Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story review

You know your franchise sequel has real problems when you put in a homage to the worst film of the series. Yet, Solo: A Star Wars Story must have had a good feeling about it. It has a shocking plot twist that gives a nod to the silly Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace. (1999) Thankfully, this twist is not Jar Jar Binks.

Solo: A Star Wars Story begins on the planet Corellia. Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) are street hustlers and also lovers. Qi'ra is also the mother of dragons and has the ability to summon them to wreck havoc on.... um, sorry that's Clarke's Daenerys in The Game of Thrones.  Anyway,   Qi'ra gets captured while Han is able to escape. He decides to join the Empire Navy as a means to get back to her. Which doesn't make a lot of sense. I know he's being pressured to escape but couldn't he hop on a ship and have the freedom to later come back to save her? This is one of those contrivances in the movie that just makes you want to run your hand over your head like Yoda  and Kimbei Shimada in Seven Samurai. (1954)

Well, anyway Han finds himself fighting in the infantry trying to subdue a planet. He deserts.   There he runs into a gang of smugglers led by Tobias who's played by Woody Harrleson, a naive bartender from Indiana. Oops, that's Cheers. Also in the gang is the magnetic Thandie Newton (Westworld, Mission Imposible 2) who plays Val. Solo tries to blackmail the gang into letting him join them. They refuse and instead turn him over to Imperial troops. Solo escapes and Tobias orders their ship to pick him and his jail buddy, Chewbacca. (Joonas Suatamo) Why? I have no idea but it's just another contrivance. This time the plot thread is to get them together. Along the way, Solo will meat Kim Kardashian, I mean Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his ship The Millennium Falcon.

Alden Ehrenreich's casting is not as bad as Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker but he's not right  for the role. Instead of lovable rogue, he's Christian Slater from Heathers. I will say his acting is a little better than Lloyd or Christensen. That's not saying much. Whereas, Donald Glover as Lando is marvelous. Glover has actor Billy Dee Williams's mannerisms who originally played Lando down pat. If there is a sequel, we need to see a bigger adventure with Han, Lando and Chewbacca.

Lawrence and Joanthan's Kasdan's script has too many contrivances. I  had to swallow the idea that Tobias would rescue a guy that just tried to blackmail before I could go along with the rest of the movie. Then there are the many fanboy references. Nothing new here.  There's a chase of the Falcon by Tie fighters ala Star Wars with the same music cues from that movie and The Empire Strikes Back, the Kessel run, a gigantic living creature in the vacuum of space ala Empire and of course that reference to Phantom Menace. The original thing in this film is the idea of droid and human sex. Yep, I'm talking about droid L-3 (Phoebe Walter Bridge) and Lando's relationship. Well, if we're going to have fishman and human sex in The Shape of Water, I guess somebody thought it might be funny if Luke Skywalker got it on with R2-D2. And by the way, she's not an attractive character in the movie. By that, I don't mean looks. L-3 does very little that endears you to her.

Ron Howard's direction is terrible. First, Howard is a wonderful film director. His movie A Brilliant Mind (2001) is a classic. But in this movie, the action set pieces are edited badly and not logical. There are way too many fast cuts. There's not enough tracking shots. The result is confusion. But the worse part of Howard's direction is the lighting of this film. Many scenes are shot in darkness. To make matters worse, Howard backlights many scenes. For example, on the big screen, you don't get a good look at crime boss Vos (Paul Bettany) I get the point that we're dealing with the criminal underground. Hence, all the shadow. But that's no excuse not adequately light the action or the actors. And so you know, I saw this movie at two different theaters. One with what looked like the theater left in the 3D filter and the second time at Regal Cinemas. At Regal Cinemas, the picture was the way Howard wanted you to see the movie. Kudos to Regal Cinemas. Anyway, Howard's outside scenes on a planet's beach were bright and well lit. But everything else was just a dark, confusing mess.

There are some redeemable things in Solo. One, this is a great idea for a Star Wars spinoff. The production values are fine. The money spent on the sets particularly The Millennium Falcon is on the screen. John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon) with the themes of John Williams has composed a lively and heroic score.

Great ideas, production values and soundtracks do not make great movies. They need a great script, direction and acting. Solo: A Star Wars Story is missing these. The grade is C Plus.


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