“A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…”
Yes, those lines open this Star Wars story, because the filmmakers want to be sure you know what you’re watching. This is Star Wars. Just in case there was anyone at all in the audience who had no idea they just bought a ticket to Star Wars. If he were dead, George Lucas would be rolling over in his grave. Instead, maybe he’s just having some restless nights with little sleep. It is Star Wars. And that means there will be a droid as a main character, space battles, and some good old fashioned one-reel-serial-days adventure. It’s a heck of a visual amusement park ride, and the film will certainly entertain. But I have to open by saying it is my least favorite of the Disney Star Wars films to date.
Young Han Solo (Ehrenreich) is a bit of a scrapper, scrounging for things to sell to the local warlord, who happens to be a large, caterpillar-like Lady Proxima, voiced by NCIS’s Linda Hunt. He’s found something of value, but has fallen out of favor with the lady and has to make his escape off-planet, unintentionally leaving his love Qu’ri (Clarke) behind. What he wants is to be a pilot, so he joins a military organization and cuts his teeth on a few battles. He also befriends the beloved wookie Chewbacca. But he doesn’t come into his own until he partners with Beckett, played by the lately-prolific Woody Harrelson. Beckett teaches him how to operate outside the law, and their adventures eventually lead them back to Qu’ri, who has now become the consort of another crime kingpin. She ends up joining Beckett, Chewie, and Solo in a heist to make things right. This is where the double-crosses on double-crosses happen to make this more of an Ocean’s 11 in space. Of course, to do the job, they need a fast ship. Enter Lando Calrissian, played by Donald Glover. He happens to have a fast ship, and Han is suddenly in love with…wait for it… the Millennium Falcon.
The film already had several things going against it before it was ever released. The film was basically going to tell a story that we already know pretty much already. The job ends up being the bragged-about Kessel run, and Han ends up picking up the pieces of a life we already know. It’s not so much a problem of knowing the story. It’s the fact that Harrison Ford’s character has given us so much background that we have engraved these things in our head and already have our own versions of how it might have played out. Another problem is the performance of Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han Solo. The guy’s not bad, and there’s some pretty good acting here, but he’s not Han Solo, and there’s little chance he ever will be. The film opens with a scene straight out of the first rebooted Star Trek film, and I think Ehrenreich felt more like a young Captain Kirk than Han Solo. I’ve heard hundreds of actors were looked at for this part, and it boggles my imagination to think he was the best. By the time Ron Howard came on board, the cast was set. I wonder if Howard would have made the same cast choice. I would have loved to have seen Anthony Ingruber, who played a stunning young Ford character in Age of Adaline. The actor who really steals the film is Donald Glover as Lando. Granted, he had an easier task, because Lando didn’t have a lot of screen time outside of Empire Strikes Back. But Glover just eats this stuff up. He upstages the character who has his name in the title of the film. This movie should have been called Lando: A Star Wars Story. That’s the guy I knew less about in the past, and I left the film wishing I had learned more about him than Han.
That’s not all this film had working against it. We all know that the original directors were Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It appears they got so carried away with the farce of the whole thing that they were fired just a few weeks before they were scheduled to finish the film. In came Ron Howard, and apparently he reshot 90% of what they had already filmed. When the two original directors saw a copy of the finished film, they dropped their appeal for credit as directors. There wasn’t much left of the comedy they were making. This kind of a turnover usually isn’t good for a film, and I won’t say it hurt this film, because I haven’t seen what it was shaped as previously. I also love Ron Howard’s work, for the most part. But this film, while entertaining, always felt so unnecessary.
Honestly, the film is about 40 minutes too long. If this had played as a tighter film, it might have worked a lot better. The script drags out events we already know a bit about. You’re not building to any big surprise here…or are you? OK, there are some rather sweet events in the twists that will bring a huge reaction from the Star Wars fandom. Obviously, I’m not going to spill now. You want to discover these moments on your own. Perhaps even those Dum-Dum-Dum moments would have been even more effective with a tighter film and story. Too many heist pieces and too much filler between the character moments that never really come together here.
