Although one may disagree, for this film fan it is a great time to be in love with STAR WARS.
When the mighty empire of Disney took over this franchise a few years ago from legend George Lucas, the Mouse House had a tall order to fill with a lot of product already out there scaling all the way back to the original 1977 release. Yet there have been a strong team of collaborators WANTING to make inspired, quality product all in the hopes to inspire another generation of fans.
I was too young to remember the absolute pain of waiting three years just to see another STAR WARS movie (my own pain was waiting for a BACK TO THE FUTURE sequel in the latter half of the 1980s), and today not only do you get a “chapter” title every TWO years, but now a series of slightly connected mid-story movies inbetween. And I am loving the output so far, with the entertaining new SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY fitting right into the bigger picture as a followup to the equally enjoyable ROGUE ONE (2016).
While I am very tired of most franchise prequels and character stories, there is just something about Han Solo from the original movies that I really like and I took a lot of interest into a first story from him. Perhaps it’s because of Harrison Ford’s legendary performance of the character? We meet him here (played by Alden Ehrenreich) playing a smuggler trying to make a place in the world along with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). The movie details how Han winds up meeting Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and a few other pivotal characters and answering quite a few questions leading up to his character’s appearance in the original STAR WARS.
I quickly noticed a lot of “fan service here”; it’s as if every single line that was in the original (not “Special Edition” version) is not only replicated but also explained here, and while that’s not a perfect mean for any movie, I still went with it. Your enjoyment level of this will entirely depend on how seriously you take the decades-long series and react to a moment such as when we realize exactly how Han gets his last name, for example.
Naturally there has been a lot of controversy over SOLO as it was widely reported that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of THE LEGO MOVIE fame) were fired from project mid-movie and replaced by Ron Howard. I never really care for behind-the-scenes talk, trailers or speculation as I only want to evaluate the final product on screen. And yet this was a notable bit of news as two up-and-coming filmmakers were replaced with a filmmaker of decades of experience. How much original footage is in there is beyond me, but Howard wisely films this in a gritty tone with cinematographer Bradford Young that also tells me that the 2D version is the way to go for a theatrical viewing.
As Solo, Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t look or sound much like Ford, nor should he; I was reminded of the late River Phoenix doing his best impression of Ford in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE that knew the words AND the music. Han’s character traits are still absolutely there but he also elevates the material on his own. There are even hints of a young Jack Nicholson in him at times. He matches well with the lovely Emilia Clarke as a troubled love interest, and the biggest scene-stealer, no surprise, is Donald Glover is Lando. As someone who grew up fascinated with Billy Dee Williams and his entire legendary presence as both owning Lando AND a spokesperson for Colt 45 (don’t ask), Glover has a blast with this performance and he’s amazing to watch.
Overall, SOLO absolutely works with a nice level of storytelling and action that is not to be taken too seriously. There’s a wonderful sequence involving a train heist that furthers Federico Fellini’s timeless rule that for a movie to be entertaining all you have to do is show a train in motion, and the entire bit is worth the admission price alone. There’s also a subtle but effective Western motif throughout that both tips its hat to the original trilogy but also has its own identity. Even the interplay between Han and Lando has a great payoff that even makes me hunger for another chapter in this part of the series.
Now, look. As a fan of the original 1977-1983 film series and the newer episode installments, SOLO comes along at a good time, giving me another STAR WARS fix so quickly after being absolutely blown away THE LAST JEDI. With that said, I am looking at these film as entertainments and I don’t closely follow the “canon” or “fan theories” or dive too deep into the culture of it all. I see far too many film festivals to keep up with it all, trust me.
What I can tell you is that if you purchase a ticket to see SOLO you are going to have a great time at the movies and that popcorn is going to go down really well. Have fun with it. And that is what we are here for before anything else.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is now in theatres.
Side note: John Powell’s original score compositions are some of my favorite in the entire series. Buy the soundtrack and share it with others. It’s one of the rare movies that is worth sitting through the credits even though there is no scene after the lights come up.