Solo: A Star Wars Story
Bruce Steele: It’s clearly going to be too easy to talk about all the things we liked about Solo: A Star Wars Story, so let’s start by talking about what’s absent from the movie. Did you miss Harrison Ford?
Edwin: Not really. I think Alden Ehrenreich does a commendable job channeling The Rogue as a Young Man and I enjoyed the frequent reminders of Ford’s rendition through Ehrenreich’s indebted performance, but I tried my hardest not to compare the two. How about you?
Bruce: I’ve like Ehrenreich since Hail, Caesar! and I found him charming here too. I also did not miss The Force or the Jedi, which go without mention for all 135 minutes. A final cameo by one Force-related character just made me roll my eyes. They just couldn’t resist bringing in an old action figure.
Edwin: I enjoyed seeing that familiar face as it furthered the likelihood of additional Lil’ Han adventures, but otherwise didn’t miss lightsabers and the like. It was refreshing to visit corners of the universe where technology and ingenuity are the difference-makers. However, I occasionally found myself wondering if director Ron Howard forgot to include lighting in his budget — but nonetheless feel like the shadowy cinematography fits the film’s tone and its outcast (anti)heroes.
Bruce: It was darker, lighting-wise, than it needed to be — I’d advise against the 3D option — maybe to disguise the fact that it happily avoided all the tiresome existential “darkness” that plagues too many Star Wars films. I would go so far as to say that Solo is the closest in tone to the original Star Wars out of all the movies made since: It’s an entertaining space opera with a twisty plot, lots of action and vivid characters whose actions are shaped largely by their abilities and their self-image. No “dark side” temptations nor Jedi skills required.
Edwin: It really puts the Skywalker saga in a new perspective. Fun as the other Star Wars installments often are, Solo feels liberated from its storyline despite clearly coloring within its boundaries as it propels Han and Chewie to their inevitable meeting with Obi-Wan, Luke, C-3PO and R2D2. Perhaps the lesson here is that life is more footloose and entertaining away from the Empire and Rebel Alliance, which makes sense.
Bruce: It’s a good reminder, as we approach the super-finale of Episode IX, about what made the original trilogy the classics that they are: big, twisty adventures with people you like, even in supporting roles.
Edwin: I want to delve deeper into the ensemble in a sec, but first must happily praise Howard’s nimble, energetic handling of the film. Even coming off a decade that produced some of his best work to date (Frost/Nixon; Rush), I wasn’t expecting something this zippy.
Bruce: He was having fun! Not unlike Spielberg with Ready Player One, I think the veteran director just enjoyed pushing old-fashioned storytelling buttons with great skill: How will Han escape this time? Should he trust (fill in the blank)? And so on. Indeed, trust is a recurring plot point in Solo, since other than Chewie, Han is surrounded by people with lots of secrets. Did you have a favorite?
Edwin: They’re easy picks, but I had a blast with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his sassy co-pilot droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Goodbye Christopher Robin). Glover effortlessly embodies the cape-wearing card sharp’s cool confidence and there’s never a dull moment with L3, from her robot liberation dreams to musings about Lando's “obvious” romantic feelings for her. Plus, my pro-wookiee leanings grew even stronger with this early look at Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), starting with his Han meet-cute where the human gets to show off his throat language skills. Did I steal your choices?
Bruce: You gotta love L3, who’s right up there with C-3PO and, from Rogue One, K-2SO. It’s smart that her dabbling in robot liberation becomes a plot point. Speaking of robot liberation, it was also nice to see Westworld’s Thandie Newton as Val, who’s not a fan of Han’s when he first meets her and her boyfriend/partner, the space thief Beckett. As Beckett, Woody Harrelson definitely locks down the No. 1 spot on the Best Supporting Rogue list, after adding his quippitude in recent years to Three Billboards, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Edge of Seventeen,and so on and on.
Edwin: Coming off an extraordinary year — which also includes Wilson and, though I know you disagree, The Glass Castle — Harrelson is great once more and the train heist sequence that brings Han and Chewie into Beckett’s gang of outlaws is one of my favorites in the film. Howard cuts between the various moving pieces of the operation, showing the intricacies of the job and the true nature of the squad amidst a thrilling sequence.
Bruce: I agree. That’s a real edge-of-your-seat sequence with some really creative futuristic mechanics. Reminded me of the best James Bond stunts. And it’s got some unexpected twists involving Beckett’s gang.
Edwin: I’m not crazy about their multi-limbed pilot Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau), and could I have used a more interesting performer as Han’s lost love turned shady ally Qi’ra. Were you taken with Emilia Clarke’s serviceable turn?
Bruce: I’m still mixed on Clarke, here and in Game of Thrones. She’s appealing to watch, and I understand when she’s supposed to have Big Feelings, but I don’t always buy it. I think she’s better in less epic roles, like Me Before You, where she can just be girlish and insecure. It’s not a huge flaw in the movie, since Qi’ra is something of a question mark anyway. If Solo has a fault, it may be that it’s one or two chases longer than it needs to be, and the final act drags out longer than it should. But that sounds like I’m complaining about having too much fun, so never mind.
Edwin: Right. Those quibbles aren’t deal-breakers by any means — just areas where this supremely enthralling flick could have been even better…which I can’t help but wonder could have been the case under original helmers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. We’ll never know, nor will we see Michael K. Williams as Dryden Voss, a part that went to the quite good Paul Bettany when Howard took over. With the credited director filming a reported 70 percent of the finished product, Solo remarkably feels like a singular vision if 1/3 of it indeed comes from another source.
Bruce: I didn’t notice any seams or tonal changes, and I can’t fault the messy change of directors midstream given the results. I just know Solo was sweet relief after the unresolved slog of Avengers Part 2½ and the self-satisfied smarm of Deadpool 2. I won’t mind seeing a “2” after the title Solo. Despite my quibbles, I’m giving it an A.
Edwin: Several forehead-smacking lines from Favreau’s simian character and some underwritten exchanges when Han and Qi’ra reunite legitimately took me out of the movie’s flow, but nothing else did, so credit to the father/son team of Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan for delivering the goods. As you know, I enjoyed the two blockbusters you just mentioned, but if we’re ranking this summer’s offerings to date, I definitely prefer Solo and look forward to seeing it again soon. A-minus from me.
Grade: A-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photos: Walt Disney Studios)