Fans will appreciate the many Easter eggs found along the way. The old John Williams hero moments pop up every time the film wants to connect you to the classic Star Wars feeling. You can count on it in times like Han’s first look at the Falcon. And it really was mission accomplished, because I did get those almost weepy feelings at just the right moments. There’s the smart-alec droid. This time it’s L3-37, who thinks Lando is in love with her and calls for her brother and sister droids to rise up from their oppression. The supporting cast is pretty solid. Emilia Clarke gets to wear more clothes here than she gets on Game Of Thrones, and she’s very good even if she rather fails to develop the right kind of chemistry with Ehrenreich. This is no Han and Leia, to be sure. Woody Harrelson is always a joy to watch, but even Harrelson doesn’t deliver like he did in Apes or The Hunger Games. There should have been more intensity here, to be sure. There isn’t a lot of chemistry at all here, and that’s just out of place for a Star Wars film.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35-40 mbps. The high-definition image presentation is not quite as impressive as I hoped. I’m sure the UHD version is quite an improvement, but this is the version Disney sent us to review. The film appears to utilize a smoke filter for a lot of the movie, so that there is a bit of a washed out appearance throughout. The vivid colors come in blaster shots and Lando’s stylistic capes. Fortunately, the black levels shine in the space scenes, but there aren’t as many of these as is usual for a Star Wars film. Otherwise, black levels are only fair because of the fog effect. The newer and brighter interior of the Falcon is a bright spot in the image, literally. The white walls offer the best clarity in the film. The f/x are seamless and do offer some stunning moments. The escape from the space creature is a very big disappointment. There’s little detail in a red-washed image that likely is quite superior in UHD. It’s the kind of thing HDR was made for, but we don’t have that ability here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is a much nicer presentation. The score features a nice blend of new music and pieces of the iconic John Williams material that are usually used to build emotion when something is revealed that will lead to things we loved about the character since Episode IV. Often these score cues are actually quite subtle, existing in the surrounds so that we might not even consciously hear it, but it tingles a psychological nostalgic feeling. The subs enhance the fights and explosions, assisting with depth to dialog and ship engines. Dialog cuts through nicely, and there are plenty of things blowing up to give your theatre a little shake, rattle, and roll when called for.
All of the extras are found on a separate disc which allows for plenty of extras without sacrificing bit-rate on the feature.
Solo – The Director & Cast Roundtable: (21:44) Ron Howard sits down at a gambling film gambling table with the cast for a nice casual conversation. I found it interesting that the subject of the firing of the original director team is not mentioned here or anywhere in the film’s extras.
Kasdan On Kasdan: (7:50) Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Empire Strikes Back and three other Star Wars films over the years. He’s back this time co-writing with his son John for this movie. They talk about working together, and John talks about growing up with Star Wars in the family. There are also some audio clips from a Lawrence Kasdan interview in 1993.
Remaking The Millennium Falcon: (5:36) This feature gives us a look at how this version of the ship was designed, and Donald Glover gives us a tour of the Falcon set.
Escape From Corellia: (9:59) This feature focuses on the futuristic car chase and all of the elements that went into it. This includes concept art, pre-viz, real muscle car inspiration, recording its engine sounds, and a mix of real car stunts with digitally removed wheels and the computer-generated moments of the scene.
The Train Heist: (14:30) This is admittedly my least favorite segment of the movie. However, if you’re into it, you’ll get all the insight you could ever want about how it was pulled off. We get behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot, pre-viz, concept art, stunts, storyboards, and the construction of the gimble stage to toss the actors about as they’re filming. We get to see the model constructions and location shooting on a cold mountain top.
Team Chewie: (6:41) A close look at the Chewie character from actor Joonas Suotama playing him under the costume to the animal recordings that created the unique sounds of the beloved character. Meet the team that built the costume and took care of it during the shoot including covering him with mud and then off to the Wookie wash.
Becoming A Droid – L3-37: (5:06) Every Star Wars film has to have a central droid figure or two. This time it’s L3-37, a droid in love with Lando and trying to free droids from oppression. Phoebe Waller-Bridge provided the voice and the motion-capture performance. She also had a costume that featured a green-screen leotard with pieces of the actual droid like the head and mid-section that were then combined with the motion-capture computer-generated images to create the character.
Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures And Cards – Welcome To Fort Ypso: (8:02) Another pre-requisite for Star Wars films is the creature gathering place, and that’s Fort Ypso here. A cool behind the scenes look at how the creatures were created by makeup f/x, puppets, mechanical constructs, and computer-generated images. We are taught how to play Sabacc that combines cards and dice. Did you know that the groups were based on classic paintings? I didn’t. You get to see the paintings and how the were recreated with creatures. We also get a tour of that set with all of the trimmings.
Into The Maelstrom – The Kessel Run: (8:28) The time the focus is on the film’s take on the famous Kessel Run. There’s plenty of storyboards, concept art, pre-viz, and a laser projection system that created the views from the ship’s window to create the interstellar scenery. We get a close-up look at the creation of the space monster and the various sounds that helped to bring it to life. We also get to see more of the deconstruction of this Falcon to the one we remember so well. One of the sounds was created by dropping gummi bears into a test tube that contained a potassium chloride solution. I’m sure they meant to tell the kiddies not to try this at home. Actually, it might be pretty cool.
Deleted Scenes: (15:13) There are eight with a play-all option.
Look, it was bound to happen. Disney has had a lot of success with their Marvel world for 10 years. But if you look close enough, a couple of those films are average, at best. The key is to not do a stinker. The same holds true here for the Lucas franchise. Not every film is going to hit it out of the park. Solo’s a ground rule double. But if Disney can stay in a range where this is a low point, there’s going to be a lot of fun to be had in the Star Wars universe. To sum it up: “You look good, little rough around the edges, but good.”