A review of Solo – meeting an old friend for the first time.

Solo: A Star Wars Story, or Solo (to avoid confusion, I will refer to the movie as Solo and the character as Han), is the second of the Star Wars stand-alone “anthology” films, following 2016’s Rogue One. It is set prior to the events of Star Wars (yes I said Star Wars dammit, not New Hope not Episode Four…), although it is vague as to how far before – movie executives say about ten years. It explores the first adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca, as well as their meeting Lando Calrissian, and the theft of a type of super fuel to appease a boss of the criminal underworld for an earlier botched train heist.

This is the darkest of the all the Star Wars movies. We see the criminal underbelly of this galaxy far far away. We had hints of this in Jabba the Hut and others (including Lando). But this is murkier, more nihilistic.

I liked it!

If the movie did not have the Star Wars tag, stripped and scrubbed of all Lucasia, so to speak, it would have still been a good movie. Not great, but good. It was too dark to have the sly wit of The Sting or the hipster wink of Ocean’s 11, but it had the same elements. Individual rogues tying to outwit Criminal organizations who themselves are fighting other criminal organizations all avoiding the Empire fighting a embryonic Rebellion. Who is on who’s side? Their own, obviously. Anyone could turn on Han at any time. No one is NOT suspect.

Well, not Chewbacca, obviously.

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As part of the so-called anthology of non-canonical eight-and-counting movies (that is, not part of the “Adventures of Luke Skywalker (and family)” – I’ll refer to them as the Canon), comparisons to the first anthology movie – Rogue One – is expected and (were I involved in the movie) welcomed! Rogue One was superb but inextricably linked to the Canon. It was a laser-etched final jigsaw piece to the Canon all while maintaining independence from the Canon. Rogue One managed to juggle an original story while still carry the immense burden (or baggage depending on your opinion) of the Canon movies.

Solo does not have as much baggage as Rogue One and is thus free to create new characters and situations (as Rogue One did but even more independent of “what happens next”) – the only burden was making sure Han and Chewy eventually make it to Tattoine and Lando ends up in Cloud City (the movie ends before either destination is reached). You KNOW they aren’t going to be killed off. Whether they will stay loyal to each other in the meantime … remember their first reunion in Empire Strikes Back

But it does have its nods to the Canon. Jabba the Hut is mentioned (not by name but the implication is obvious), but Bossk is (from Empire), we see Han’s home world of Corellia, we find out why he wears military trousers, we visit the Spice Mines of Kessel and why the Kessel run can’t be made in less than 20 parsecs.

A shame – for 40 years I have established my geek cred by arguing that a parsec was a measure of space, not time, making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs was akin to running a mile in 400 feet. Alas, Solo explains (finally) what this means other than it being an un scientific writer’s error …

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Alden Ehrenreich did well as Han. His Han’s arrogance was as unproved as Harrison Ford’s in Star Wars, but the audience in Solo knows he is bluffing about his abilities. By the end of both movies, we are as confident as he is about his piloting (and other) skills.

I had a hard time seeing him “becoming” the Harrison Ford version, however. Compare his performance to, say, River Phoenix’ superior young Indiana Jones in Lost Crusade. River emulated Ford’s manner of speech, his phrasing, even his gate while running. I could see him “growing up” to be Harrison Ford. Not so with Alden Ehrenreich.

Which is neither good nor bad, just different. I didn’t want Rich Little, but this Han Solo wasn’t going to be the one I saw in 1977. Less of a bio-pic and more of a reboot.

Compare this to Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian. HE emulated the speech patterns, phrasing and general cool slickness Billy Dee Williams brought (will bring? Damn these time anomalies) to the character.  It also helped that Lando was only in two movies – and only one in which we glimpsed his personality (he was almost an after-thought in Return of the Jedi) – Lando was not as firmly entrenched in the mythos as Han.

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The villain behind all the treachery, when revealed, was fun and interesting but caused some confusion. No spoilers, but his/her/its (I’m being deliberately vague as to gender) appearance was … an anachronism. How could this character possibly be around at this time? No spoilers, but it would be as if Kylo Ren appeared in a movie about a young Yoda. “Aren’t you not even supposed to be born for another seven hundred years?” or Qui-Gon Jinn appearing alive and well at the end of the ninth Canon movie. “Didn’t you die … seventy-plus years ago?”

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The rest of the cast? Woody Harrelson surprises as Han’s mentor/frenemy and leader of the one of the criminal gangs. I sometimes forget what a good actor he is. When he was announced as a cast member I was a bit shocked, him being so “serious” an actor – what? Why? Will Sean Penn be in the next Deadpool movie?  Will Robert Duvall play the Whizzer in the next Avengers movie? But as I said, he did very well! The best of the original characters in the movie.

And Emilia Clarke is as indescribably beautiful as ever.

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What is next? Another Han movie is likely – likely (and probably unnecessarily) linking Solo to Star Wars. A Lando Calrissian movie is in the cards – Donald Glover says he would enjoy reprising the role. I’m looking forward to any of these movies.

Maybe more so than the ninth Canon movie…

Copyright 2018 Michael Curry

About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

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