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November 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Platform(s): Movie
Genre: Action
Publisher: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: May 25, 2018


Movie Review - 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'

by Adam Pavlacka on May 25, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo befriends his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and meets the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga's most unlikely heroes.

When it comes to Star Wars characters, Han Solo has always been a fan favorite, so it's no surprise that his origin story would end up on the big screen. Ensuring that story was a good one was the challenge facing the team behind "Solo: A Star Wars Story," as it needed to slot into the existing framework of the Star Wars universe. While it doesn't have the epic scope of the mainline films, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" does a fine job of introducing us to the galaxy's favorite scoundrel.

The story plays out across different time periods and different planets, but the focus is always on how Han makes the transition from street hustler to owner of the fastest ship in the galaxy, the Millennium Falcon. Hardcore Star Wars fans already know the key plot points, yet "Solo" keeps the adventure fresh by never going directly from point A to point B.

One big question on everyone's mind before the screening was "How well would Alden Ehrenreich fill Harrison Ford's shoes?" The answer to that is "quite well." Ehrenreich as Han and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian are easily the two highlights of the show. Ehrenreich's Han starts the film out a bit rough, which reflects his inexperience, and we see him grow into the self-assured character that fans know and love by the end of the film.

Playing a role that is so closely associated with another actor was always going to be a challenge, but after watching "Solo," I couldn't imagine anyone else playing a young Han. Ehrenreich incorporated small bits of Ford's take on Han, while at the same time making the character his own.

The same can be said for Glover's Lando, who is the suave, self-assured, cape-wearing dealmaker originally made famous by Billy Dee Williams. Glover's Lando doesn't have the character growth of Han, but that's due to his role as a supporting character in the film. The focus on Han means that Lando doesn't have the space for his own story arc. Still, Glover makes the most of every moment he has on screen. If "Lando: A Star Wars Story" isn't the next project announced by Lucasfilm, then Kathleen Kennedy and Disney have made a very big mistake.

Aside from Han and Lando, the film's big scene stealer is Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando's sassy droid L3-37. Waller-Bridge provides the voice for L3-37, as well as a motion capture performance. It's doubtful that a new droid will ever top the R2-D2/C-3PO combination, but L3-37 runs a close second. Much like Lando, I would love to see more of L3-37.

Before Han meets Lando, he first has to get his feet wet as an interplanetary outlaw, which is where Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Val Beckett (Thandie Newton) come in. A husband-and-wife team, the two are looking for their big score when they run across Han and Chewie. Harrelson's take on Tobias has more depth than I would have expected, with him serving as a mash-up of mentor/father figure to Han. The interactions between these two offer up some of the defining moments of Han's early life and help shape him into the character that we know from the original trilogy.

While "Solo" does have some impressive spaceflight moments, it's the character interactions that really make the film shine. It's a film about love, loss, risk, and regret that happens to be set in a larger sci-fi universe. The Empire is running things on a macro scale, but "Solo" wisely ignores the galaxy-wide issues and focuses on the things that Han needs so he can get through the day.

That's not to say that there aren't references to the larger Star Wars universe. Quite the opposite, references abound throughout the film. There are the obvious ones, such as Tie Fighters, Star Destroyers, and a Corellian Corvette (the escape shuttle you see in the opening sequence of the original "Star Wars" film), but there are also plenty of obscure Star Wars references for fans who are deep in the lore. Even Teräs Käsi manages an explicit on-screen call-out. However, none of the references are required to enjoy the story. "Solo" wisely presents everything you need to know within the film itself, with the lore bits merely being a bonus. Unlike "Avengers: Infinity War," you could walk into "Solo" never having seen a Star Wars film, and you wouldn't feel like you were missing out.

Given the way the film moves back and forth between known points, it is somewhat surprising that only one event felt forced, and that's the improbable meeting of Han and Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) out in the galaxy after they are separated early on in the film. It's an issue that has always affected the Star Wars universe (small galaxy syndrome), so it's disappointing that "Solo" couldn't find a more plausible way to reunite the two. You'd think by now that Lucasfilm would know to avoid this sort of thing.

Another complaint I had about "Solo" is the fact that much of the film is dark. The media screening was in a normal 2D theater, but a solid chunk of the scenes felt underexposed. It's difficult to tell if this was a grading error or an intentional choice, as it often served to obscure details in otherwise beautifully composed shots. It almost felt as though the scenes were filmed with HDR in mind and then down-converted to SDR without converting the colorspace. It makes me wonder if seeing "Solo" in a Dolby theater would make a difference.

Musically, the score in "Solo" didn't stand out on first watch, but that may be due to the fact that the film makes very smart, but liberal, use of known Star Wars cues. There is a big element of familiarity at play here, with the sound mix serving as a way to make audiences feel at home. Avid listeners will find that the score cues even foreshadow a major event within the film.

Part love story, part heist, and part coming-of-age tale, "Solo" is a film that crosses multiple genres but keeps its focus tight. If you're expecting an epic film with major stakes, look elsewhere. If you want an adventure that fleshes out a favorite character (and makes it clear that Han always shoots first), then "Solo" is going to scratch that itch nicely.

As for how it compares to the other films, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" isn't going to replace the original trilogy, but as far as recent Star Wars releases go, "Solo" is the best of the bunch, followed closely by "The Last Jedi," "Rogue One," and finally "The Force Awakens." Yes, it really is that good.

Score: 8.5/10

"Solo: A Star Wars Story" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. It will be showing in 2D, 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D.

Editor's Note: Keep a lookout when Han is wandering around the gangster's yacht in the film. The Sankara Stones from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the fertility idol from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the Holy Grail are all on display as trophies.

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