Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Rating

Director

Ron Howard

Screenplay

Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

Length

2h 15m

Starring

Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau, Erin Kellyman, Linda Hunt, Warwick Davis

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence

Original Preview

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Buy on DVD/Blu-ray

Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

As the Star Wars universe expands at light speed, growing pains are inevitable and not every product output can be truly great cinema. Yet, at the heart of Solo: A Star Wars Story exists an adventure that while not thematically the same as the rest of the George Lucas’ universe, is still engaging, fun, and more obviously principled than its predecessors.

Outside of the trilogies that make up the Star Wars universe, there’s plenty of room to expand into different stories and explore the lives of others. As with Rogue One, which explained how the rebels got access to the Death Star schematics, Solo: A Star Wars Story explains how Han Solo (here played by Alden Ehrenreich) met up with Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo) and came into possession of the Millennium Falcon.

While making films about younger versions of the original trilogy’s cast may seem like an ill-advised move, this is a universe that begs for such exploration. What was the Kessel Run? How does Han come to know Lando Calrissian (now Donald Glover), and exactly what was Han’s impetus to become a scoundrel gallivanting across the galaxy.

For his part, Ehrenreich makes a fine Han Solo. While no one can ever replace Harrison Ford, Ehrenreich’s impish charm, underlying compassion, and sense of excitement come through with flying colors. Further, Ehrenreich has clearly studied Ford, adopting many of his mannerisms and personality quirks. He’s a magnetic figure just like Ford was even if he isn’t exactly the same. Ehrenreich was given flack early in development for not being “prepared” for this kind of work, but the end result proves that he was more than up to the task.

Glover, far better than even Ehrenreich, takes the cadence and delivery of Billy Dee Williams and crafts an almost perfect simulacrum of the original Lando. Glover has always been immensely talented and this performance only serves to embellish his bona fides.

Able support also comes in the form of Woody Harrelson as Han Solo’s partner and semi-mentor, Emilia Clarke as the crime lord’s clever right hand and also Han’s lost love, Thandie Newton as the brains of Harrelson’s operation, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the droid revolutionist, and Paul Bettany as the aforementioned crime lord who gives Harrelson and company one final chance to fix their mistakes.

As always, the Star Wars universe is steeped in history. Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan teams up with his son Jonathan to pen this look back at one of the series’ most popular rogues. Being intimately familiar with the universe he helped create, Kasdan and his son explore a dark time for the galaxy as the Empire’s tendrils grow farther and dig deeper into events on other worlds. As we look at the rise of the rebellion, Han finds himself caught in the midst, wanting little more than to return home and rescue his ex-lover. Yet, all events resolving as they must, Solo ultimately comes to understand who he is and whom he can trust.

Rich in its depth of background, the Star Wars franchise has excelled regularly in terms of production values. From the inventive aliens to the dark, lonely landscapes to the vast political upheaval of countless planets. The production design here gives the audience a dark, post-apocalyptic feel in the parts of the universe that are struggling to survive and unquestionably opulent ones in the areas inhabited by those who control the galaxy.

Therein also lies the underlying socio-political concepts at the heart of the universe. Prior efforts had been modestly circumspect in tackling wealth inequality, last year’s The Last Jedi became the most forceful exploration of that concept yet. However, Solo seemingly one-ups that gambit by tackling it in a little more detail from the slum in which Solo and Clarke’s Qi’ra grow up to the decadent party aboard Dryden Vos’ (Bettany) private yacht. Further, this is the most forceful exploration yet of just how dangerous the Empire had become, attacking planets in order to subjugate them, and employing other measures that threaten the stability of the galaxy while encouraging the formation of a secret rebellion to stop them.

While bringing in Ron Howard to “fix” the film was the least wise decision Disney could have made, his milquetoast approach to filmmaking serves aspects of the film very well. A very tactical and capable action director, the way he’s molded and encouraged the editing of these various sequences is solid even if the cheap laughs and languid romantic entanglements feel forced.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a rip-roaring adventure set within the Star Wars universe. It may not be as involved in the events of the other trilogies as some might want, but being removed from that also enables it to breathe a little more freely. Constricted to specific events is the film’s only conventional barrier and even with that in place, it still manages to be fun and engaging, which is the best of what this universe has to offer.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Original Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

May 29, 2018

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