Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review
A SCI-FI WESTERN
(IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY)
The Star Wars universe has proven to be a dominant force, branching out into other mediums and expanding on its lore and mythology beyond its original concept. While the core episodic theatrical films have been the main foundation in this sci-fi universe of spaceships, smugglers, blasters, lightsabers, Jedi, and the all-power omnipresent mystical power stream known as the “The Force”, its expansion into other facets and other avenues has captivated its fanbase for years, including books, tv shows, cartoon series, graphic novels, video games, and many more. Its enduring fanbase and its continuing growth for each new generation (i.e. exploring new time periods, settings, and characters) has made the Star Wars brand such a powerful and juggernaut force that very few franchises have been able to achieve. With Disney’s recent acquisition of the Star Wars (i.e. Lucasfilms), the motion picture franchise has continued to expand, producing a new trilogy (Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and now untitled Episode IX) as well as the very first “spin-off” theatrical feature film with 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While the idea of creating something new into the Star Wars universe isn’t relatively groundbreaking, but Rogue One was indeed the first full length theatrical motion picture to be released, showcasing a new tale, which is set as a sort of prequel adventure to the original Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope). Given its scope and ambition, Rogue One succeeded in presentation and its overall theatrical run, crossing over the billion mark at the box office ($1,056,057,273 to be exact) with fans, critics, and casual moviegoers intrigued by the film’s story; further opening the possible ideas of expanding cinematic universe of Star Wars with more “A Star Wars Story” spin-off films. Now, Lucasfilms (under Disney’s ownership) and director Ron Howard (as well as Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) present the second spin-off feature film in the Star Wars saga with movie Solo: A Star Wars Story. Does a cinematic story into the origin of everyone’s favorite smuggler worth telling or is it just another “cash and grab” from Disney on capitalizing its recently acquired popular franchise?
After surviving a rough and destitute childhood of running scams on the streets of Corellia, Hans Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) makes his move to get off planet in search of the freedom of having his own ship and serving no master. While he does make it out (through a daring escape from its captor’s lackeys), Hans childhood girlfriend Qi’ra (Emila Clarke), who planned on escaping with, gets left behind. In an effort to make it right, Han does what he can to make enough money to buy a ship and return to Corellia to free Qi’ra, Han joins up with the Empire as an infirmary grunt in the Empire. Landing himself in trouble on the battlefield, Han meets a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and they join a crew of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Along with Tobias’s wife Val (Thandie Newton) and the four-armed Ardennian pilot Rio Durant (Jon Favreau), Tobias leads Han and Chewie on the heist of a freight train carrying valuable hyperfuel called “coaxium”. However, when the heist ends up botched, Tobias’ crew finds themselves with a debt to pay to one Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the leader of a crime syndicate called Crimson Dawn. While meeting with Vos, Han runs across Qi’ra, who managed to free herself from the clutches of those on Corella and is now working with the powerful Crimson Dawn gangster. With her help, Hans and Tobias are able to negotiate a way for them to make things square with Vos, but they’ll have to pull another job. In order to pull it off, they’ll need a fast ship as the crew turns to an old contact of Qi’ra’s Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). With Lando and his co-pilot, the droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Han step onboard Lando’s ship “The Millennium Falcon” and set off another heist, venturing into the unstable maelstrom on the planet Kessel to retrieve some stolen unrefined coaxium. However, though Han Solo may be a skilled pilot, it remains to be seen if he has what it takes to navigate through the criminal underworld in which he and Chewie finds himself in.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
What can I say…. I am a Star Wars fan. Not a die-hard / hardcore fans of this fictional sci-fi universe, but I’m more so than just the causal moviegoer is. So, I guess I’m somewhere between a causal viewer and hardcore fan (more heavily leaning towards the hardcore one I guess…. haha). Anyways, the Star Wars sagas have always enchanted me, providing enough spectacle in cinematic sci-fi scope and fantasy aesthetics to keep me invested in the universe that was created long ago. Of course, the debate on which saga trilogy (i.e. the original, the prequel, or the new one) is the best will be continually discussed amongst diehard fans and generations of moviegoers. Naturally, I grew up watching the original trilogy, so I guess I fall into that grouping. The idea of expanding beyond the episodic feature films has always intrigued me, branching out the well-built Star Wars universe into many different avenues. Of course, some ideas aren’t that quite endearing (i.e. the Ewoks cartoons and the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed). Still, there has been some good endeavors made that have been met with great success like the cartoons series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels (love that show. I’m on season three right now) as well Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Naturally, the idea of creating a spin-off feature film was indeed a bold move to be down, especially under Disney’s control of Lucasfilms, but the overall execution and presentation of Rouge One: A Star Wars Story was quite successful and I personally loved it. It had it all and wanted (and then some), capturing a engrossing tale of new characters that was firmly set within a pivotal part in the feature films. Again, with many fans and moviegoers liking the idea, this furthered the notion for Disney to continue on expanding Star Wars (cinematically) into areas well beyond the roman numeral entries. All in all, the Star Wars franchise (in all its various formats and mediums) has endured over the years and has literally become one of the most solidly built foundation in entertainment, ranging from all ages (both young and old), which (if you think about it) is quite an accomplishment to achieve.
