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« Review: Mary Shelley | Main | Blueprints: "The Handmaid's Tale" »
Thursday
May242018

Review: "Solo - A Star Wars Story"

by Chris Feil

Han Solo isn’t exactly a character that has our affections enmeshed in his origins. As played in the original Star Wars saga by peak hunk Harrison Ford, Han is about 50% swagger, 30% smart ass, and 20% emotional walls. He’s a crucial element, but one whose history isn’t essential to the story we all know and love - so in tracing his beginnings, Solo - A Star Wars Story needs a strong point of view to be more than a spin on the hampster wheel. It’s sadly almost there...

The film’s solution is to make Han’s origin story a silly fun romp, though it takes roughly half of the running time for all of its pieces to click into place, as if Solo realizes what it needs to be mid-movie. Director Ron Howard also makes it essentially a pirate story, with the galaxy’s political unrest revealing a world of thieves and marauders. What could have taken him back to the forgotten fantasy days of Willow is ultimately playing it too safe and unsure.

Like Rogue One, this side entry to the franchise isn’t afraid to be grungier or even a little weirder than what we would see on the Galaxy Far Away’s main stage. At its best, Solo flirts with Jim Henson fantasy strangeness, bursting with playful creature design and gadgetry and idiosyncratic costume design. Pair that with pristine smoky visuals from cinematographer Bradford Young, still one of the best in the business, and Solo sure is a lot of fun to look at. How can it not be with Alden Ehrenreich’s devilish charm doing admirable work to fill Ford’s shoes?

In this regard, we get more rewarding and layered introduction to those other beloved characters in Han’s orbit: Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian. Donald Glover slips into the charismatic, cape-donning role originated by Billy Dee Williams with delight, with an evident passion for the saga that’s kept oddly subdued elsewhere. When Glover arrives around the film’s midpoint, his presence is what finally kicks the film into its sweet spot of sly fun. Meanwhile Chewbacca surprisingly serves as the heart of the film and its sole emotional underpinning, serving as the one of the few links to the saga’s crucial element of the search for justice.

Unfortunately for nearly its entire slew of other original characters, Solo doesn’t make the case for them as crucial players in the history of this universe. It’s already a conundrum that the film would give Han a pre-Leia love interest, and the results don’t fare any better with the unremarkable Qi’ra played with minimum distinctiveness by Emilia Clarke. Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is more leash-holder to Han than mentor and Paul Bettany’s villainous Dryden Vos struggles to register beyond simple narrative necessity.

It becomes a bursting supporting ensemble without much intrigue or screen time, save for the ever flawless Thandie Newton. Her Val is like a life-sized action figure for gay people, with her fabulous costuming and signature unimpressed demeanor - but alas, not enough of her either. And there’s also Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s revolutionary droid L3, hilariously meeting the Star Wars quota for kooky robots we love for their own sake.

Does this sound like both too much and not enough? Sure. The film tracks Han’s team’s heist for intergalactic uber-fuel as Han tries to get back home to rescue his abandoned Qi’ra, and its plot messiness is mostly forgivable on sheer goodwill. While the film doesn’t always serve him, Ehrenreich does the heaviest lifting to keep us engaged as Solo drifts from one disparate fascination to another. It doesn’t allow him to play with much of the oddness that’s made him such a fascinating performer in the likes of Hail, Caesar! but he does show himself ready to shoulder a massive enterprise. It t’were so simple - he’s a star.

Grade: C+

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Reader Comments (7)

I really liked the design of the film. The steam punk aesthetic of the opening scenes, the tangible quality of the creatures and the sets, plus the distinctive costume design. I enjoyed the train heist scene because I enjoyed the weird wavey-train concept. It's just so damn long. I thought the heist on the planet was the start of the third act, but it was the end of the second and there's the entire maelstrom sequence that's entirely unnecessary (seriously, take it out and there's zero lasting effect to the drama) and the final scenes needed to some edits. A full 30 minutes could have been cut and been better for it.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

How do they want us to believe this monkey face became the handsome Harrison Ford?

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKenny Fillis

People who say stupid shit like that probably never watched Young Indiana Jones or Young Hercules or You Sherlock Holmes... they're actors, not blood relatives. Far out.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn, was that so hard to find at last someone who looked just a little bit like him?

May 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKenny Fillis

Watching it, it seemed like two movies to me.

The first half is a boring murky mess, enlivened by a very expensive looking action set piece. There seems to be a few inserted scenes where the actors have a bit of dialogue to add some body to the first half, and to clarify the action.

The second half seems to be where the movie really starts. It's well-lit, and suddenly you can see the actors, they're no longer in shadow. They have actual dialogue, there's character development, there's a story you can follow, and it starts to be fun. Thank god for Ron Howard.

Any problems with the movie are not with the actors, they are all fine (with the exception of WAY too much Woody Harrelson). Alden, Emilia, Thandie, Paul, Donald, L3, and Chewie are well cast, distinctive (once you can see them) and play their parts well.

It did make me wish that in the next movies I go to see, there will be no sight, as supporting actors, love interests, cameos, no presence of Woody Harrelson, Josh Brolin, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Martin Freeman, Matt Damon. I'm so tired of them all. Cast somebody new instead, cast a woman, be a little diverse.

May 26, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Of all the franchise films, this was the least engaging for me. I certainly enjoyed the ride (I do love my SFX eye candy), but I could not connect with the story emotionally. I disagree about the opinion expressed by others about Emilia Clarke's performance - I simply think there was not enough development of their early relationship to justify Han's devotion to her. More of that and a better explanation for why he and Chewbacca did not join the rebellion aborning right then and there would have helped to make me care a bit more.

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

I quite enjoyed this. Yes, it's a bit shallow and lightweight, many of the characters are underwritten, and not everything about the story works or even makes sense, but it is a lot of fun. I don't agree with the complaints that it's slow; I thought it was much better paced and focused than either Ep. VII or VIII, though not as good as "Rogue One." So far, if I'm comparing the SW "stories" with the main-line narrative, the former are winning by a decisive margin.

If I had a major reservation, it's that even though Alden Ehrenreich was quite charming and did a better job channeling Han's brand of, let's call it desperation humor, than I was expecting, I still didn't quite buy that the Han we meet in "A New Hope" would ever have been such a naive romantic.

I will say that after seeing a lot of dismissive comments about her acting abilities, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found to be a solid and surprisingly compelling performance from Emilia Clarke. I agree with Carl that if the grand love story doesn't strike quite as deep a chord as it's meant to, that's more the fault of the writing than her acting.

May 27, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

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