Solo: A Star Wars Story Review—What a GREAT movie!

Well, that was a lot of fun—a whole lot of fun. I need to see it again, but I think the new Star Wars movie Solo: A Star Wars Story is my favorite film from the franchise and is in my top ten of all time. It reminded me a lot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In many ways it also reminded me of a kid’s version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. And it reminded me a lot of Pirates of the Caribbean and likely that was what Disney was thinking by going with this part of the Star Wars franchise. Solo: A Star Wars Story was just pure fun technically executed to perfection. If this was the most expensive Star Wars film ever made requiring something like nine months of shooting to get right—it showed on the screen. I enjoyed the movie as an adult, but really it’s the kids who see this that are in for the biggest treat. In so many ways I thought the film was brilliant. It started with a car chase on Han Solo’s home planet of Corellia and ended with a card game where Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando—but what happened in between was pretty magnificent on the scale of adventurous fun and special effects achievement. Solo: A Star Wars Story is one of those movies that you come out of the theater feeling good about seeing, and it’s certainly one that will be the most fun to watch over and over again once it hits the home theater market. This for me personally is the Star Wars film that I’ve always wanted to see and it actually went a few steps further—which was refreshing.

There are movies over the years that were defined by just a few scenes, such as in Jurassic Park in 1993 where we first saw a T-Rex eat its way through the fence of its holding cell during a thick downpour of rain. Or in 1981 in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones climbs under the truck that is trying to run over him—Solo: A Star Wars Story has several moments like that in it. The two that most come to my mind is when the Millennium Falcon was caught in the gravity well of the Maul during the Kessel Run and a giant monster was trying to eat them in space. The effects and story elements were just jaw dropping beautiful. Then the second is the stand-off between Han Solo and Tobias Beckett near the end where it is recorded for all time, “Han Shot First,” without question. Put that controversy to rest forever, and I thought it was a very powerful moment in these very political times where PC seems to ruin everything. With Han Solo being such a practical, no-nonsense guy, shooting first is a logical thing to do, and it was very satisfying to see him unflinchingly do so. I think it was on par with the time that Indiana Jones shot the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark, also written by this Solo screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.

When George Lucas decided to re-edit the Han Solo scene shooting Greedo in A New Hope he was giving in to political pressure that was coming from the anti-gun crowd. Lucas wanted to make sure that Han Solo wasn’t considered a blood thirsty murderer which can sometimes be a very fine line between a sparkling hero who just shoots a villain. If everyone can’t agree that a villain is a villain one person’s hero is another person’s murderer, so George Lucas made sure that Greedo shot first in the 1997 Special Editions of his original Star Wars Trilogy. Making the decision to have Han shoot first in this film to end the life of a main character was quite a statement and now an issue that as been bouncing around among Star Wars fans for many years is settled. Han Solo will have forever be known to have shot first—which is consistent with his character. As a person who has seen hundreds of westerns over the years, I thought it was an extremely well-done scene that felt oddly good. I would go see this movie another 20 times at the theater just to watch that one scene. I put it on my scale of fantastic cinematic events in the top ten—perhaps the top five. This movie would have been good if that’s all that happened in it.

But that was only one small scene. For me the best of the Star Wars movies were sections of A New Hope and the first two-thirds of The Empire Strikes Back. I think I would put this Solo: A Star Wars Story just ahead of those two films because it gives audiences all the fun things without the emotional weight that happened at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, or even The Force Awakens. With Han Solo being one of the best characters it’s no fun to have him frozen like what happened in Empire, or to be killed like he was in Force Awakens. I understand those artistic needs in a film but what makes a prequel like Solo: A Star Wars Story fun is that you know Han is going to live and come out on top, so you can just enjoy the ride. In that way I think this is the best Star Wars film made to date because it is lacking the emotional weight of any heavy subject matter—just like the Pirate of the Caribbean movies. Star Wars has certainly contributed to heavy story telling with difficult subject matter, but the roots of the franchise were always well-set in B-movies and Saturday Morning Matinees where viewers knew the hero would live from one cliffhanger to another, but the thing they wanted to really know was how.

