REVIEW: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

SOLO Poster

Star Wars fans can be a surly, cynical, and often overly protective bunch. Trust me, I’m not saying that as some outside observer with his nose in the air. I myself am a proud, passionate, card-carrying member of that bunch. I adore Star Wars and it is indelibly etched into my entire life story. I have vested interests and sharp opinions on “Han shot first”, the midi-chlorian controversy, and the merits of the prequels. In other words I am a bonafide Star Wars geek.

Having defined myself, let me say I was one who had a handful of questions upon hearing of Disney’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story”. Is this a film we really need? Is it simply a cash grab or is there truly a great story to be told? Could they actually pull it off considering the iconic role wouldn’t be played by the man who made it – Harrison Ford?

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“Solo: A Star Wars Story” answers most of the questions lobbed it’s way, yet I still found myself having to make some fairly big mental adjustments. That mainly comes from the casting of Alden Ehrenreich in the title role. The film’s Herculean task of selling us a new Han Solo is absolutely essential. If we can’t buy into Ehrenreich the entire movie fails. That’s a brutal responsibility that I would never have the guts to take on. But Ehrenreich does take it on and does an impressive job of respecting the character while also making it his own. And while I didn’t always see him as the lovable scoundrel from my childhood, it’s a solid portrayal that doesn’t undermine what the movie is going for.

The film is written by franchise vet Lawrence Kasdan along with his son Jonathan and I wouldn’t say their story adds a ton to the vast Star Wars universe. But fans of the character will find more than enough to connect this movie to the Han Solo mythos. It answers a lot of questions you probably never had but has a lot of fun doing it. An unbridled fanboy like me had a blast seeing how Han acquired his iconic (that word again) blaster, learning about the Kessel run, and seeing him first lay eyes on the Millennium Falcon. Cool nuggets like those are spread throughout. Only the final act reveals things that shake up the universe in a very cool way.

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Ron Howard took the directing reigns from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who were let go due to “creative differences”. Figuring out where Howard’s influence comes in is pretty difficult as the movie maintains a fairly consistent flow. It’s a bit slow out of the gate as it deals with Han’s life on the criminally-ran planet of Corellia. He and his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) make a vow to leave the oppressive planet together. Of course it’s never that easy. The two are separated during a failed escape and Han finds himself off-world with the smuggling crew of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). For Han it’s about making some quick money and going back for Qi’ra. Did I mention it’s never that easy?

The film picks up steam and uncurls into an exciting action-packed adventure. Throughout Han’s quest characters are brought in which give the story more weight. None are more welcome than Chewbacca who for the first time is treated as more than a Wookiee sidekick. For Chewie there are stakes to consider and meaningful decisions to be made. Then there is Donald Glover’s Lando who slickly captures Billy Dee Williams’ suave but slimy charisma. He’s a hoot. Both of these characters not only bring an entertaining nostalgic flavor to the overall movie, but both serve to give Han more depth and zest. Observing their growing relationships and camaraderie left my inner fanboy pleased.

As far as the new characters, Harrelson’s Beckett and Clarke’s Qi’ra, while dramatically different, both offer some interesting twists to the story. The film’s new droid (because they always seem to have one) is Lando’s navigator and companion L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) – an amusing character sure to tickle the political fancies of some while being downright bizarre to others. Also Paul Bettany shows up as Dryden Vos, a ruthless crime boss who has a history with Beckett and a connection with Qi’ra.

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“Solo” certainly delivers on the action. From its speeder chases to its gun fights to its space battles, it all has a very ‘space western’ feel. There’s plenty of CGI, most of it very good, but the film also seemed to incorporate a surprising amount of practical effects. That’s always good to see. And while the movie looks good as a whole, I was a bit concerned early on. For the first quarter of the movie the muted dark color palette became an issue. I think it was intended to show an ugliness of the world it was depicting, but I found it be too dim and dreary for its own good. Thankfully it’s a problem solved once we begin seeing other locations.

“Solo” is making news for not coming out strong at the box office the way Star Wars films have in the past. While it’s still making good money, many are already trying to figure out why it is underperforming. There are a number of potential factors, but I do hope it finds a bigger audience. Howard, Ehrenreich and company craft a fun and compelling romp that carefully walks the line between Star Wars fan service and old-school action/adventure. It doesn’t hit every note the way it wants, but it certainly came out far better that I expected. I appreciated its more narrow focus, I loved Chewie and Lando, and was excited by a final act that’s sure to confuse some and exhilarate others. Count me among the exhilarated ones.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

19 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

  1. This movie surprised me to be honest . I liked that it had zip to do with the new narrative Star Wars , which I haven’t liked at all . The action was cool , seeing Chewie on screen and being more involved was great . Ehrenreich did a fine job stepping into formidable shoes . Glover was spot on as Lando as well and like you said , the new characters were fine.

