Friday, May 25, 2018

Review: "Solo: A Star Wars Story" is another solid anthology for the ongoing franchise

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

So far, for my money, the anthology "Star Wars" movies have been impressing more than the ongoing saga continuation. Granted, I did love "The Force Awakens," but it does nag at me that it was essentially just a remake of "A New Hope." Then, "The Last Jedi," well, nothing has changed since I saw back in December. I still feel like it was made by an angsty, emo-teenager who is trying really hard to be cool and who clearly hates everything about "Star Wars." I have been all for new stories set in the "Star Wars" universe, and I think that's a big reason why "Rogue One" really affected me. It was fun following some new characters unconnected to the Skywalkers. It felt fresh. It felt intense. It explained the gaping flaw that has gripped "A New Hope" for years. And yes, it made Darth Vader scary again.

I was skeptical at the beginning when it came to a Han Solo prequel. Hollywood has this thing with prequels were they like to take the mystique away from a certain. Honestly, I don't need every beloved character I know being explained away, and as always, prequels bother me because there is absolutely no tension in them. If you know your main character is going to live, then how can you create anything rendering emotional response? I figured Disney would just make a Greatest Hits movie about Han. We'd figure out his rivalry with Jabba The Hut. We'd figure out his rivalry with Geeto. We'd see the Kessel run. We'd find out how he met Lando and Chewie. And that would be the entire movie.

Well, we DO see the Kessel run. We DO find out how he met Lando and Chewie. But we never see Geeto or Jabba. The rest of the movie is tied to a crime spree. Yes, "Solo" is a Star Wars heist movie, and I absolutely loved it for it. The thing to is that the Kessel run, and Lando and Chewie tie directly into the main storyline. They aren't just random events that happen because its a Han Solo movie, these are things that are actually important to the plot. It was fun stepping outside the main Skywalker storyline and the rise of the Empire just to see some thieves getting by in a very dark, very corrupt world. Disney also brings all the fun and all the adventure we expect from a good "Star Wars" movie.

So as far as the new "Star Wars" movies go, the anthologies are kicking the new saga's ass.

The film opens on the planet Corellia, where we learn that Han has been growing up all his life, it's been a hard push through life and we learn Han has been lying, cheating and stealing just get by for life. The entire planet is run by Lady Proxima, a giant worm-like alien voiced by Linda Hunt. When we meet Han, he is played by Alden Ehrenreich. Who is going to far in this business. Let me just get that out of the way now, he's going far. He was the only good thing about the Coen Brothers' "Hail Ceasar" and he perfectly creates a young Han Solo. He's got the ego, he's got the fun play on language, he's got the handsome glare, he's got the swagger. He's got it all, really, and I was immensely impressed by his portrayal. 

Han has a crush though, a girl named Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) and they plan to get off the planet together. They nearly do, until Qi'ra is recaptured. Han promises to go back to Corellia to save her, he plans to become the best pilot ever and get a ship and save her. It's a little lame how he goes about being called Han Solo, but you know what, I didn't care. By the time the movie really got going, I was already on board.

Three years after leaving Corellia, Han meets up with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) a ruthless smuggler and criminal who is intending to steal several cases of hyperfuel, one of the most precious substances in the entire galaxy. It takes some explaining, and a run-in with Chewbacca, but Han is able to join Tobias' crew. The heist to steal the hyperfuel goes less than well, and Tobias then reveals that he was stealing the fuel for a terrible crime syndicate called the Crimson Dawn, led by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Qi'ra also happens to work for Vos, and between Tobias, Han and Qi'ra, they are able to set up another attempt to steal some hyperfuel for Vos, but if they fail a second time, Vos will have them killed.

Again, I love the idea of a heist movie in the "Star Wars" universe. Yes, the movie is filled to the brim with double-crosses and some big surprises. Sometimes, though, the surprises can be a little much. There is a cameo by a popular character from "Star Wars" lore, but if the timeline is correct, then this character should be dead. It's not explained in the movie why this character is alive, and I am sure all the people going to see this movie this weekend have kept up with all the cartoons being made that are apparently canon with the movies. I do hope they realize that people are going to catch this, and it is going to have to make sense in the movies as well when and if this character shows up again. It's not enough to have a popular character step in without an explanation. But other than that, I love that this is a full-blown crime film in this universe.

The cast is just spectacular all around. Woody Harrelson is great as this type of character. He's got a swagger of his own, he's a charming little conniver and you can tell that Harrelson is relishing every moment he's onscreen. Donald Glover's work as young Lando is equally noted. I love that between Glover and Alden Ehrenreich, they are paying tribute to the actors who played these characters before them, but also putting a fresh, young spin on them at the same time. They can still call these characters their own, but also making sure they feel like the old characters we know and love. Much like what Christian Bale did with Batman. Emilia Clarke is an adorable actress, and I love that she brings some that Khaleesi edge when things start getting crazy in the last half of the movie. I was surprised to see Thandie Newton show up as a love interest for Tobias. She isn't in much of the movie, but she certainly makes her presence known. As does the character Rio, who is a multi-limbed alien voiced by Jon Favreau. Rio isn't in much of the movie either, but man he certainly makes an impression in his limited screen time.

The big thing was, this wasn't a Greatest Hits movie. This wasn't a movie that got bogged down by reshoots and a director change. It certainly sounded like there was a hot mess going on behind the cameras while making this movie, and the result could have been disastrous. "Solo" is completely unlike any other "Star Wars" movie, but that's where its power comes from. Finally, we get a prequel that adds some tension and some hard-felt emotions into the mix. Something I didn't think was quite possible. While Disney does try to wrap a typical heroic, goody ending before the credits roll. I absolutely loved that Solo never quite broke character. Obviously, if this is your first "Star Wars" movie, there will be plenty of time for that later. Yep, folks, its true this is a good one.

FINAL GRADE: A

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