"Solo: A Star Wars Story" (2018) Review

“…an action thrill-ride in a galaxy far, far away”

By: Randy Krinsky

One thing most of us can agree on is that the last Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, left a divided fanbase in its wake. Lucasfilm really needed to knock it out of the park with Solo: A Star Wars Story in order for it to unite the fans once again. I don’t think it did that. Not that you should base your movie-going experience on any internet critic-aggregate site, but Rotten Tomatoes’ is showing Solo at a “Fresh” 71%, but with an audience score currently sitting at 50%. If that’s not a divided audience I don’t know what it. Critical response to the film has been mostly good and box office projections are, as expected, good as well, it is pretty safe to say the film will be financially successful. I never read reviews or gauge others’ thoughts before I watch a film I intend to review. So, I went in with an open mind and an optimism that a fan of many decades must surely have. I must say I enjoyed the film, I did. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, or thought I would. I left feeling… undecided.

We all know that the film’s original directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord were fired after filming begin. Though I’m unsure of the specifics, evidently Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy just wasn’t pleased with the direction and deemed a change was necessary. Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of past Star Wars films Empire Strike Back and Return of the Jedi, and writer of Solo: A Star Wars Story, was said to be less than pleased himself. Hitmaker Ron Howard was brought onboard to direct and the film got back on track. So was this merging of directing styles why I was so conflicted? Did Howard reshoot all the Miller/Lord setups, or did some remain? Is that what bothered me with the film? I don’t know. Join me as I try to break the film down into what I thought worked and what I though didn’t work. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the film, there be spoilers ahead! You have been warned.

First off, let’s get one thing straight: Alden Ehrenreich was a great Han Solo! I’ve only seen him 2016’s Hail, Caesar!, in which he gave a great performance, but I was originally shaky on his casting. Like most of you, it was hard to imagine anyone else except Harrison Ford in the iconic role. However, Ehrenreich pulled it off. His performance was both unique and an homage to Ford’s take on the character. He definitely makes the character his own, but he left in just enough Ford to acknowledge the pop culture phenomenon that is Ford’s Han Solo.

That being said, film’s opening didn’t feel like I was about to embark on a “Star Wars Story.” There was no iconic crawl. I know, Rogue One let us know that these spinoff films wouldn’t be beholden to the iconic crawl, but then Solo goes ahead and gives a little, abbreviated crawl setting up the state of affairs that ends up making me feel cheated. If they were going to do that, they should’ve just gone ahead and given us the whole shebang, iconic horn blasts and crawl. It’s not that big a deal, but it did irk me a bit. Not a real problem, let’s move on.

The opening scene takes place down on Han’s home planet of Corellia and we’re shown the awful living conditions, and follow Han as he’s being chased by some criminals he’s cheated and we get a whole land speeder chase scene. He meets up with his beloved Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke), gets threatened by some crazy-looking slug creature, escapes and vows to get off the planet. It just didn’t work for me, the whole speeder chase, the dialogue; it’s all rushed and just felt a bit awkward.

Luckily, things picked up once Han got off Corellia and we’re treated to how Han became known as Han Solo. His character arc is explored and we get answers to those long-asked questions – How did he get his name? What happened to his Imperial pilot career? How did he meet Chewie? How did he meet Lando? These were all explored in the original Expanded Universe/Legends mythology, but now we have new canon. The new spin on the how the relationship evolved between Han and Chewie works and it became easy to see why their partnership worked so well for all those years. I enjoyed it and it made me feel good about the movie.

We’re introduced to some other scoundrel characters critical to the story: Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio (Jon Favreau). Ultimately, Solo and Chewie join up with the crew of thieves and they set off for an ambitious heist, which goes south quickly. Without getting into spoilerish details, we lose Val and Rio in quick fashion; a real waste. We’re introduced to these characters and they start to grow on you just to have them meet their demise before the film really takes off. They were wasted characters.

With a botched heist, the remaining crew must come up with a replacement job to make up the lost loot or face the wrath of their benefactor, Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany), who’s chief lieutenant is, wait for it… Qi’ra, Han’s old flame from Corellia. In short order, we get a new plan and we meet the dashing original scoundrel himself, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Glover channels his inner Billy Dee Williams in giving an incredible portrayal of the iconic gambler. Like Ehrenreich, Glover gives us just enough Billy Dee so that we can connect the characters, but he definitely makes Lando all his own. So while I was bummed we lost some characters, I was optimistic again once we were introduced to Lando and the Millenium Falcon. Another wasted character is Lando’s co-pilot, L3-37. She’s a robot with an endearing personality; a rebel; an empowered voice for robot rights! In a word, she’s great! There’s a great scene where she confides to Clarke’s Qi’Ra that her and Lando have a rather unconventional relationship. She believes Lando loves here, and she might just feel the same way, so much so that they pair might be attempting a more, how shall I say, physical relationship. Wow! There’s been a lot of internet chatter about Calrissian’s pansexuality, but he takes it to another level! L3, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, gets major laughs and quickly became special to the audience. So, of course, they kill her off. So now I’m bummed again. Lando drags her CPU (basically the top half of her body) to the Falcon, where, shortly after, they upload her navigational system into the ship’s computer. So, they make it clear she’s part of the Falcon. We’ll see where that takes us in the future.

Oh, the film even gives us some much-needed clarification on that whole “12 Parsecs” controversy. I loved that part. It becomes integral to the story it totally works for me!

The film’s plot is good and it is definitely an action thrill-ride in a galaxy far, far away. I just wish they didn’t have so many wasted characters. There’s some ups and downs, some backstabbing, some reverse backstabbing, betrayals abound. I won’t get into who ends up winning the day or who lives and who else dies, but the plot twist at the end will get you!

Speaking of which, if you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve seen the film at least once, because the end of the film features a mind-blowing cameo that comes out of left-field! We discover the big baddie calling the shots is none other than Darth Maul himself! He’s older, with robotic legs like with his animated series appearances, but it’s undoubtedly all Maul. Is he being setup for a Solo sequel, is for the just-announced Boba Fett movie, or the most-wanted Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff? We’ll have to see. Fans will notice that Maul is portrayed once again by Ray Park, who portrayed the character way back in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. However, instead of being voiced by Peter Serafinowicz, it was Sam Witwer, who voices Maul in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels (2014-2018).

So, Solo does set us up for a sequel and it comes about naturally, not forced. That’s not to say we will get a sequel, but the story remains open-ended and we’re left with Han and Chewie taking off to embark on another adventure involving some big gangster on Tatooine who’s putting together a crew. While we’re not quite left with the smuggler Solo that we find in A New Hope (1977), we see him embark on the path that’ll give him years of adventures.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the film, just not to the extent that I was hoping for. I do believe the good outweighs the bad, and the bad wasn’t really bad, just details that I believe take away from the overall film. The effects are great, the style and scale of the action is top-notch, and the film does leave me optimistic for the future. I find myself hoping to see more of this young Solo.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Director: Ron Howard Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Paul Bettany Grade: B


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