    Overall I had fun and that for me was the most important thing going in. Wasn’t expecting a epic , risk-taking movie but a popcorn flick that harkened back a little to the original movie in 70’s when I was a kid and it did that .

    A solid 8 blasters for me out of 10 , and yes Han does shoot first .

    • I’m with you man. I think you and I discussed our skepticism. It’s nice to toss those issues aside. The film really surprises in how it constructs its story and keeps it movie. And to be honest I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder ever detail of Ehrenreich’s performance. I was so into the flow of it all.

  2. I went and saw the first picture back in 1977. I couldn’t understand how that big hairy ape could run around chasing them robots and all them weirdos and not end up in the zoo.

  3. Honestly, I didn’t really care for the film. It felt disjointed, the tone was all over the place, the pacing was awful, and I really didn’t buy Ehrenreich as Solo. The problems that the film had prior to release could be felt throughout the whole thing. Maybe it’s because I’m sick of the whole origin/spin-off thing that LucasFilm is doing now. I want something original in the Star Wars universe that has nothing to do with anything that came before. Also, they need to stop putting out a Star Wars movie every year. It’s becoming routine. Star Wars never used to be routine. There was definitely stuff about Solo that I did like, but I felt that the negatives outweighed the positives. It’s the first Star Wars movie that I can tell people that they won’t miss anything if they don’t see it. But that’s just me.

    • Hate that it didn’t work for you. But you aren’t the only one who has had issues with it. Funny about the pacing. I actually loved the flow once it left Corellia. In fact I was so caught up in its energetic pacing that I didn’t focus too much on the details of Alden’s performance. As for annualized SW movies, I think your point certainly has merit. Personally I think you can have an annual SW movie. But maybe not barely six months after a divisive “The Last Jedi”. I don’t know, maybe they’re think ‘it works for Marvel’.

  4. I had fun watching it. Sure, it had flaws but it gave me enough moments that was entertaining as well as provide things that I expected from the franchise. I’m not sure about having a Star Wars film every year. I’d rather have it every few years just to give filmmakers and writers more time and not be overwhelmed.

    • I’m with you. It was no groundbreaking entry but it was a lot of fun especially for fans of these characters. And while the greedy me loves the idea of a SW movie each month, I do think you make a good point about the filmmakers potentially being overwhelmed. Obviously if that happens the quality suffers.

      • True. I’d rather have a SW films every 2-3 years. The waiting makes it more exciting. Besides, let’s be glad that some of the best filmmakers working today don’t make films every now and then.

  5. This is a wonderfully written review that makes some salient points, notably how this was not the Han you remember from childhood, but still works for the what the film is trying to convey. I think that is a critical point to remember when nostalgic properties attempt to recast iconic figures.

    I think that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fascinating inversion of the burgeoning adolescence theme of the saga. Unfortunately, in execution, the theme has no emotional resonance due to a deficient central performance. But, the film picks up the slack with its world building and cinematic craftsmanship.

    You can find out more by reading my review below.

    https://sgsonfilm.net/2018/05/25/review-solo-a-star-wars-story-2018/

    If you find the piece to your liking, then please comment and follow.

  6. The overall reaction to this movie has been so mixed, it’s utterly confusing for me. I have been waiting for this particular review to help make up my mind on whether I should go see it in theater. I missed Rogue One in theater and later wished I hadn’t when it came out on Blu-ray. Not with this one. Mind made up now, I guess: I’ll be going to the cinema for this. After all what’s life without small stakes risks, right?

    Great review as always Keith. Thanks!

    • Thanks so much and enjoy the movie. I’ll say this, I went in extremely cautious, but left pleasantly surprised. They really pulled this thing off. It fun, nostalgic, and left me anxious for another Solo film. It had a couple of issues but nothing that brings the film down. Hope you have a good time with it.

  7. Hey Keith! I like this one too and I so agree w/ you that Howard, Ehrenreich and company craft a fun and compelling action/adventure. I don’t get all the hate and now it’s to blame that no more SW spinoffs are happening. While I’m not sad that there won’t be more SW spinoffs, but I kinda wish there’ll be a sequel to this one as I actually like Alden as Han and Glover as Lando. Oh and of course Chewie is awesome!

    • I’m pretty bummed because I’ve enjoyed the two spin-offs. And how are they going to leave this one hanging without a sequel? That’s really frustrating (if it happens). The hate for it is definitely unjust.

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