampled some of their fine ales I decided to move on to wine. All I can say is that drinking with someone called Fish ends up just like you think it does. Or at least, that’s what I am told. I do not recall anything beyond midnight. More tales of rock excess, the occasional fan photo and a mad rambling conversation of 9/11 conspiracy theories filled out the evening. Then darkness.

Having neither watch nor phone (where they were was a mystery) I awoke the next day not knowing whether it was 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock or Thursday week. I went down for breakfast (only an hour after breakfast finished) and discovered that my appetite had been left somewhere between the wee hours and the umpteenth bottle of wine.

The actual rock star appeared a short period later – fresh as a daisy. Smiling, even. Hateful man that he is.

What had been a huge night of debauchery for me counts as a mere aperitif in the music industry it transpires.

So yeah, I had a wild time in my 20s but my complete lack of a musical ability has saved my life. You dream of being a rock star but no one tells you about the hangovers.