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Solo (2018)

Director:  Ron Howard

Writers: Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan


Alden Ehrenreich:  Han Solo

Joonas Suotamo:  Chewbacca

Emilia Clarke: Qi’ra (Pronounced “Kira”)

Woody Harrelson:  Beckett

Donald Glover:  Lando Calrissian

Paul Bettany:  Dryden Vos

Solo was supposed to cost a great deal less than the $250 million dollars it eventually cost.  Keep in mind that number is probably only the most accurate of a number of reports, and doesn’t include promotion, etc, which may have raised the overall cost to as much as $400 million, but one thing is certain: it cost a ridiculously large sum to make, primarily because the two original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, had “creative differences” with Lucasfilm and were fired after several months of production.  Ron Howard, about as safe a bet as an emergency director as can be imagined, was brought on board, but had to reshoot much of the movie, hence the high production costs.  Several weeks into the release, things are not looking good:

Certainly, having to reshoot the film with a new director was a contributing problem.  Ron Howard has brilliant films to this credit, but they have been his films.  This one is clearly not.  It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not what it needed to be when it needed to be. Screening shortly after Avengers: Infinity War, and Deadpool 2, it faced stiff competitionThe Last Jedi screened less than a half year ago, and all prior Star Wars movies have been spaced at least a year apart. Rogue One did well, but the timing was better, and it featured new and interesting characters; the character development had somewhere to go, and did.

Lucasfilm and Disney reportedly have as many as nine new Star Wars movies in various stages of pre-production, etc.  The lackadaisical response of fans to Solo might cause them to reevaluate that kind of optimism.

Solo is, of course, an origin story, and that too is one of its weaknesses.  The Star Wars saga, particularly the original trilogy, were spectacularly successful in large part because they are the movie version of literary epics.  They are The Odyssey on the silver screen, and share all of the characteristics that compel us to read, and adapt for the screen, millennia old epics today.  All moviegoers know Han Solo and Chewie.  Han’s character traits are well known.  He’s the loveable rogue, the swaggering, swashbuckling bad boy, good to have in a fight, clever, brave, loyal to his friends, quick on his feet, fallible, soft hearted, but able to do whatever is necessary to win, and always finding a way to triumph for good in the end.  He’s Odysseus, Huckleberry Finn, every slightly disrespectable but endearing character Americans love to love.  He’s like James Bond: men wish they could be him and women want to be with him.

In essence, Star Wars fans already knew the outcome of any possible character development before the opening sequence.  There was no mystery.  Han Solo was Han Solo and he was going to be Han Solo at the end of the movie, just younger. Other than introducing a few new characters, many of who end up seriously dead, there is only one character that has a hope of continuing character development in the future: Qi’ra, played winningly by British Actress Emelia Clarke (Don’t you just love that final, British “e”?).

Qi’ra and Han

The movie opens on a grim planet where Qi’ra and Han, played by Alden Ehrenreich, are slave labor for a loathsome gangster–plenty of those in the Star Wars universe–doing what such characters do: hustling.  Qi’ra is Han’s love interest, and they try to escape the planet.  Han makes it, Qi’ra doesn’t, and he swears to come back for her as soon as he can.  His never-wavering devotion to her is one of Han’s best qualities.

To escape, he enlists in the Empire’s–they’re around, evil, and wearing the same armor that doesn’t appear to protect them from anything–military, but gets kicked out of flight school because–wait for it–he can’t play by the rules.  Fortunately, he learned just enough to be one of the most brilliant, intuitive pilots in the Galaxy.

Chewie, Beckett and Han

He meets Chewie–they more or less rescue each other from the clutches of the Empire–and Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson.  Beckett is also a hustler, and has a big score in mind.  This leads to one of the grand CGI sequences in the movie–there are several–but they ultimately fail–the characters, not the CGI–which introduces them to Vos, played by Paul Bettany. Readers will likely recognize him as Vision from the Avengers universe.  In Solo, he’s a menacing thug that employs Beckett.  He also employs Qi’ra, and her reunion with Solo is a happy thing, but tinged with mystery.

So off they go on a second quest to make a score that will pay Vos back and keep them alive, which sets up several other grand special effects scenes. Han gets to demonstrate his wit, Qi’ra gets to demonstrate near-Jedi level martial skills, Han meets Lando Calrissian, played well by Donald Glover, wins the Millenium Falcon from him by using his own card tricks against him, and he and Chewie fly off, happily, but without Qi’ra, into space.

There are, of course, sufficient unresolved plot lines to allow a sequel. And that’s where things get interesting.  Ehrenreich plays a predictable but endearing Solo; remember we knew what he was going to have to be by the end of the movie. Chewie plays Chewie, one of the Star Wars universe’s more charming characters.  And viewers aren’t quite sure what to make of Qi’Ra, who seems a minion of–Darth Maul?!

Production values are first rate.  Sets, lighting, costumes, makeup and special effects are all very well done.  I found it hard to hear some of the dialogue between individual characters, and there was no particular rhyme or reason to when such problems would occur.  Perhaps it is just all those years of shooting and loud music catching up with me, but I had the distinct impression there was more than a little mumbling going on.

Seeing a brand new, sparkling white and clean Millenium Falcon was fun, and the various aliens were very well done, though Star Wars fans tend to take that sort of thing for granted.

It’s difficult to see Howard’s mark on the movie, which is no doubt at least partially true because he had to make do with someone else’s ideas and try to keep as much of the original footage as possible.  The pacing is professional, the movie looks convincing, there is at least some of the trademark humor and false bravado one expects from Han Solo, but it’s not unreasonable to assert the movie doesn’t fulfill the expectations of some Star Wars fans.

The Star Wars universe can easily go on without a Solo sequel.  There seems little additional information such a movie could provide, and there appears to be no need to provide background for any possible future movie. Unless the movie does a great deal better in American theaters, around the world, and on DVD, there would seem to be little reason for a sequel.  The surviving characters could, however, easily appear in other future movies, just not as featured players.

Solo is an entertaining movie, but breaks no real new ground.  One can easily wait for the DVD, but I must admit, I’m not feeling compelled to buy it as soon as it comes out.   I’ll probably buy one merely to add to my Star Wars collection, but I wouldn’t show it in school to illustrate the quest or the hero.  Episode IV does that much better.