Members Only | Solo, A Star Wars Story | SPOILERS

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.

 

 

SOLO A STAR WARS STORY FILM REVIEW | CONTAINS SPOILERS

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.

 

THE WRONG STUFF IN SOLO

Let me state from the outset there is NOTHING wrong with Solo, but it’s NOT a great movie, it’s a solid movie.  From a moviegoer’s point of view there may be many instances in the movie that fail to establish a connection with the audience or create the emotional kick that would make the adventure “satisfying”.

 

THE QI’RA CONNECTION

From the very first scene where Han runs to Qi’ra after he screwed a buyer on an illicit deal, we see that Han and Qi’ra are very tight, they seem to be in love and they also seem to be partners in crime, part of the same criminal gang infesting the very place they want to get away from.

Is their love genuine and keeping them from succumbing to their daily routine?

This issue plays throughout Solo A Star Wars Story even when Qi’ra is not even remotely close or with him onscreen. But the viewer is again poked on this issue when Val and Beckett (the new gang Han and Chewie want desperately to join) are discussing the reliability of their new potential recruits and we see them draw close and snuggle with a kiss after Val guessed that a girl may be driving Han’s motivation and Han does little to discount the notion.

Val and Beckett seem to be more than leaders of their gang, they are lovers and the reason they have been successful and the reason we are told Beckett is notorious amongst gangs on several planets. They not only have each other’s back and are reliable in a world where Beckett informs Han on more occasion than one “trust no one, always believe they will betray you”. So reliable, they are the go-to team on big scores for the highly organized intergalactic baddie, Crimson Dawn, headed by Dryden Vos played so well by Paul Bettany, aka Vision from The Avengers.

 CLICK FOR WALLPAPER DOWNLOAD  | FREE SUPER SIZED LARGE ORIGINAL POSTER EXCLUSIVELY
FROM WEST COAST MIDNIGHT RUN™

Crimson Dawn is not just some well structured criminal gang, they are an extension of the Empire helping to prep the scene on scores of planets before the Empire’s armies moves in to instill order. Inhabited planets ready made with spies, riddled with crime and vice and with any native resistance are pre-emptively weakened by Crimson Dawn.

Paul Bettany is another extremely good actor who shines in his role far more than he does on The Avengers. He is very convincing playing his character who is a little too trusting of his lieutenants – a weakness that is scriptwriter driven rather than a capable actor’s fault.

So in a pivotal scene where all seems lost for our mercenaries, we see Val show her allegiance and love to Beckett and further tug at the audience the valor of true love. Whereas throughout the movie, Han’s connection with Qi’ra is portrayed as suspect. Could it be a one-way love ticket? Han loves her but she doesn’t reciprocate in the same way?

L-3 faces Qi’ra in a girl to android chat and does not state that Qi’ra displays the same physiological signs as Han does. Perhaps Qi’ra never did but is fond of him because she can always count on him and use him if a dire situation arose and needed something she can absolutely trust?

 

A GOOD JUDGE OF CHARACTER

A mercenary raised in an environment of crime and somehow survives long enough to join up with the go-to team of the most powerful criminal organization in the galaxy is supposed to be a bad judge of character?  This is the same Han Solo who can beat Lando at a card game and can win round after round because he can read his opponents so well at the table but could not read what is going on with Qi’ra even after the closest thing to a real friend and his mentor warns him about her repeatedly? The only way Lando beats Han is because he is cheating, that is how good Han is.

This Qi’ra connection is played into the final act where Han unconvincingly switches sides and after having suffered so many losses in friends and comrades, decides momentarily to be a good-natured hero a la Luke Skywalker, siding with the rebellion and giving away a fortune that could have allowed him and Qi’ra and friends to fade into retirement and a good life. 

Two scores like that from the mines of Kessel and they could have bought an army to destroy Crimson Dawn.  Why give the rebels such a payday to squander when they could have entirely rid the galaxy of the Empire’s agency and foot soldiers?

Why would he throw away such an opportunity for a band of rebels he meets in the final act after said rebels cost him everything thus far?  The storyline is amenable, the viewer can generate scenarios of plausibility in their head and rationalize this course of behavior but it does not ring true to the character, the world they came from and the comrades they have elected to join with whom they are fighting.

 

THE SHOWDOWN WITH BECKETT

In the final act of Solo, Han finds himself face to face against his protector and mentor, Beckett.  Without revealing all the twists and turns that lead to this moment, let’s only take a look at the point where Han has no other option but to shoot and kill his “friend”.  The funny part is that half an hour earlier, Han with a makeshift blaster provided by Beckett, is picking off bad guys at a distance more than five time the distance separating him from his friend in the showdown.  He is a good enough shot to fire and hit while being fired upon and ducking, something that would normally throw off your aim.

In the showdown scene, Han fires at very close-range square in the most deadly spot there is.  The showdown is not unforeseen, in fact Han was sent off by Qi’ra and knew where to ambush Beckett with gun drawn.  If he really valued his friend and had no other option to save Chewie, could Han not have shot at him in the thigh, the arm or any other spot to disable him?  The reason we ask is because right after putting a deadly laser blast into Beckett he runs towards him, clutches him in a goodbye hug and they exchange words of solace at this sad but unavoidable situation.

