Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review – Cinemanalysis

by Joseph Tavano

Ron Howard and company recapture some of the old magic that made the Star Wars saga legendary in this exciting blockbuster Solo: A Star Wars Story.

This article discusses plot details for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Solo A Star Wars Story US Theatrical Poster

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Back in the late 70s and 80s, a group of auteur directors came to dominate the film industry both at the boxoffice and in the critics’ corner. Names like Spielberg, Coppola, DePalma, and Lucas came to define quality entertainment for a generation, single-handedly inventing the modern blockbuster, as well as a term not used much anymore: movie magic–that power of film to transcend our daily thoughts and worries and to transport the viewer into new worlds and new possibilities, just by watching a movie for two hours. For Generation X and emerging Millennials, movie magic inspired the audience in countless ways. Now comes Solo: A Star Wars Story to continue the tradition. Ron Howard, in his salvation of a production that teetered on the brink of collapse, has produced a movie that confirms his place on the Mount Rushmore of blockbuster directors.

It may be a misstatement to say that Howard only directed 70% of the film, as some outlets have reported, when it’s clear his hands are all over this entire film. The editing is tight, the action scenes are fast, and the shots are carefully plotted and beautiful to behold. From the initial speeder chase to the office of Dryden Vos, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a visual feast, in no small part to its cinematographer, visual artists and countless other creatives that brought it to life. It is hard to think of a film so visually distinct from scene to scene (Blade Runner 2049 comes to mind), as it wields a massive range of color to tell the story. From the purposeful drabness of Corellia, to the deep blue of Lady Proxima’s lair, Solo: A Star Wars Story shifts between the mud and smoke of war on Mimban, the grey of a train heist at dawn and the beauty of a desert meeting the sea. And that’s not even discussing the gorgeous interiors of various dens of iniquity, like the underground casino where Han meets Lando, the sportscar-like look of a clean Millennium Falcon, or a Crimson Dawn cocktail party. Clearly, to those who worked on the film, this was a labor of love, and it shows.

That said, the talent is not confined to behind the screen. Alden Ehrenreich and Joonas Suotamo bring the galaxy’s ultimate bromance to life with renewed energy. There’s a physicality between the two, whether squared off against each other or facing scores of enemies, that the audience has never seen with Han and Chewie. Suotamo especially excels in this category, bringing out the mighty in The Mighty Chewbacca. Ehrenreich, on the other hand, has all the coolness of Ford’s Solo with an added layer of youthful hope added on top of it. This is a Han Solo before he was jaded; there’s still stars in his eyes and love in his heart. He yearns to find his place and understand his destiny, and this sense of untested hope saturates Ehrenreich’s performance.

In fact, it’s Han’s first love Qi’ra that pegs him right: in a lawless world of criminals, outlaws, and scum, Han is the good guy in the room. It’s often said that every villain is the hero of their own story, but with Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s the reverse: Han is the hero of his own story that’s trying really hard to be a villain. He can walk the walk and talk the talk, and every once in a while he needs to shoot first to survive, but no matter how hard he tried, Han Solo can’t shake his hero’s heart. Not everyone is so incorruptible though. Qi’ra knew that–and the master of Teräs Käsi (this writer screamed out loud in a quiet theater upon hearing the reference) may have done him a kindness by leaving him on the beach in the final moments of the film. In fact, it’s that incorruptibility that seems to bind Han and Chewie together, which makes perfect sense. In the Star Wars underworld, they may be the only two people they (or anyone else) could trust.

The rest of the cast does fine work, laying down memorable performances that add depth and color to the narrative. Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra is stunning, and she and Ehrenreich have palpable chemistry between them. From their first kiss to their separation, reunion and final goodbye, the passion between the two was genuine. Clearly, to Han, Qi’ra was the one who got away; to Qi’ra, Han was the one she needed to save. They may have gone separate ways, but their love rang true throughout–solid footing in a story of shifting alliances.

