Sunday, May 27, 2018

Stubs - Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Starring:  Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany. Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan. Produced by  Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel Run Time: 135 minutes. USA Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Remember when Star Wars films were few and far between? Ever since Disney took over Lucasfilm, they have been certainly trying to get their monies worth by pumping out a new Star Wars every year. What started off as sequels Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) and Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017); and prequels Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) is now venturing out into the film equivalent of one-shots based on characters from the films. First up is Solo: A Star Wars Story, providing us with an origin story for one of the original big three from the original trilogy, Han Solo.

Alden Ehrenreich, who was easily the best thing about Hail Caesar! (2016), stars here as the title character. Also introduced is Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Solo's first mate and best friend. Donald Glover appears as another character from previous films, Lando Calrissian, who made his first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). We learn how everyone met and a little bit of the background behind one of Solo's claims to fame.

Along the way we're introduced to characters we've never heard of before and will probably never hear from again, sort of a la Rogue One. Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, a criminal mentor to Solo; Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), a former childhood friend and love interest; Thandie Newton as Beckett's wife and cohort Val. The big villain in this story is not the Emperor or Darth Vader but a mid-level crime boss, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

The film was not without its controversy. The original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired from the film for making it too much of a comedy and for encouraging improvisation over strictly following the Kasdans' script. Director Ron Howard (The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years), a good friend of George Lucas, was brought in to pull the film director and do reshoots where necessary.

You have to give the film editors credit since you can't see a distinction between the Lord/Miller footage and the Howard footage. However, Howard's presence isn't enough to take this film to greatness. I couldn't help, when watching the trailer and the film, but think that this was young kids playing dress up.

It has to be very hard to take on the roles of well-established characters that are associated with a particular actor and look. Not only are both actors here slightly shorter than the ones we know,  Glover is 3 inches and Ehrenreich is 4 inches shorter than the actors who previously played the characters they're portraying, but I don't see these characters growing into the ones we know. That's not to say they're bad in their roles, both are fine actors, it's just neither reminds me of Harrison's Solo or William's Calrissian which are forever ingrained in Star Wars lore.

I don't think the one on the left grows up to be the one on the right.

The special effects are pretty good, but one of the challenges of the Star Wars series, especially when it comes to the prequels, is not to make the technology more advanced than in the films that take place later in the story. Many may remember that R2-D2 had skills in the prequel trilogy that it somehow lost in the, later in time, original trilogy. It must be difficult, as special effects get better and the timeline is further back, not to overdo it. This film's challenge is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge),  Lando's droid companion and navigator. L3-37 seems much more advanced and human-like than say Rogue One's K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) which takes place later in the overall story arc.

A word of caution, if you're planning to see this film in 3D, as we did, those particular effects don't really seem to stand out. I was disappointed, though the cost of the matinee we saw still made it affordable, however, I don't think the added expense is worth the extra charge you might have to pay.

I am not a fanboy for Star Wars so while I have watched all the films and seen Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003), I have not had want or time to see and read everything in the ever-expanding Star Wars Expanded Universe. That's why there was, for me, a surprise cameo in this film that other films would have led me to believe was impossible but was supposedly explained away in Star Wars: Clone Wars (2008). But if you are a devourer of all things Star Wars, then you may notice that Han Solo's origin story is different here than first examined in Ann C. Crispin's 1997 novel, The Paradise Snare.

For how troubled the production was the resulting film isn't without its charms. While this is an enjoyable romp it also still feels superfluous, though now definitely a part of the Star Wars Cinematic Universe. If you're a Star Wars fan, you will probably have already seen it by now. If you're on the fence, then maybe this is one you can skip.

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