This brings me back around to talking about Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second spin-off feature film in the Star Wars universe. Of course, being a fan of Star Wars, I was definitely intrigued to see this movie, but not without my reservations. While I love everything Star Wars, I wasn’t super hyped up to see this movie as I did with Rogue One. Why? Well, with everything leading up to the pre-release throughout promotional marketing and internet buzz, I wasn’t convinced that this movie needed to be made. Yes, it’s a Star Wars movie (set within this epic sci-fi universe), but I wasn’t completely hooked on the idea of seeing a sort of “origin story” for the character of Hans Solo. The character is indeed a landmark character in the Star War mythos (especially within the episodic feature films), but I sort of wanted to see a cinematic movie that was away from the already established characters; something similar to what Rogue One was able to achieve (i.e. a familiar setting, but new characters). Again, I was sort of curious to see this movie (mostly due to the “behind the scenes” drama that occurred with the film’s directors) and to see where the Solo would ultimately end up. So, I went to see the movie the other day, with the idea of the old saying “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst? What did I think of Solo? Well, to me, it was okay. While it was a fun new angle to return to the Star Wars Universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story just really didn’t need to be told. There’s a lot of fun to it (and a lot to like), but was less interesting than some other potential stories to tell within the Star Wars Universe.
As many now know, Solo was originally directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind such comedy films like The LEGO Movie and two Jump Street films (i.e. 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street). Of course, during latter half of production, the bigwigs at Disney didn’t like what Lord and Miller had created with Solo and fired them from the project (over “creative differences” it’s been said), with hiring director Ron Howard, known for directing such movies like The Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13, and Willow, soon after Lord and Miller’s departure. Thus, it was up to Howard to pick the mantle of directing Solo and piece together what Lord and Miller did as well as fusing new ideas and new pieces in putting his own brand on the feature. To his credit, Howard actually does succeed in that endeavor. It’s not 100% perfect (see more below in my negative points), but what could’ve been an absolute trainwreck is made into something cohesively solid (for the most part) on Howard’s direction for the movie, especially given the fact that the films release date was kept on schedule after the director shake-up.
So, with Howard directing the film, Solo takes on a new life in bringing the early days of a young Han Solo to the cinematic screen. Much like what I said about Rogue One, Solo expands on the idea of being set in amongst the episodic roman numeral feature films that we all love, cherish, and sometimes grumble about, but moves further away from the already established timeline narrative of those movies. This, of course, means that Solo isn’t familiar with the time setting period of which the film is presented in (i.e. The Empire is showing and mentioned throughout the course of the film) as the time period takes place between the very large 30-year gap between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. That being said, Solo doesn’t heavily stand upon the timeline lineage of the roman numeral Star Wars film like Rogue One did, which, if the idea is to distance itself from those features, is a good thing. What I mean is that there’s no cameo appearance of Darth Vader or The Emperor, there’s really no mentioning of the Jedi or the Death Star, and there’s really no connection to the Skywalker saga storyline. Thus, Solo, as it stands, is set within this sci-fi universe, but can stand on its own merits and own storyline, which is something I was really hoping for in the feature and is actually one of the best aspects of the movie.
