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Friday, May 25, 2018

Chris sez SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is a great fun ride that put him in his place!

Well, they sure showed me.

Toward the end of Solo, there is a brief scene with Emilia Clarke's character Qi’ra.  And maybe it shocked the audience and made jaws hit the floor but for me it was much more upheaving.

Without spoiling for anyone who hasn't seen this movie yet, let's just say that one of the reasons I haven't written anything about the Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels is because I have seen very little of them.  Not only because there was lack of time to adequately invest myself into those shows but primarily that I hadn't taken them seriously at all.  And at the heartmeat of the matter is one character.  No offense meant to Dave Filoni but the moment they announced this person was getting injected into The Clone Wars I lost all interest in that show and then again in Rebels.  It was cheap, petty, reeked too much of being "gimmicky".  So it is that in my own personal canon of Star Wars, The Clone Wars and Rebels didn't exist.  And for years I've said this to countless many fellow fans: "The only way I will possibly accept Filoni's animated shows as legitimate Star Wars is if (redacted) is brought into the live action films and confirmed there to be (redacted)".

Last night at the first showing of Solo, seeing it with Codename: Dot Matrix and being haunted afterward until the sun arose wondering what this sweet and lovely lass must have thought when her friend went into full-tilt wacko Star Wars existential crisis upon seeing THAT particular character on the screen, big as life and twice as ugly (wait, was that a double or even triple entendre?)...

Dear Dave Filoni and Star Wars Story Group head honcho Pablo Hidalgo: well played, boys.  Well played indeed.  I suppose now I really will have to watch aaalllll of those seasons of Rebels and The Clone Wars.  Expect fat bonuses from Disney for this particular stunt as sales of Blu-ray season sets and digital downloads will crash through the ceiling after this weekend.

So here it is.  Solo: A Star Wars Story.  The film that some were scrying would be as bad or worse than Batman & Robin.  That movie was Detroit sewage on the Ross Ice Shelf and two decades later some of us still can't expunge its cinematic reek out of our nostrils.  But certainly a Star Wars movie couldn't be that bad... right?  RIGHT?!?

The odds were against it.  Solo's production history has been the most beleaguered of any Star Wars movie to date.  Leaked stories about how much of a mess the script was, Alden Ehrenreich's alleged lack of sufficient acting talent for the role of Han Solo, the dismissal well into filming of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller necessitating bringing on Ron Howard to take over... all signs pointed to this being a disaster.  And then there was plain and simple matter of "Do we really need or even want this movie?  Is the story of young Han Solo something that merits being told?"

Friends, Romans, countrymen, fellow geeks and nerds and dweebs, lend me your auditory organs!  You can be of good cheer: Ron Howard and his crew have indeed turned in a fine and enjoyable addition to the Star Wars mythology.  And it gets this Star Wars uberfan's hearty Seal of Approval™.

But there are some things that I feel obligated to address about Solo: A Star Wars Story in writing a review:

There have been an astonishing four Star Wars films released over the course of the past two and a half years.  And of that quartet, Solo is by far the most light-hearted and least cerebral.  And maybe it's not the Star Wars movie we "needed" per se, but as a one-shot side tale complementing the heavier drama of this franchise it's a terrific lil' ride.  Solo is not necessarily a movie that a fan must see over and over again during its theatrical run, but it's certainly worth catching at least once.  Many have projected this to be the least-earning to date of any of the Star Wars movies.  I can understand why that would be, but that wouldn't and shouldn't be a reflection on the quality of the film itself.  Solo is a summer popcorn movie.  The kind you see with friends and family and you can unplug yourselves for a few hours and just throw your hands in the air and holler and laugh and throw yourselves into the moment.  Y'know, like what A New Hope must have been forty-one Mays ago today.  Before The Empire Strikes Back cranked up the gravitas and pegged the needle three years later.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn't required viewing to keep up with the saga.  But it certainly is a fun one.  Whether you see it in the theater now or some months from now on Blu-ray or whatever at home, preferably with those aforementioned friends and family.

It's not without some due criticism though.  After a rollickin' desperate ordeal for our hero in the first part or so the film tends to slow down, though the pace does pick up again.  Maybe too much too fast though.  The rumors of script problems were not without a threat of truth: some of Solo is hard to follow.  Confusing even.  It reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.  The betrayals, backstabbing and conniving in that movie made it genuinely difficult to follow for too much of its running time.  Solo isn't quite that bad, but the Kasdan Boys could have tightened this script up and made it a tad more cohesive.  And something I've read mentioned by others since the film opened last night: Solo is dark.  Not "it's a very dark story" but that it could have been more brightly lit in terms of cinematography.  At first I thought it might have merely been the particular screen that Codename: Dot Matrix and I saw it on, but others are likewise reporting it at their own locations.

That being said, hey... it's a fun film.  It's a Star Wars movie for a Memorial Day weekend, though let us not forget the real reason for this holiday.  To honor and remember those who gave all so that the rest of us can have movies and everything else that this land has been abundantly blessed with.  To be thankful for that.  I hope that we can be.

