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Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) movie poster Solo: A Star Wars Story

Theatrical Release: May 25, 2018 / Running Time: 152 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Ron Howard / Writers: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay); George Lucas (characters)

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Woody Harrelson (Tobias Beckett), Emilia Clarke (Qi'ra), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Thandie Newton (Val), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos), Jon Favreau (voice of Rio Durant), Erin Kellyman (Enfys Nest), Linda Hunt (voice of Lady Proxima), Ian Kenny (Rebolt), John Tui (Korso), Anna Francolini (Imperial Emigration Officer), Andrew Woodall (Imperial Recruitment Officer), Warwick Davis (Weazel), Clint Howard (Ralakili), Ray Park (Maul)

 

In the past two and a half years, there have been four theatrically-released Star Wars films. To reach that total initially, it took George Lucas twenty-two years from when he first introduced the world to his imaginative space universe. The increase in production has paid off handsomely for Lucasfilm and the parent company behind it, Disney. A Star Wars movie has topped the domestic box office three years in a row,
with each grossing over a billion dollars worldwide. Of course, that strategy is a recipe both for prosperity and fatigue. Taking a page from Marvel's Cinematic Universe, the other empire with which Disney has simply blown away the rest of the film industry commercially over the past decade, Star Wars is no longer a special event you've got to wait years for, but a perennial attraction that will expand every nineteen months or less.

All of this makes Solo: A Star Wars Story the least-anticipated movie in the saga (excluding 2008's animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, anyway). Not only does this long-gestating Han Solo prequel bear the same subtitle as by far the weakest entry in the franchise's Disney era, 2016's underwhelming fan fictiony Rogue One, but it also arrives with the baggage of a production marred by creative differences. The film's originally hired directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the team behind The Lego Movie and the Jump Street films) were replaced deep into filming by Ron Howard. In line with the franchise's other personnel hires, Lord and Miller were hip and recently proven. Howard is an accomplished Oscar winner whose last commercial triumph was The Da Vinci Code, a film few hold in high regard twelve years and two underperforming sequels later.

The low expectations prompted by this information would seem to dwarf the high expectations that have come from the Star Wars name following George Lucas' sale to Disney. And that just makes it an extremely pleasant surprise that Solo is not only far superior to that previous seemingly unnecessary spin-off but about on the order of the decade's two mostly beloved (yet inevitably vocally criticized) official Star Wars episodes.

Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) gets his first look at the Millennium Falcon with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his droid L3-37 at the controls in "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Like other Star Wars movies, this one opens with context provided in text over a space backdrop. But we don't get John Williams' iconic theme or a long scroll and before you know it we are thrown into the life of the young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, 7 years younger than Harrison Ford was when he originated the role) on the planet Corellia. The hair's a little darker and the stature is a little shorter, but this Solo is familiar to us as the same confident scoundrel we know from Lucas' original trilogy (and J.J. Abrams' respectful The Force Awakens). Solo is part of a band of thieves who rob for a higher-up in exchange for shelter. He talks his way out of trouble and manages to make a pretty deft escape with his lover Qi'ra ("Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke) in tow. But the two are soon separated and now young Han has a reason to return to Corellia.

In the years apart that pass, Han falls in with a ragtag criminal crew led by the cynical Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). We get to witness the beginning of one of cinema's greatest interspecies friendships when Han meets the shaggy, howling wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) who soon becomes his partner in crime.

Tobias' group is in debt to the crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), whose operations include the long-lost Qi'ra. She agrees to accompany Tobias, Han, and Chewie as they set out to pull off an improbable heist of a dangerous, volatile, and potent material that Dryden demands. Along the way, the group encounters marauders, a prison break, and one smooth-talking card shark named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

"Solo: A Star Wars Story" shows us the origins of the long friendship of Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo).

The biggest problem with Rogue One for me was that not one of its all-new characters garnered any interest or sympathy from me. Solo, which is written by classic
Lucas scribe Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Force Awakens) and his less proven son Jonathan ("Dawson's Creek", "Freaks and Geeks"), does a considerably better job in this department. Obviously, we already know and care about Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando and are aware of the adventures the future holds for all of them. But the newly-conceived characters are also fleshed out in compelling ways: from Harrelson's Long John Silver-like mentor to the conflicted Qi'ra to an amusing new female droid named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).

Unlike the narrative inevitability imposed on Rogue One, the Kasdan men have free rein to do just about anything they want to hear, short of killing off characters that are living in later episodes. But neither they in the writing phase nor you in the viewing phase should be terribly concerned with where this fits into the Star Wars chronology. (And only one head-scratching cameo really raises questions, if you haven't paid attention to the saga's animated TV series.) Instead, greater interest is placed on allowing this self-contained one-off story to entertain on its own. While some of the locations and most of the characters are ones we haven't seen before, they feel compatible with established lore and are similar in design and quality. Likewise, the score by John Powell tastefully incorporates familiar John Williams themes while sculpting them into new motifs.

Like Edgar Wright on Ant-Man, we don't know what Lord and Miller deserve credit for here. We also don't know how Howard, who is on a big commercial losing streak, changed things to suit the film's needs as determined by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. Such topics are ripe for spirited, uninformed speculation and debate in Internet comments sections and Twitter. All that matters to the viewer is that Solo works on its own merits as a fun, lively adventure.

The scenes between Solo and Lando, who mispronounces his name, rank among the film's best. But though it takes a little while to get going, most of the movie unfolds as full-force entertainment, more exciting and less predictable than Disney's other big summer attraction, the serviceable but somewhat hamstrung Avengers: Infinity War.

Related Reviews:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Star Wars: The Last Jedi Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Alden Ehrenreich: Hail, Caesar! Tetro | Woody Harrelson: The Hunger Games: 4-Film Collection Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Emilia Clarke: Terminator Genisys Me Before You | Donald Glover: The Martian

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Reviewed May 30, 2018.



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