While Rogue One felt very much like a Star Wars film (i.e. big and grandiose), Solo takes a bit of a different approach and offers a sort of western aesthetic and nuances. Under Howard’s direction as well as the film’s script, which was penned by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, Solo’s overall narrative story (plot and other nuances) play out with a western motif and other classic tropes of that genre. Basically, Solo is like one big budgeted sci-fi western, including stand-offs, shootouts, a game of cards, outlaws, marauders, chase scenes, gangs, and a train robbery. Again, its an interesting aspect to make a Star Wars film, but this notion ultimately works in the movie’s favor, bringing a new spotlight nuance to Solo’s proceedings in which (again) makes the movie standout against its predecessor. Still, Solo isn’t completely “estrange” from the other films as the movie does have plenty Star Wars-ish / sci-fi nuances. Including spaceships, alien creatures, hologram images, laser blasters, and so on and so forth. Additionally, while I mentioned that the movie branches out into the Star Wars universe and stands on its own merits, the Kasdans have the opportunity to tie the movie to a few “big” moments / references that do connect Solo to the already established Star Wars timeline for the character of Hans Solo. This includes how Han meets Chewbacca (it is a bit different from how many Star Wars fan have heard / read about in the books), how Han met Lando Calrissian, the introduction of the Millennium Falcon, and (of course) the famous Kessel Run, which Han “completed” in 12 parsecs and was first mentioned in A New Hope. In addition, Howard still makes Solo accessible to the many Star Wars fans, with classic mixture of heart, adventure, comedy, and overall cinematic spectacle. In short, while the movie branches out onto its own terrain and makes its mark in this sci-fi universe, there’s still enough leverage to make Solo an extension spin-off motion picture to its expanding universe.
In terms of technical filmmaking and presentation, Solo is a solid endeavor, feeling very much so a Star Wars film with a lot of blockbuster aesthetics. What I mean is that there’s plenty of visual and creative sci-fi flair throughout the film that’s quite impressive. Some of my favorite parts in the movie was, of course, the Kessel Run, and how the “new” the Millennium Falcon looked on the inside (such a transformation of how it looks in the original trilogy (and even so in the newer trilogy). Thus, the entire visual team should be highly commended as well as the film’s cinematographer Bradford Young for creating some highly skilled and creative camera angles throughout the film. Much of the rest of the technical leads (behind the camera), including film editor Pietro Scalia, production designer Neil Lamont, and the costume design by both David Crossman and Glyn Dillon, should be mentioned and commended for bring their creative talents in ultimately bringing Solo (both in physical and in digital post-production wizardry) to life. Lastly, the music for Solo is pretty good. Composed by John Powell, the film’s score has pretty good flourish of melodies and suites that have a combination new pieces and familiar hints of tones from past Star Wars films. However, Powell still doesn’t reach the melodic musical heights that of Star Wars main composer John Williams was able to create throughout his work in this sci-fi universe. Still, Powell’s score in Solo is solid enough and adds to the positive category to the movie.
Unfortunately, Solo, despite its expansion into some new territories and other positive nuances, can’t quite measure up to its other theatrical motion picture nor its inherit hype. Of course, it’s inherit hype derives from being a “Star Wars” spin-off, the second one of its kind and starring everyone’s favorite scoundrel. The main problem with that is simply this…. why did an origin story for Solo need to be done? I know that’s more of a personal thought of mine, but its honest and true question that a viewer must ask themselves. Yes, the character of Hans Solo is a very much liked and beloved character in the known Star Wars universe (much credit must be given to actor Harrison Ford for bring him to life on the big screen in that capacity), but wasn’t really in high demand for a full-length feature film to see the younger Hans Solo or a story of how “Han meet Chewie” sort of thing. I mean, there’s dozens upon dozens of ideas and stories in the Star Wars timeline, ranging in between certain episodes or taking place elsewhere (i.e. beyond the timeline of the films). Basically, I just felt that Solo wasn’t really essential needed to be and I easily could’ve picked another story to be told…. like a completely new story between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens or set before The Phantom Menace or even a brand-new character set sometime during the events of the other films (i.e. a young soldier who joins the Rebel Alliance and see him in the Battle of Hoth and the Battle of Endor, etc.). It’s kind of hard to say, but I have a feeling that I got my point across. I just wanted to see something a bit “new” from the movie, but Solo didn’t quite achieve that (at least for me).
