Begin the Begin: A Spoiler-Free Review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story”
*Re-post for those who may have missed it!
By Dan Fischer
It’s fair to say that my opinion of the latest trio of Star Wars movies has not been kind. As wildly popular as the franchise is right now, the new movies (Episodes 7, 8 and Rogue One) have left me decidedly under-whelmed. The performances have been largely uneven, ranging from good (Benicio del Toro) to solid (Daisy Ridley) to utterly horrendous (Felicity Jones). But I don’t blame the casts, or the writers, or producers for the generally “meh” quality of these new movies. That blame falls squarely on the heads of their directors. Each one had their own “vision” of what Star Wars means to them; but that wasn’t what it meant to us.
JJ Abrams elected not to reinvent the wheel, simply introduce new characters in a format the audience is already familiar with. This was a wise choice, considering what happened next. Rian Johnson got solid performances out of his cast and orchestrated an enthralling fight scene but made some baffling choices that flew in the face of decades of established canon. Since when to blaster bolts arc? Gareth Edwards spent so much time trying to convince audiences that he, too, was a Star Wars fanatic that he forgot to tell Felicity Jones to use a different facial expression. She’s a can express emotions other than mild surprise.
So, with all that said, let’s talk about my personal favorite Star Wars character and his special time to shine.
Ron Howard is an Oscar and Emmy-award winning director, actor and producer. In my mind, by attaching a guy like Howard to this movie, Disney made a statement: We know the last couple movies could have been stellar with a more experienced hand on the tiller, so we got a real salty-dog to steer this ship. And the result?
I loved it.
While not a perfect movie, this is by far the most well rounded movie of the new Star Wars era. The production and direction of the movie is excellent; nothing seems forced (like the super-retro electronics of Rogue One) or familiar territory (planet or planet-like objects exploding to signal the end of the movie). Though the story does crawl a bit through the middle of the film, it’s otherwise well paced. Lawrence Kasdan returns to pen the screenplay along with his son, Jon. The dramatic action follows a simple path, but in a character driven film such as this, it’s okay if it’s a little predictable.
It’s plain to see why Alden Ehrenreich landed this role. His portrayal of the young Han worming his way out of the slums of Correlia is strangely similar to Luke Skywalker’s departure from Tatooine. A young boy dreams of leaving his current life behind to find his fortune amongst the stars. Ehrenreich’s transition from wide-eyed wannabe to cunning scoundrel is slow and bumpy but ultimately successful. The way he stands and carries himself, even his casual bravado all seem proto-traits of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, like baby versions of someone we will know years from now. He won’t win any awards for it, but it’s an impressive performance all the same.
To be fair, this movie has a much more talented cast than the other films of this era. Woody Harrelson’s performance as grizzled scoundrel Tobias Beckett is effortless; it’s the sort of role he’s played before, and will again. Emilia Clarke, who seems to be trying to add “Queen of Nerds” to her extensive list of titles, isn’t great as love interest Qi’ra, but is decent enough. The character seemed something of an afterthought in this story, and anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past several years has seen Clarke’s stellar run as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. She’s a better actress than this performance would suggest.
Donald Glover may not be related to actor Danny Glover or singer/musician Corey Glover, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a critically acclaimed as both an actor and musician. His performance as Lando Calrissian is a mirror of Billy Dee Williams’, and it’s done with flair and panache. Phoebe Waller-Bridge provides laughs and attitude as the rebellious droid L3-37. The name itself is a reference to computer hacker subculture. Paul Bettany, late of “Marvel’s Avengers; Infinity War” gives a manic performance as gang lord Dryden Vos, changing from charming and calm to brutal psychopath from moment to moment. Fellow MCU alumnus Jon Favreau provides voice work, along with Hollywood veteran Linda Hunt. Both are small but memorable roles.
I won’t go into specifics, but there are a lot of “for the first time” moments in “Solo”, and each one is handled with the appropriate gravitas. The point of an origin story or prequel is to set the stage for future events the audience already knows about, and this film does that flawlessly. From Han’s contentious first meeting with Chewbacca to learning life lessons from would-be mentor Tobias Beckett, the audience can feel Han Solo slowing transforming into “the” Han Solo. This is a well crafted, well conceived and well executed film. As fans, I don’t think we can ask for much more.