Movie Review- Solo: A Star Wars Story

  • Director: Ron Howard
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Donald Glover
  • Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
  • Based on Characters By: George Lucas
  • Music By: John Powell
  • Cinematography: Bradford Young
  • Running Time: 135 Minutes
  • Premiered: May 25, 2018 (USA)

Summary: During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. (From IMDb)

Possible Mild Spoilers

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Review: Harrison Ford will always personify Han Solo. He has the perfect amount of charisma, charm, and arrogance to portray a rouge with a secret streak of humanity. I went into this film expecting disappointment and came away pleasantly surprised. Ever since Disney started rebooting the Star Wars franchise, my enjoyment of Star Wars diminishes with each release. In all honesty, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both borrow heavily from A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. I found Rogue One boring and the lead role horribly miscast. However, I tend to enjoy Ron Howard’s films, so decided to give Solo a try.

Han lives a horrible life on the planet Corellia. He spent his childhood running scams on the streets with one goal in mind: get off the planet as soon as possible. Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) escapes by joining the Imperial Flight School. His escape makes life diffucilt for  Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), the girl loves. In an effort to help her, Han attempts to make money to buy a ship and return to Corellia and free Qi’ra. Along the way, he meets a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and joins a crew of thieves helmed by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Along with Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (Jon Favreau), Tobias reluctantly takes Han and Chewie along to steal a freight car carrying valuable hyperfuel.

When the heist goes wrong, Tobias and crew finds themselves with a hefty debt to pay to Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. While meeting with Vos, Han reunites with Qi’ra. With her help, Han negotiates a new gig for him and Tobias to payback Vos. In order to procure a fast ship, the crew turns to Qi’ra’s old contact: Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). With a reluctant Lando and his co-pilot, the droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the attempts to pull off a successful heist.

Narrative wise, Solo: A Star Wars Story delivers on what it promised, a nearly exhaustive look at Han’s life before he meets up with a rebellious princess and bad tempered Jedi. As a result of this meticulous approach, some of these moments feel overly drawn out simply for the sake of answering fan questions. While most of these details slow down the first act, the origin story delivers interesting insights into Han’s character and his relationship with Chewbacca.

While the narrative is firmly rooted in the galaxy far, far away, this film presents a darker, seedier, and more grounded view of the Star Wars franchise. Outside of the blasters, interplanetary travel, and odd alien life forms, the basic storyline could easily apply to the dark side of any major metropolis on Earth. With crime syndicates posing a much larger day-to-day threat than the Empire to Han, this is a much different side of the universe. Solo is one of the darker entries in the franchise overall, but still fits due to the clear inspirations from westerns and heist films. If you know what to look for, these inspirations are evident throughout Solo.

That distinctive tone comes courtesy of director Ron Howard, who came in midway through production after Phil Lord and Chris Miller left the project. Howard brings a more grounded feel to the movie, which cinematographer Bradford Young emphasizes through predominantly earthy, muddy colors. Howard adds in some real emotional and physical stakes to the movie, a difficult feat since the audience already knows three of the core characters survive.

Casting wise, it takes a while to warm up to Ehrenreich as Han. He adds some charm and depth to the character and, thankfully, does not attempt an impression of Ford’s Han. He clearly studied Ford’s wise-cracking cadences and arrogant, gunslinger stride without falling into caricature. 

The establishing shot of the movie makes it quite clear that Han takes orders from no one. Even though he is clawing through the streets, he is his own man. He bonds quickly with Chewbacca, due to necessity more than sentiment. The caustic, cynical, and quick witted Han of the Original Trilogy is apparent in brief glimmers but never quite emerges. This version of Han still believes in idealism and basic human goodness. A sentiment that does not survive the course of the narrative. One drawback is that the screenwriters added in unnecessary and excessive exposition over actual dramatic tension in certain scenes.  

I like Emilia Clarke. She excels in nearly every role. In this movie, though, she falls a little flat. Part of the blame lies in the lack of sexual chemistry between Clarke and Ehrenreich. Qi’ra (Clarke) and Han supposedly grew up together and fell in love. Han spends most of his time plotting ways to rescue Qi’ra from the hell of Corellia. Their relationship forms the main emotional anchor of the film. Yet they come across more as siblings than as lovers. The sibling dynamic would have vastly increased the dramatic tension. In this universe, Qi’ra becomes a femme fatale who works for the deadly Crimson Dawn. However, the screenplay never quite establishes Qi’ra as a deadly force worth fearing. Instead she comes across as a scared woman who does whatever necessary to stay alive, not a calculating manipulator. Clarke did a phenomenal job with the material but never quite pulls off the notion of star-crossed lovers. 

Woody Harrelson has progressed a long way from portraying a simpleminded bartender on Cheers. And he seems to appear in every other movie nowadays. Anyways, he excels as Beckett and plays well off Ehrenreich. A solid, if slightly unmemorable, performance. If anything, this movie needed more of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. Glover easily stole every scene he appeared in, which, sadly, were not nearly enough.  He really shines in the role of Calrissian and aligns the best with the character depiction from the original trilogy. Of all the “young versions” depicted in this film, I can easily imagine Glover’s Lando “growing” into Billy Dee Williams’ version in The Empire Strikes Back. From the voice, to the mannerisms, the casual arrogance, and the walking gait, Glover perfectly inhabits his character. The comic relief comes in the form of Lando’s co-pilot the droid, L3-37. Voiced by Waller-Bridge, L3 is sex obsessed, harbors an all consuming crush on Lando, and is determined to achieve  droid independence from humanity. Her antics sometimes feel over played and slow down the main plot arc. Overall, the cast of Solo is effective – if underutilized.

This film takes few narrative risks and fewer surprises. Casting someone else in such an iconic role and attempting to deliver a prequel film that pleases fans is risky enough. Solo is a solid film but feels unnecessary. When is the Boba Fett movie coming? About three-fourths of the way through the narrative, Han meets the beginnings of the rebellion and it seemed incredibly anticlimactic. More of a “meh” moment than an overwhelming desire to see what happens next. Ultimately, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an entertaining viewing for dedicated fans but probably will not excite those with only a casual interest. Of all the recent Star Wars films, I found this one the most coherent and exciting. I plan on buying this one and none of the other ones. 

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