Another problem is the handling of the actual movie itself with the exchanging of Lord and Miller to Howard. As stated above, with the “passing” of the directorial torch for the movie, Howard, who literally came in halfway into the production, is commendable for completing the Solo within the movie that was given to him. The problem with that, however, is that Howard walked into something that was already half-baked and trying to make something he wanted out of something that someone else halfway started. Thus, regardless of personal liking of the feature, Solo has that undercut feeling of being slightly mismanaged in certain areas, due to what was original done by Lord and Miller and the reshoot shots done by Howard. This results in Solo having several pacing problems throughout the film. Of course, the second act, which has the famous “Kessel Run”, is probably where the movie shines the best and brightest, but the first act felt a bit rushed and wonky in some scenes and the third act was a bit lackluster. I just felt that Solo was set at a bit less caliber than to any of other feature films, including Rogue One. This also doesn’t help the fact that Solo had a production budget of around $250 million (mostly probably due to the reshoot costs), making the film the most expensive Star Wars film to date.
In short…could’ve Solo been better? Yes, most definitely, but it wasn’t a completely train wreck. Still, the origin story of Hans Solo wasn’t exactly a “must see” and wasn’t really an essential cinematic tale worth telling immediately. It just didn’t simply have that extra “oomph” that a Star Wars film had, which almost hinder the movie slightly. As a side-note (while I was watching the film), I sort of wonder what was Lord and Miller shots and scenes and what was Howard shots and scenes? Also, I sort of wonder what Lord and Miller’s overall vision (i.e. final cut) would’ve been for Solo? I guess that’s a question we’ll never know….
The cast in Solo is actually pretty good, with the cast being a collective group of talented actors and actresses to bring this various sci-fi character to life on the big screen. Naturally, being the title character of the feature, actor Alden Ehrenreich leads the charge as the younger version of everyone’s favorite smuggler Hans Solo. Known for his roles in Rules Don’t Apply, Beautiful Creatures, and Hail, Caesar! Ehrenreich provide to be an effect younger version of Han Solo. Like many out there, I was very skeptical on the casting choice of Ehrenreich for the role. He’s fine actor as I liked him in some of his other roles, but it was gonna to be hard to fill Solo’s boots, especially after Harrison Ford made the character iconic. Luckily, Ehrenreich proves himself to fill in the boots perfectly fine, carrying the young bravado of a “gunslinger” swagger that Ford was able to create all those years ago and certainly does have a very likeable quality as I can see him reprising his role as Han Solo again in future spin-off movies. All in all, Ehrenreich is solid in the role and does help strength the movie in his performance.
Playing opposite to Ehrenreich’s Han Solo is actor Woody Harrelson and actress Emilia Clarke as Han’s criminal mentor Tobias Beckett and Han’s former lover companion Qi’ra respectfully. Harrelson, known for his roles in Cheers, The Hunger Game movies, and War for the Planet of the Apes, is a very good character actor, but certainly knows how to portray that sort of “mentor / father figure” architype in cinematic stories, which he certainly does in Solo. The role of Tobias Beckett definitely feels like a perfect fit for Harrelson and handles the role really well (love him in the role). Likewise, Clarke, known for her roles in Game of Thrones, Terminator: Genisys, and Me Before You, is good as Qi’ra. Personally, its good to see Clarke acting outside her role of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones (a role that made her famous and well-known) and she does handle herself in the role; carrying a sense of “feminine fatale” in her portrayal of Qi’ra as well as given her an aura of mystery around her as there’s enough unspoken material to allow her character to return for future installments. Together, these two characters play important part how the character of Han Solo acts throughout most of the film as all three (i.e. Ehrenreich, Harrelson, and Clarke) have great on-screen chemistry amongst each other, which aides to the great ensemble cast notion for Solo.
In more of a larger supporting role in Solo (and a somewhat standout performance) would have to be actor Donald Glover, who plays the young and suave smuggler Lando Calrissian. Glover, known for his roles in Atlanta, The Martian, and Community, has the right amount of cheekiness and charismatic way to make his iteration of a younger Lando very likeable; almost slightly magnetic throughout every time his character is on-screen. Much like how what I said about Harrison Ford initial bringing Solo to life, actor Billy Dee Williams brought Lando Calrissian to life in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and Glover certainly filled Williams’s shoe perfectly in the role. In short, Glover is terrific as a young Lando and (much like what I said about Ehrenreich’s Solo) I’m hoping that he reprises his role (in some capacity) in future Star Wars spin-off endeavors. Also, as a side character to Glover’s Lando, is the female droid companion and navigator L3-37, who is played actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag and Broadchurch). Waller-Bridge’s voice work in bringing L3-37 is good (i.e. the character is sassy and does have a few memorable lines in the movie) and does acts as a sort of “compliment” to the character of Lando. However, that being said, L3’s role in the movie is a bit superfluous and it just comes under a bit annoyance that we (the viewers) have to have another droid character in a Star Wars film. I mean the original trilogy and prequel trilogy had C3PO and R2-D2, the new trilogy has BB-8, and Rogue One had K-2SO. Even the animated tv show Star Wars Rebels has Chopper. So, I’m guessing every Star Wars endeavor (made for the big or small screen) is gonna have droid companion / sidekick of some kind. I just kind of wished they changed it up a bit.
