Monday, May 28, 2018

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Ron Howard.
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan based on characters created by George Lucas.
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Woody Harrelson (Tobias Beckett), Emilia Clarke (Qi'Ra), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Thandie Newton (Val), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos), Jon Favreau (Rio Durant), Linda Hunt (Lady Proxima).
When Disney purchased Lucasfilms, and along with it Star Wars, and announced that we would basically get a new Star Wars film every year, we knew eventually that sooner or later, the idea of a new Star Wars film would be less special than it once was. The Force Awakens was huge, The Last Jedi did very well, and even Rogue One – the first spinoff or so called “Star Wars Story” was also a hit. But even watching Rogue One – as good as it was (and it’s very good), I couldn’t help but get the impression that Star Wars was now just another blockbuster franchise. Like the Marvel films, some will be very good, some bad, many in between – and the box office would also fluctuate depending on people’s interest in the character – this is why Doctor Strange made $232 million, but Black Panther is still going at plus $600. You cannot expect your audience to feel the same excitement when you’re serving up a new one of these things every year (or in this case, just six months after The Last Jedi) then when they had to wait years in between installments.
Solo is the weakest Star Wars films since they came back – and one of the weaker ones altogether. In all honestly, it felt like just another fun but forgettable summer blockbuster, with some great action scenes and enough good performances and twists to keep you entertained for its entire runtime – but a year from now, you’ll likely have forgotten most of the details. This isn’t really a knock on the film – crafting a summer blockbuster this much fun isn’t an easy thing to do, and director Ron Howard makes it look easy. The only way you’re going to walk out of this film disappointed is if your expectations are too high – or you’re allergic to fan service, because this film has that in spades (which perhaps explains why they released it so close after The Last Jedi – which had very little fan service, angering a lot of fans who act like giant man babies when someone does something with the franchise they don’t like).
Solo is the origin story for Han Solo, answering all the questions that most of us never thought to ask. Where did the last name come from? How did he meet Chewie? What happened at that card game when he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando? What happened to turn him into the roguish lone wolf who only pretends he doesn’t have a conscience that we all so loved in the original trilogy? These questions didn’t need to be answered, but to be fair, neither did we really need to know how the rebels stole the plans for the Death Star – and Rogue One was still a very good film.
In the role of Han Solo is Alden Ehrenreich, who has the most unenviable task of any actor in this recent string on Star Wars movies – because he has to recreate a role that was played to perfection by Harrison Ford. Not only that, but Ehrenreich has to do more with the role than Ford did, because now he has to be the center of the movie, and not just the scene stealing supporting character – Han Solo here has to drive the action and the emotions of the story more than Ford ever did. Luckily, Ehrenreich is a fine actor (don’t @ me, but he’s a better actor than Ford – but Ford is a better movie star if that makes sense, and it does). Ehrenreich, smartly, doesn’t try too hard to do a Harrison Ford impression – he steals a facial expression once in a while, but mostly, he knows he isn’t a young Harrison Ford, and doesn’t try to fool you into thinking he is. Ehrenreich plays this role as well as it could be played – but everyone else in the cast has an easier job, and as a result, a few of them steal quite a few scenes.
The biggest example of that is clearly Donald Glover, who is having a blast playing Lando as pure arrogant swagger and charming sex appeal. The role doesn’t have much depth, but it doesn’t need it. Glover is a joy to watch in this role in every scene. If they actually do make a standalone Lando movie (and they should – at least if they’re going to keep churning these things out), he may well face the same challenges Ehrenreich does here – having to carry a movie (you cannot steal a movie when you’re the main character) – but here, he’s great fun. The biggest surprise is probably Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of droid L3-37 – a “woke” droid wanting to inspire revolution. Her role is small, but comes just at the point in the film when the whole thing needs a kick – and she does it wonderfully. Woody Harrelson is in fine form as Tobias Becket – the crook who takes Han under his wing, but may never be fully trustworthy. Emilia Clarke is fine as Han’s first love – who he reunites with, but doesn’t quite understand how things have changed. Paul Bettany does what he can in a few scenes as a one dimensional villain.
Overall, Solo is a lot of fun. The stakes are lower in this Star Wars film than in any other of the series – it’s basically a Star Wars heist film, in which Solo and the team he falls in with have to steal a lot of fuel for reasons (seriously dudes, way TOO MANY reasons – we really do not need as much conversation about the fuel as this movie gives us). There is a terrific early action sequences trying to rob a moving train, which is exciting and fun, and the climaxes (yes, more than one) are well handled. This is why you hire someone like Ron Howard – he isn’t the guy you hire to take risks that will pay off big. He isn’t going to elevate material – but he can execute as well as anyone, and while we can always wonder just what the film would have looked like had Christopher Miller and Phil Lord had been given the chance to complete what they started, the end result is still fun. At some point, they’re going to have to decide what precisely they want to do with these films – if they’ll be content to just produce fun content like this, or whether they want to take more chances like The Last Jedi did. My hope is more of the latter – but if the stand alone films are fun as Solo, it’s hard to complain – even if Solo doesn’t have the impact of most Star Wars films – it’s still a good time at the movies.

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