SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY review by Mark Walters – Ron Howard delivers a fun origin tale

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY review by Mark Walters – Ron Howard delivers a fun origin tale

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY hits theaters this weekend, and quite a few Lucasfilm franchise fans are pretty excited about it, though some still aren’t 100% sold. The movie had a rough road last year, after the directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from the production after principal photography was done, and then Ron Howard was brought in to finish the film in editing and reportedly do minor re-shoots. That changed, and rumor has it Howard re-shot almost 80% of the film. But most surprising was it took until February (as in three months ago) for us to see anything from the film… no movie stills, no trailer, just a poster with a logo up until that point. The Super Bowl changed that, and since then we’ve seen several posters (some that were controversial), and multiple trailers, each better than the last. Then advance reviews started tricking in, and most were very positive. Suddenly, it seemed like this rocky attempt at a new STAR WARS story with familiar characters might be a smart idea after all.

The narrative begins with a young man and his girlfriend, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who live on a planet in a rough area controlled by some very rough types. Han reveals himself to be a thief with a heart of gold, and he and Qi’ra go on the run in hopes of escaping this dangerous life together. Han gets out, but Qi’ra is captured and he must leave her behind. Desperate to escape, Han joins the Empire, where he serves for years until he meets a more experienced thief named Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his girlfriend Val (Thandie Newton), who are planning a heist that Han wants in on. At this point he stumbles across a captured wookiee named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and the two become fast friends. Now Beckett, Val, Han and Chewie join forces to pull a job together. But this is caper planned by an evil crime boss named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a man who doesn’t accept failure from those who work for him. Vos is also living his life of crime with none other than Qi’ra, who clearly keeps his company against her will. All of this leads to the gang, with Qi’ra in tow, seeking out another man with a fast ship (yes, the Millennium Falcon) to pull an even bigger job… and that man is Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a smooth smuggler with an infamous reputation. Together, they must succeed to keep Vos from punishing them, and fight to stay alive in the process.

What’s most interesting about SOLO is that it frequently feels a lot like a classic STAR WARS movie, even more so than THE FORCE AWAKENS or THE LAST JEDI. And it’s certainly more fun and entertaining than ROGUE ONE, which was good but ultimately depressing due to how it had to end. The dialogue in SOLO is crisp and clever, and the action sequences are exciting and intense, sometimes giving us the feeling of cinematic greatness. Even the musical score by John Powell has the spirit and best qualities of that vintage John Williams sound, and introduces new themes that are sweet and thoughtful. All of the actors give competent performances, and there are moments where each of them are almost doing something terrific and inspired, particularly Donald Glover as Lando. But in the end, no one really wows you, they’re just sort of there and doing what they have to, getting us from point A to point B in the most entertaining way possible. It’s like seeing a play that’s really terrific, and not remembering any specific actor’s reading.

Alden Ehrenreich does a good job playing Han Solo, though there’s hardly even a shade of Harrison Ford in his performance. There are select moments where he gives a look to another character, or a wink and a smile, and he’s perfectly fine as a leading man… but he’s just nothing like Ford. And maybe it’s my imagination, but he appears to be rather short in some scenes, which I only mention because Harrison’s Han was always tall and lanky. Emilia Clarke does a good job as Solo’s love interest and biggest regret, beautiful and mysterious and holding her own among the impressive ensemble cast. She’s so good that at times she almost feels out of place when those around her seem to be playing it more subdued. Donald Glover comes close to stealing the film as Lando, capturing the essence of Billy Dee Williams strongly enough to make you grin each time he opens his mouth. He’s a great supporting character, though I’d argue he’s a role that’s good in small does, especially after hearing that Lucasfilm is considering a possible Lando movie now… not sure that’s needed, but I did like Glover here, a lot too. Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton are perhaps the weakest of the bunch, which is surprising, but I just didn’t feel like their characters were terribly well done. Part of that may be the writing too, but I wanted more from them. Two stand out favorites among the cast are Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Lando’s sarcastic and overly-confident droid L3-37, who is easily one of the best droids to inhabit the STAR WARS universe yet, and Joonas Suotamo who plays Chewbacca for his third time and really gets to have fantastic moments with the role. Paul Bettany plays a solid heavy, and almost ends up being an amazing villain, but he needed to have one more nasty moment to solidify that, and it sadly never comes.

What is most interesting to me is how this film comes across as STAR WARS for a new generation while successfully playing off characters and concepts us old school fans know very well. And because of that, both original Lucasfilm fans and millennials will likely enjoy it equally for various reasons. SOLO is just a fun ride for all, and one that delivers much more often than it fails. It’s not perfect, but it’s tremendously engaging in spite of itself, and when it ends you feel like you’re ready for more. It does suffer the frequent STAR WARS problem of being a tad too long, running two hours and 15 minutes, though I’m not sure what part should have been cut. Ron Howard must have had a daunting task trying to pick up the pieces left behind by Lord and Miller, and there are moments throughout the film where you can see traces of their highly comedic style, but the end result is rather satisfying and surprising. I’ll admit, I was in the camp of doubters leading up to the movie, and there’s a sequence about halfway through where I had a singular thought… that I was so very wrong, and so happy that I was. Bottom line, if you like STAR WARS, you’ll very likely enjoy SOLO. It’s not exactly what you grew up with, but think of it more like a really tasty substitute that will satisfy your craving quite nicely.


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.