In the villain category for the feature, actor Paul Bettany fills that role, playing the powerful / villainous gangster Crimson Dawn leader Dryden Vos. Known for his roles in The Da Vinci Code, Wimbledon, and Avengers: Infinity War, Bettany does a pretty good job as the Crimson Dawn leader, showcasing the right amount of acting poise and villainous grit that doesn’t making overzealous nor overacting. Likewise, the character of Vos himself is a more grounded Star Wars villain than what many viewers have seeing before, which (again) is in line with how Solo is presented (and that’s good thing). It should also be mentioned that actor Michael K. Williams (The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) was originally intended to play the part of Dryden Vos (the character was originally supposed to be motion-capture alien that was describe as being half mountain-lion and half-human), but was removed and replaced by Bettany (a more human-form of Dryden Vos) due to his unable to return to film reshoots when Howard took over. Much like what I said about a sort of “what if” quandary about Lord and Miller’s version of Solo (i.e. what could’ve been), the same could be said with Williams portrayal of the Crimson Dawn gangster leader versus Bettany’s portrayal.
The rest of the cast is in more supporting roles, filling out the movie in making in their respective parts and scenes. This includes actress Thandie Newton (Westworld and Crash) as Beckett’s wife Val, actor Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat and Chef) as the wise-cracking Ardennian pilot Rio Durant, actress Erin Kellyman (Raised by Wolves and Uncle) as the marauder leader Enfys Nest, and actress Linda Hunt (NCIS: Los Angeles and Silverado) as the voice for Solo and Qi’ra formative years gangster leader Lady Proxima. Lastly, there is a mysterious cameo-like character that makes an appearance in the film. I’m not going to spoil, but it was something I was really wasn’t expecting and really did put a smile on my face when I saw it. Suffice to say, causal Star Wars moviegoers might be a bit confused at the sudden appearance of this character…. just forewarning you of it, but I’m sure that fans will love this character’s inclusion, which might further “thicken” the plot for possible future spin-off film down the line.
The origin story of Hans Solo finally makes it way to the big screen, bringing all its swagger and bravado along for the ride in the film Solo: A Star Wars Story. Director Ron Howard (as well the concept of ideas / partial directing from Phil Lord and Chris Miller) newest film delivers on what was promised by showcasing the “younger” years of Hans Solo and the life he lived prior to making his original debut in A New Hope. While the movie has hard time resonating as much as did its previous spin-off film (i.e. Rouge One) as well as some pacing issues and cobbled up of ideas (due to the changing of directors), the film itself still does to have a sort of pleasing effect that won’t alienate longtime fans nor causal Star Wars followers, keeping the tradition of heart, action, and blockbuster fun. From the solid acting performances (especially from Ehrenreich and Glover) to the whole new “western” aspect that moves away from the already established roman numeral films, Solo, despite it’s flaws, come out to be a more of winner than a blackmark on the franchise. To me, the movie was good. It wasn’t fantastically great, but neither was anywhere near a colossal disappointment. Of course, I liked it, but there was just something about it that didn’t make me think it was that incredibly awesome much like I did with Rogue One (with my thoughts going back to the idea of wanting to see something completely new and / or different from this sci-fi universe). Still, the movie is a good addition to the Star Wars expanding cannon. Thus, I would “recommended” this movie to all (both young and old) as it is really the more accessible spin-off endeavor to watch without too much prior knowledge. In the end, Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second feature film spin-off in the Star Wars universe, did what it set out to do (for better or worse and depending on the viewer) and now further plants the idea of expanding this long and illustrious sci-fi franchise into both old and new terrain in the coming future. I, for one, despite some creative decision made in Solo, am still looking forward to seeing new entries (spin-offs and / or new trilogies) to be appear on the horizon, taking us (the viewers) on new adventures….in a galaxy far, far away.
3.6 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: May 25th, 2018
Reviewed On: June 3rd, 2018
Solo: A Star Wars Story is 135 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence