MOVIE REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

2 Hours and 15 Minutes (PG-13)

I’ve been on record as worrying quite a bit about Solo: A Star Wars Story (henceforth in this review know as Solo, because a one-word title just makes sense doesn’t it?). The first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, significantly underwhelmed me, and here a second prequel was attempting to unnecessarily go back and fill in gaps in the Star Wars timeline. But this time it required the dangerous risk of recasting one of the most iconic characters in movie history. I love Han. We all love Han. And Harrison Ford is Han. So, I’ve been pretty skeptical that Alden Ehrenreich could step into those enormously talented shoes and deliver a compelling enough performance to make us truly believe that he, too, is Han.

But folks… it happened.

It wasn’t right away, though. Solo wastes no time in introducing us to young Han the scoundrel, but despite an exciting chase sequence and Han trying to talk his way out of a pickle, Ehrenreich just wasn’t connecting for me. As the story went on, though, my expectations and presumptions about how young Han should act began to decline and he slowly transformed. When Han meets Lando, I was all in, having witnessed enough smirks, snark, and charm to really believe in this new version of the character. And by the time the credits rolled, I had to repent. Because maybe he’s not perfect, but young Han he is.

The thing to remember first and foremost about Solo is that it’s not a Star Wars saga film and thus doesn’t abide by the same storytelling rules. The question isn’t IF Han will make it out of situations safely, it’s HOW he will make it out. This is an intergalactic heist film and an origin story. Seriously, we learn the origin of EVERYTHING. Han’s lucky dice? Covered. Han’s blaster? That too. The Kessel Run? It’s definitely mentioned. How Han met Lando and Chewie? Of course. And so, so much more. Honestly, it could have been overkill. Maybe for some it will. But for me it struck the perfect balance, giving me depth and insight into a beloved character without ever stopping the plot to draw attention to a reference. All of it was woven seamlessly into the narrative. It made sense, and I loved every single wink and nod to the stories we all know so well.

Another strength of the film is that Solo doesn’t go solo. The film features a host of flat-out wonderful supporting actors and droids. Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a fantastic addition to the canon and through her we are able to learn about Han the lover and what kind of woman he’s attracted to. Beckett (Woody Harrelson) provides Han with a mentor of sorts, someone who teaches him tricks of the trade and many life lessons. Then there is Lando, played as perfectly by Donald Glover as you’d expect, showing us how the two young smooth-talking smugglers came to their complicated friendship. The chemistry between Ehrenreich and Glover is definitely present and if I had one gripe it would be that I just wanted more of this duo together. Paul Bettany chews up scenes wonderfully as a bigshot gangster and leader of crime syndicate Crimson Dawn, the perfect subtle villain for a smuggler’s origin story. And L3-37 (yes, that spells “leet”), Lando’s droid, is hilariously liberal while also playing a surprisingly touching role in the tale.

The adventure itself is a ton of fun. Han, as you would expect, gets himself into a situation that involves stealing, smuggling, fancy flying, and generally getting shot at along the way. But it isn’t just fun, it’s a well-written story that thoroughly explains how the swashbuckling rogue became the man who may or may not shoot first, doesn’t trust anyone, and primarily looks out only for himself. All of the action pieces are also wonderfully done, from the big set pieces to the brief one-on-one fight sequences, and the cinematography is just as gorgeous as always. The film’s score stands out, too, with John Powell bringing a hint of his How To Train Your Dragon sound to the familiar Star Wars themes, particularly when the Millennium Falcon is speeding through the galaxy.

VERDICT

Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of the best origin stories ever told. It fills in details for so much of a beloved character that you may be shocked they could cover it all. The action and adventurous tone make for one heck of an enjoyable movie experience and Ehrenreich importantly embodies young Han, growing into the character over the course of the film. Though some may find parts to be cheesy or unnecessarily connected to past films, my expectations were thoroughly surpassed and as the final scene played, I found myself wanting to cheer. Solo is a great example of the kind of light-hearted, fun stories that can be told in this universe and further continues Disney’s fantastic year of blockbusters.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: June 18-24

LESSON #1: THE HAN SOLO MOVIE IS IN BIG TROUBLE— Any film where the director leaves the project six months into shooting (and triple that time in pre-production) is more than a shade problematic.  When that film is a nine-figure budgeted potential blockbuster under the Star Wars banner of the Disney label, that shockwave of s–t hitting the fan is even greater.  The firing of the 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the upcoming solo prequel Han Solo film starring Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover draws ire and head-scratching.  The more that we hear about it, the worse it sounds.  This far from the first time this has happened in Hollywood and several classics rose out of some of these situations, but the news this week is not a good sign in the slightest.  If this was 1997 after Apollo 13 and Ransom or 2007 after The Da Vinci Code and Cinderella Man, I’d feel a more excited about Ron Howard, but this is 2017 and his last decade (outside of Rush and Frost/Nixon has been rough. Go ahead and say it: “It’s a movie no one asked or anyway  #teamharrisonford.”  Maybe this becomes a lesson to Disney to keep the anthology films away from recasted prequels.

LESSON #2: FIND A WAY TO RETIRE AT THE TOP OF YOUR GAME— Reclusive-yet-renowned king of all cinematic thespians, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting this week.  Take the man at his word.  He is notoriously selective and has never chased a paycheck.  Can he be talked out of it with the right pitch in a few years?  Maybe, but if it sticks, the man retires at his peak as a living legend.  Lewis is the only man is history with three Oscars for Best Actor and is gunning for his fourth as a swan song with Paul Thomas Anderson’s as-yet-untitled new film coming this December.  It won’t take much for the deep industry respect for Lewis to start etching his name on that future statuette.

LESSON #3: THE EXCUSE OF “WE DIDN’T MAKE THIS FILM FOR CRITICS” AND ITS MANY ITERATIONS CARRY ZERO WEIGHT— Yes, as press credentialed film critic in Chicago, I find myself from time to time lumped into the hate volleyed at critics who have differing opinions than the box office results might show.  The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman is the latest film director to push back against poor reviews to cite more positive audience response.  I don’t know if foreign box office and a B- from Cinemascore audience ratings is anything to brag about.  News flash, Alex and all other directors and studio heads: Critics are fans too and an extremely small sample size.  We’re munching on the same popcorn and putting on the same pants.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again.  Want better results?  Make better movies.

LESSON #4: DIRECTOR COLIN TREVORROW DOESN’T GET IT AND WE DON’T GET HIM EITHER— I’m as big of supporter of the breakout indie film Safety Not Guaranteed as much as the next cinephile of discerning taste who has discovered it, but I don’t know if what has come to Colin Trevorrow and is coming to him in the future, i.e. Star Wars, are good things for audiences.  The reactions to his newest film, The Book of Henry, are polarizing, to say the least (I was fine with it, but I’m in the minority).  Veering uglier, Pajiba put together a nice and telling piece titled “The Upwards Falling of Colin Trevorrow and Why It Matters” recently examining his treatment of female characters and quotes on the state of female directors.  I buy what that column is selling.  This man is beginning to reek of tone-deafness and I don’t know if the critical main trilogy of Star Wars is the place for him.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  He is also one of the founders and the current directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.