Solo, A Star Wars Story

This year's Lucasfilm and Disney movie Solo, A Star Wars movie further expands on the mythology and fictional world of one the primary characters launched by George Lucas in the iconic 1977 Star Wars global phenomenon.  Reprising the role made famous by Harrison Ford alonside Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, Alden Ehrenreich portrays the younger Han Solo with his sidekick Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and romantic interest Kira (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke).  Rounding the cast are Danny Glover as Lando Calrissian and Woody Harrelson as Han's mentor Tobias Beckett. No Death Star or Darth Vader in this outing but the Jedi Knights loom in the background along with the galactic Empire.




You haven’t seen what Star Wars can be until you have seen Solo A Sar Wars Story unfold at a theater, crafted by two movie directors who were fired by Disney and salvaged into a beautiful adventure installment by none other than Ron Howard, who used to play shy, reticent Richie Cunningham in Happy Days, a protege of The Fonz.  Over the years Ron Howard has crafted many noteworthy movies including Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Frost/Nixon after he received huge attention for his directorial debut with Cocoon in 1985.

Why this lengthy intro for director Ron Howard?  For one thing he is America's darling as young Opie on the Andy Griffin Show.  As a teen he and fellow actors from Happy Days etched themselves in the American landscape and psyche and endeared themselves to subsequent generations as a bunch of young teens struggling to make it through high school and into adulthood, much like The Brady Bunch became a staple for several generations of TV viewers after it went offline.

There is another reason Ron Howard is noteworthy and possibly why Disney brought him onboard to salvage Solo.  In 1973, George Lucas, inventor of Star Wars, released his Oscar-nominated (Best Picture) film American Graffiti, in which Ron Howard, and Harrison Ford (yeah the original Han Solo), was part of the ensemble of stars to portray a new generation of disaffected youth.  American Graffiti was about cars, suburbs, drag racing, girls and a more adult slice of Happy Days.

But let's not linger too much on the behind-the-scenes forces that shape movies and their quality and let's shift gears and buckle up for our review of Solo, because it is a bumpy and very wild ride into that far, far away universe just before a New Hope (1977) appears on the galactic mythology timeline – currently being expanded by the new Lucasfilm studio.

There is very little to not like in Solo, as the young man from a ship building planet Corellia, is keen to leave his birthplace behind and seek a better future for himself and his partner.  The movie starts at a point in time where Solo, portrayed admirably by new face Alden Ehrenreich, is a very young man with a talent for driving and piloting vehicles, the makings of a fighter pilot due to his sharp reflexes and willingness to bend the moral code.  Solo's opening act gives us a glimpse of his home world which is a grittier and far grimier place than where Captain Kirk (Star Trek 2009) grew up, one swarmed with multi-species criminal gangs.

The opening act provides a montage of action scenes that make a bow to American Graffiti in more ways than just the exciting speeder chases that feel like driving around Chicago’s famed L train running above vehicular traffic on Franklin Street as opposed to the Mos Eisley scene which looks as tame and remote as a city on the outer rim of Lubbock in Texas.  It also eerily frames Solo as an almost parallel copy of Luke Skywalker, except Solo's home turf is a little busier and more dangerous than the farmland settings of Tatooine. 

Which instantly makes the viewers connect with our hero for those who always refer to a New Hope as the quintessential Star Wars.  But this part of the movie doesn’t last long, although the shadow of the Luke (Mark Hamill) persona hovers over our young Solo throughout the entire movie.  And this first crucial setting of Solo may also help explain how our two heroes, Luke and Han, connect so firmly in the original trilogy, despite the initial disagreements they show each other while rescuing Princess Lea from the Death Star.

In Solo, our hero Han is at a moral place that is far more certain of his convictions and exhibits more innocence than when we encounter him in 1977's New Hope.  His connection to Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones), his love, is also a story that could have been developed for an entire movie but gets very little treatment and may arguably be expanded upon in a sequel, if Disney decides to make good on press leaks suggesting Solo's adventures are a new set of trilogy movies starring Ehrenreich and his cohorts.  Vulture magazine confirmed the rumor in April of this year.

The movie finds our friend and Wookie sidekick thrown into the company of thieves, all decent at their core but shaped by the cruelty of the Empire and the unforgiving vastness of space and those trying to conquer and master something as huge as a galaxy.  It's not just a New Hope.  Rogue One, the Force Awakens and now far more explicitly, Solo a Star Wars Story, drive home the price to bear of intelligent, sentient species attempting to master the dangers of, and difficulties of, outer space colonization and the building of a galactic civilization.

Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett the leader of the gang is in his natural element having already portrayed the criminal Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers.  Thandie Newton is also a pleasure to watch as the even more devious and resourceful sidekick to Beckett.  She is so good at what she does that her chief defers to her, a theme very visible and recurrent in this film where the women are the real boss and the "smarter" elements - perhaps the more manipulative elements would be a more accurate description.

Of all the new Star Wars movies since The Force Awakens, Solo has assembled the most well-knit set of actors who breathe the characters with ease and realism.  While there is no awkward Daisy Ridley on the set or fashion model celebrity Felicity Jones, Emilia Clarke seems so much more at ease in her role and possibly due to her acting skills being shaped during seven years of the highly successful Game of Thrones series.  She was also in most recent chapter of The Terminator as Sarah Connor but in this movie, she clearly controls who Qi’ra is and how she chooses to portray her. 

The same can be said for Newton.  She has extensive experience as an actress on a long running TV series, ER and movies like Mission Impossible II.  Harrelson is also far from green with years on Cheers.  This trio of actors bring so much experience and grounds Solo with their skills as opposed to the actors in the Force Awakens who, except for Harrison Ford, are very light on the acting scales including Carrie Fisher as Princess Lea.

 Is this the influence of Kathleen Kennedy as the new chief of Lucasfilm?  The only reason Solo has a reasonable proportion of male heroes is because Han Solo's 1977 outing was as a male character and not a female.  It's a legacy product created by George Lucas otherwise you could almost feel the filmmakers' yen to once more attempt to cast all the leading characters as female as was clearly the flavor of The Last Jedi.




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