Thursday, May 24, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story

In many ways Solo: A Star Wars Story is the antithesis of Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Solo plays things ultra-conservative, continually dumbs down the plot for the audience, and relies heavily on nostalgia. The result is a fun, if flawed and unambitious, film that offers fans the Cliff's Notes version of Han Solo's (Alden Ehrenreich) past.

Star Wars fans will know the planet Corellia. Aside from being the homeworld of Han Solo, the planet played a major role in various storylines of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Solo: A Star Wars Story is the first Star Wars film to give fans a glimpse of the world... and it's about and underwhelming as possible. It doesn't help that the only scenes we get involve a young Han, saddled with a Dickensian backstory which turns him into Oliver Twist, working along with other local younglings as a thief.

If the film has a major flaw its the first 30-45 minutes which struggles mightily to set-up the story and at times is borderline bad. Thankfully, once Han makes some new friends and the heist plot is introduced, things begin to pick up.

After giving us a glimpse of Han's days as a street thief, the film jumps forward to the end of his time as an Imperial soldier, his first meeting with Chewbacca, and putting his skills to use with a group of mercenaries led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) which will bring him into contact with both Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and the Millennium Falcon and reunite him with his childhood sweetheart Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). It's important to note, because the script has Han explain his past and his relationship to Qi'ra later, the early scenes are completely superfluous to the plot and only stagnate Han's rise as a smuggler.

Subtlety isn't to be found here. Here's one, annoying, example: Do you remember the scenes from The Last Jedi involving the metal dice from the Millennium Falcon? Screenwriters Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan certainly do as the pair give us at least a half-dozen close-ups on Han's good luck charm and several other scenes where they are prominently shown. The film also feels the need to shoehorn as much of Han's legacy as possible into the film's running time which leaves some sequences short-changed and others (such as the famous Kessel Run) enjoyable but also vastly simplified compared to other depictions. And, in one of the more groan-worthy moments, the film (quite unnecessarily) explains to us exactly how Han got his name.

Despite some serious issues, the film has quite a bit going for it. Ehrenreich proves to be a passable younger version of Han. Chewbacca is great as always, and Glover is immensely enjoyable as Lando (even if the film saddles him with yet another sassy droid). Clarke is fine in her role, but the character isn't given enough time to breathe and become a serious rival to Han's true love: the Millennium Falcon. And fans will enjoy seeing a far cleaner version of the Falcon than in previous films. The heist proves to be a solid story element that brings together a variety of fun characters (I just wish it happened 30 minutes earlier), and even if the film's various villains (such as Paul Bettany as the leader of a criminal organization or rival mercenaries also after the same plunder as Han's team) aren't that memorable, they are threatening enough in small doses to provide necessary tension to the story. Oh, there's also an unexpected cameo you won't want to miss.

Given my strong misgivings about the entire endeavor, I can't really say that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a disappointment. Despite early problems, the last half of the film is a hell of a lot of fun and filled with plenty of action and humor, shots of Han and Chewie in action, and a pretty entertaining Lando. Is it as good as I hoped? No, but it's a fair bit better than I feared. Unlike many of the other Star Wars movies, it isn't a film I'll likely return to soon or often, but it makes for an okay summer popcorn flick.

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