Solo A Star Wars Story UK Theatrical Poster Ron Howard and company recapture some of the old magic that made the Star Wars saga legendary in this exciting blockbuster Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Tobias Beckett is the epitome of those shifting alliances. As Han’s mentor, he teaches him true to shoot first and trust no one, as they will betray you. This has to have its limits, though. Beckett put full faith in his wife, Val–a woman so dedicated to him that she’d sacrifice herself to finish the job (and of course, like a true pirate, would never be taken alive). Han pays attention to Beckett’s lessons though, noting their source and what the impetus might mean down the line. After all, how was Beckett so close to Aurra Sing as to push her to her death? It must have been betrayal. It’s a fascinating dichotomy; Beckett is a guy who can make the point that there’s no real difference between one’s tribe and their family, yet he’d also betray that family to get ahead. Keeping in mind he was modeled after Long John Silver from Treasure Island, it’s no surprise that this is the type of mentor that would be congratulating Han on a killing blow as he takes his last breath.

Jon Favreau creates a memorable character in Rio Durant, whose death had many fans crying out that he deserved more screen time. The grizzled ace pilot with a sense of humor makes a major impression on Solo, and it might take several rewatches to see exactly how much of his personality is imbued into Han. From his affect on the “Woo” in Wookiee and his penchant for cooking, the few minutes that are spent with the character are enough for the audience to smile and want more.

Of course, Donald Glover is perfect as Lando Calrissian, matching the cadence and style of Billy Dee Williams with the style and swagger of a more youthful Lando who is at his prime and peak. Before Cloud City, before stealing the Imperialis, before smuggling puffer pigs, Lando had already made a name for himself. It might be hard to believe the Lando of the original trilogy is a fading legend, but a Lando-centered film might help solve that. Of course, there is that maneuver at the battle of Tanaab that needs to be explored.

Not to be outdone, Lando’s compatriot, L3-37 is another fascinating new character. Fiercely independent, it’s a shame that the character was cut down just as she was realizing her true calling as a droid revolutionary. However, L3 lives on as the literal brain of the Millennium Falcon itself, making real the decades of allusion to the ship being a character unto itself. Indeed, all those references to the Falcon having an odd dialect and to Han talking to the ship itself take on new meaning now.

And then there is Dryden Vos and Enfys Nest, one a hero to villains and the other a villain to the villains, but in actuality a rebel hero. Vos is pure electricity on screen–a more refined criminal boss who can kill you while never breaking his smile (only the facial stripes belie his anger). Paul Bettany brings a certain amount of latent savagery to the role, a stalking energy in a tailored suit not seen since a young Sean Connery played 007 in his earliest outings. But Enfys Nest, the meddlesome marauder equally feared and hated by the bounty hunters and smugglers in the underworld, turns out to be more than just a deadly nuisance: Nest is the leader of a fledgling rebel cell against the Empire, spurred on by the death of an unrevealed mother character. And, with cameos by Weezel and Benthic Two Tubes, the Cloud Riders provide significant continuity between the prequel era and the OT, and deserve to be explored more in subsequent stories.

Packed with references, Easter eggs and more connective tissue than a cheap steak, Solo: A Star Wars Story demands multiple re-watches to absorb it all, let alone process it–and that’s not even discussing the shocker-appearance of Maul at the end of the film. It might be easy to say it’s the best outing of the Disney era of Star Wars films, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. However, Solo: A Star Wars Story is unencumbered from the lengthy lineage and weight of saga storytelling, and free to break form and explore areas of the galaxy it needs to explore. In capturing this freedom, it captures the true spirit of adventure that’s always been at the core of the franchise–and that’s why it brings the old magic back to the screen. In that respect, it may be the perfect film to tell the story of a young roguish scoundrel looking for his independence and freedom to go his own way. And no matter the box office returns, it’s a damn great movie.

So never tell em the odds.

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