The thing is the Enfys Nest’s mercenaries were present after new alliances were drawn and could have joined Han in peacefully overcoming Beckett, forcing him to stand down, hand over Chewie and avoid killing him.  Beckett wanted the money but he has on many occasions shown himself flexible when faced with more extreme choices or outcomes.

Why would Han waste him and then show the moviegoer how much he cares deeply inside?  The scene is convoluted, contrived and simply doesn’t add up to the altruistic and noble Han we were shown he is at this point in the Star Wars mythology.

 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE THIN

Early in the movie, on their first attempt to steal coaxium fuel for Crimson Dawn, Beckett’s crew engages in what could have been a really exciting heist effort – if only it been a larger part of the storyline.  It had Thandie Newton onboard who was part of the Mission Impossible II cast and boy I kept expecting Tom Cruise to show up in an uncredited cameo.  I think the audience would have gone absolutely bonkers and it would not have hurt Cruise’s career after his Mummy reboot fiasco.

Unfortunately the heist piece is all too brief and does not build sufficient suspense in the planning nor the execution as Master Cruise and his crew have done on multiple occasions born out by the highly successful MI sequels.

The more interesting part is that our friends’ crew is too thin and they were aware of this issue as well as Enfys Nest’s penchant for showing up and looting less capable looters.  Why would the most capable crew Crimson Dawn has, one tasked with boosting a ton of super fuel worth a mountain of gold, knowing well the consequences of failure, treat lightly the issue of not enough muscle on the team and then plunge into action with untested and unproven “newbies” when Beckett is the cynic and skeptic who keeps telling Han “trust no one, except betrayal from everyone”?!!!!

I couldn’t exactly follow the logic or technique of our outer space Dalton Gang.

 CLICK FOR WALLPAPER DOWNLOAD  | FREE SUPER SIZED LARGE ORIGINAL POSTER EXCLUSIVELY
FROM WEST COAST MIDNIGHT RUN™

THE ROMANCE OF SPACE

In each of the early Star Wars movies, the opening shots were always with a camera mounted on a ship with a sweeping orbital view of a planet, the infinite stars beckoning in the vastness of space and planets filling the view much like a NASA astronaut on EVA hovering above Earth only the landscape captured the thrill to audiences of viewing an alien solar system, an alien nebula.

That was always the opening stage of the early Star Wars movies, an expensive SFX shot that firmly announced to the movie viewer this is a visual feast unlike any other, a viewing ticket on a civilization’s spacecraft so advanced it is in deep into the vastness of the unknown with incredible science and technology powering their audacity. 

And in the midst of the action and dialogue, there was always the moment, the pause, the camera pans and reveals again an elaborate SFX shot giving the viewer breathtaking vistas, be it on Tatooine with the music of John Williams adding a dramatic and sad note with the dual suns on the horizon, or the monstrous size of the Death Star with the Millennium Falcon on approach, caught in its tractor beam.

You need to play up the romance of galactic space travel, of galactic conflict Mr. Ron Howard and Ms. Kennedy and a Star Trek captain sitting on the bridge staring from his chair onto the viewer is sterile and could never do what Lucas and Williams did with the first trilogy.

Well it turns out that the bulk of excitement, once the story setup is behind us, is a familiar sequence of dogfights onboard the brand new Falcon.  There is not that much space action drama and space vistas to contemplate except for our heroes scampering around on a closed set of the interiors of Falcon, manning the guns, loading fuel, putting out fires from the laser blasts and looking real cramped in the cockpit.

 CLICK FOR WALLPAPER DOWNLOAD  | FREE SUPER SIZED LARGE ORIGINAL POSTER EXCLUSIVELY
FROM WEST COAST MIDNIGHT RUN™

Solo does very little in showing us the drama of the galaxy in visual vistas, the sequence on the Falcon is all there is of outer space action in this movie.  Everything else is planet side.  What’s worse the “piece de resistance” almost in its entirety can be summarized as two scenes, one cloned from the old Falcon in A New Hope dogging TIE fighters and the second being from The Empire Strikes Back (ESB).

The shortcut through the nebula sequence and the danger they face in Solo is lifted straight from the ESB asteroid belt sequence and then part of the finale with Han and Chewbacca looking at the horizon as Qi’ra’s ship lifts off to face Crimson Dawn’s big boss is straight from the finale of ESB with Luke and Leia in the medical bay looking at the big window as Han and Chewie blast off into the wheel of the galaxy at the edge of space where the rebel fleet took refuge.  But with ESB we have a great, panoramic and majestic space vista to frame the insignificance of the rebels and the Empire against the sheer immensity of the cosmos.

The closing shot of Solo is Han and Chewie in the cockpit, his favorite lucky dice hanging, and the Falcon going to warp speed with a blur of white and blue before the fade to credits.  We have nothing as majestic, stirring or soulful as the closing shot of the Empire Strikes Back.

 

 All content © 2018 for West Coast Midnight Run™  and Citadel Consulting Group LLC