Alden Ehrenreich's portrayal of young Han Solo was spot-on perfect.  He brings the smile and swagger that we recognize and cherish later on in the saga.  But if even perfection can be eclipsed, it certainly is done so by Donald Glover's portrayal of Lando Calrissian.  Every moment of Glover as Lando is a whole heap o' hootworthy delight.  Glover doesn’t just "get" Lando, he IS Lando.  I had been quietly hoping for a "works every time" homage to Billy Dee Williams but alas!  Not this time.  And speaking of Glover as Lando: he is not a "social justice pansexual" despite what co-writer Jonathan Kasdan said a few days ago.  I thought Lando in Solo was definitely a lady's man.  Though it should be duly noted that Lando doesn't care WHAT form the lady comes in, be it human or alien or droid.  If that's pansexual, then just think of Donald Glover's Lando as a supercharged James T. Kirk from the original Star Trek and your conscience can be comforted.  It certainly shouldn't be enough to dissuade parents from taking their small children to see Solo.  And I hope it never becomes that for any Star Wars film, but I addressed that issue a few blog posts earlier.

Joonas Suotamo, successor to Peter Mayhew as the one in the Chewbacca costume, does great honor to the man who brought everyone's favorite fuzzball to life on the screen in 1977 and so many times since.  Woody Harrelson can now proudly boast a Star Wars notch on his belt: his Tobias Beckett is a strong figure in the life of Han Solo.  Very much a Long John Silver type, and that was intended apparently.  Emilia Clarke as Han's now grown-up childhood friend Qi-ra had depth.  Perhaps not as much as seven or eight seasons worth of Daenerys on Game of Thrones can afford, but she turns in a good performance that portends we may see more of her in the role.  I did want to see more of Thandie Newton though.  She has become a powerhouse presence on HBO's Westworld as the rogue host Maeve and seeing her in a Star Wars film was something I had increasingly been looking forward to.  Paul Bettany, as crime lord Dryden Vos, reminded me of Al Capone as Robert De Niro played him in The Untouchables, though Dryden doesn't wield a baseball bat (he uses something much more wicked).  Lando's droid L3-37 quickly endeared itself to the audience, much as K-2SO did in Rogue One a year and a half ago.  It would be wonderful if L3's presence could be asserted again in a future Star Wars film, because Phoebe Waller-Bridge was obviously enjoying herself waaaaay much and it paid off.  And be listening for Linda Hunt as Lady Proxima early in the movie.  I've long been a fan of her, especially when she was the voice of Management in Carnivale.  And now Linda Hunt gets to make her mark on the Star Wars saga, which makes Solo all the better.

Solo may not be requisite material for a Star Wars exam, but there's plenty of extra credit to study up on.  We finally get to see Han's homeworld of Corellia.  The "expanded universe" of Star Wars literature may be kaput but it's yielding up a LOT of juicy material getting folded into the new canon.  Teräs Käsi is now a legitimate Star Wars martial art and attentive fans' ears will perk up at the mention of Carida and the Maw (wait... did this movie just have references to Kevin J. Anderson’s Star Wars work?!  What the...?!?  Is the Apocalypse looming over us or what?).  And then, yeah... that cameo.  The one that overturned my own personal table of Star Wars lore.  It's not a gimmick anymore and I can accept it.  I think most likewise hesitant fans will too.  I'm now curious to see if Lucasfilm and Disney are "grooming" that character into becoming a future threat down the line, as happened with Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Perhaps for the rumored Obi-Wan movie or the just-announced Boba Fett film.  Time will tell.

Meta-wise, I couldn't help but think that Ron Howard was injecting some of the spirit of American Graffiti into Solo.  Especially that first scene on the mean streets of Corellia.  Ron's brother Clint, long a beloved presence in the Howard movie stable, gets some screentime (but if he was drinking any tranya, I must have missed it).  I was somewhat disappointed that the brothers' father Rance Howard, who recently passed away, didn't get an appearance.  Perhaps circumstances didn't allow for it.  And this, the second Star Wars film to not be scored by the legendary John Williams (although he contributed a few pieces) adds another excellent work of composition to the catalog of soundtracks.  John Powell's score has just enough of the familiar themes without being derivative at all.  A Star Wars movie should be a unique vision of its particular filmmaker, its music no less so.  I think Powell's will prove to be an excellent set of tracks to listen to, especially while driving.  Y'know, like how some of us back in the day got speeding tickets from playing "Duel of the Fates" (and that's definitely a double entendre).

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn't the best film of the franchise, but it's not an Attack Of The Clones either.  Its its own animal altogether: a fun-filled romp through the galaxy far, far away that doesn't care as much for dramatic weight as it does for "Faster! More intense!" thrills that Lucas was screaming from the director's chair thirty years ago.

And if nothing else has persuaded you to check it out, consider this: Solo finally addresses that ridiculous "Kessell Run in less than twelve parsecs" boast that armchair physicists and professional astronomers have been fanwaking themselves about for the past forty-one years.  It now makes sense, even.  If that's not worth twenty bucks for tickets and a minimum of outrageously overpriced confectionary, I don't know what is.


JeffY said...

An excellent review. I'm wondering who this character is you're being cryptic about. I heard there was a surprise cameo but I thought it would be Boba Fett. Now I'm not sure? :\

Chris Knight said...

It was the last person I expected to see. When we heard the voice I was going "no, no. No way. Not THAT character..."

And thanks :-)