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Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by: Ron Howard

Premise: Set about a decade before the events of A New Hope (Alden Ehrenreich), Han Solo deserts from the Imperial army to join a crew of pirates and smugglers on a heist. Along the way he befriends Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

What Works: Since acquiring Lucasfilm and the Star Wars brand, Disney has tried to capitalize on the nostalgia for the classic films released in the 1970s and 80s. Solo is the most successful example of the company’s attempt to recapture the classic feel of the original trilogy. The movie has terrific production design. It has the “used future” style pioneered in A New Hope but also a scope that is narrower than some of the epic entries in this series. That’s evident in the way it is shot. The filmmakers avoid wide angles and instead opt for a lot of medium and close up shots. There is also a restrained use of digital imagery. It’s used when appropriate but Solo retains a tactile texture and a limited scale that makes the world of this movie credible. Solo also channels the original film in its humor. The script was co-written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, that latter of whom worked on the scripts for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back. The dialogue of Solo has a similar feel. More than any other Star Wars film since the original, Solo is the closest to the B-movie serials that inspired this franchise in the first place. Solo also delivers in its action scenes. The action comes at a steady pace and the chases and shootouts are impressive, especially a train robbery set against a mountainside. Solo has a few standout casting decisions. Alden Ehrenreich has some big shoes to fill, stepping into the character played by Harrison Ford, and Ehrenreich does a good job. He echoes Ford’s performance without coming across as an imitation. Solo also benefits from the casting of Woody Harrelson as gang leader Beckett and Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays L3-37 a colorful droid with a mind for civil rights. Most notable is Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, the character played by Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy. Glover is smooth and charismatic and the film pops with energy whenever he is on screen.

What Doesn’t: Solo is both a standalone film and a prequel to the existing Star Wars series as it provides the backstory to one of this franchise’s most popular characters. Prequels have inherent challenges that Solo never surmounts. Prequels and origin stories must deepen and change our understanding of the character. The Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I – III), despite all their flaws, did that. They fundamentally changed our understanding of Darth Vader and reshaped the meaning of the classic films (Episodes IV –VI). Solo doesn’t do anything that ambitious. Han Solo arrives mostly fully formed. He doesn’t change or grow into the character we all recognize from the classic trilogy and there is nothing in Solo that enhances or changes our understanding of his later adventures. This is a missed opportunity to inject some moral complexity into the Star Wars universe. Han Solo’s cynicism doesn’t get much of an origin. Some of that is due to the mishandling of Qu’ra, the female lead played by Emilia Clarke. Her relationship with Han is central to the story but she’s never much more than a love interest and the filmmakers don’t follow through on the tensions in her character. It’s a disappointing waste of Clarke who is a terrific actress and capable of much more complexity than she is allowed here. The storytelling of Solo is uneven. Individual pieces of this film play well, especially in the middle of the picture, but the narrative lurches forward from one place to the next without much sense of momentum and some reveals and reversals come out of nowhere.

Bottom Line: Solo: A Star Wars Story succeeds as an adventure film. As a character piece and as a prequel it comes up short but it does deliver the classic Star Wars tone better than any other film that Disney has released. It’s satisfying popcorn entertainment but nothing more than that. 

Episode: #701 (June 3, 2018)