In that way this Solo: A Star Wars Story was more like an Indiana Jones film where we knew the hero would find some way out of whatever mess they found themselves in but learning how they’d escape was the real fun. It’s like a fun amusement park ride where it all looks dangerous and you know that when the ride ends, you’ll safely put your feet back on the ground. But during the experience, you are experiencing thrills and chills that you couldn’t get anywhere else. In a lot of ways if we as the audience didn’t know that Han Solo would survive this movie we’d not be able to deal with the suspense of going through so much in such a short period of time. The young life of Han Solo was pretty intense and for lots of emotional reasons, is best viewed in hindsight—as a prequel film. Pretty stunning stuff.

Another movie I kept thinking about during Solo: A Star Wars Story was James Cameron’s Titanic from 1997. Like Solo, it had a troubled production, cost overruns and all types of controversy, but Cameron kept his nose down and plowed through the production to what became one of the biggest box office sensations in the history of cinema. On the day of its release which I took a day off work back then to see with advanced tickets that my wife was bewildered that I wanted to see so bad, the critics were all over the picture slamming it for every little thing they could think of. When the film opened, and the word of mouth got out about it, the business exploded for the next six months which was unheard of for films even back then. People wanted that type of optimistic story set against a tragic backdrop and the big downer of course was that Jack had died. The critical appraisal and industry backlash against Lucasfilm for inserting Ron Howard into a movie that was almost done and reshooting 80% of the film with an additional 4 month schedule has all those naysayers smelling blood in the water and the real sharks out there love to take bites out of careers and torpedo films that find themselves in such a situation. But I was just a little stunned at how good Solo was even down to the musical score by John Powell in using vuvuzelas to provide emphasis and some heightened emotion. Vevuzelas are those insect sounding horns that you hear in European soccer stadiums that are constantly buzzing—those horns were used in this movie to a very stunning effect in the background that I thought was very gutsy. The entire production takes those kinds of unique risks that will go down in film history as some of the boldest by a supposedly big commercial company like Lucasfilm and distributer Disney.

One thing that really benefits Solo is the presence of some big names in the business of acting, such as Donald Glover who is presently nearly like Michael Jackson in his popularity. The kid has the number one song in the country and here he is playing Lando Calrissian in the latest Star Wars movie—and he’s having fun with it. Glover isn’t the star, Alden Ehrenreich is. Without question, this is Alden Ehrenreich’s movie and that’s big shoes to fill considering that Emilia Clark is starring in the last season of Game of Thrones filming presently and she is the star of that series which is also filled with fantastic actors—the best of the best. Talk about a tough job not just to overcome the Hollywood legend of Harrison Ford which Ehrenreich did I think quite spectacularly, but in holding his own against some really big stars sharing the screen with him. As much as people want to make this movie about Lando, as it turned out, Lando as played by Glover was the same Lando from The Empire Strikes Back, a swindler, a con artist, and a person of questionable moral authority who is on the check list of revenge for a raging Han Solo at the end of this film. It says a lot about a movie that for a change doesn’t end with a big action sequence that saves the universe from immaculate destruction, but with a card game that in its own subtle ways does save the galaxy. What if Han had not run down Lando at the end of the film to play one last time that game of sabacc. The first Death Star would have killed all the rebels in A New Hope. Princess Leia would have never have gotten away from her raging father in The Empire Strikes Back. The second Death Star from The Return of the Jedi wouldn’t have been destroyed by Lando Calrissian many years after these events in Solo. Rey would have died on Star Killer Base in The Force Awakens and she never would have found Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. In so many ways this sabacc game at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story was a huge climax, but for a film like this in this day and age where bigger and bigger explosions leave audiences gasping just prior to exiting the theater, this movie slowed down long enough to get to the real heart of the movie, the treasure that Han Solo wanted more than anything else in life—his own starship so that he could earn his freedom finally to live life on the terms he always wanted to live it.

The tragedy of the film is that Han Solo doesn’t get to live happily ever after with his childhood love who turns out to be an agent of evil—sort of. But this isn’t the kind of heart wrenching let down that we see in Titanic and it remains to be seen if a film like Solo can drive big billion-dollar numbers without essentially being a tragedy. I think the answer is a big yes, but producers are following formulas of what has worked in the past basically starting with films like Casablanca and Citizen Kane. To end a movie on a high note is what film schools are teaching their students who then work in the industry as “paying fan service.” Well, yeah, duh. Aren’t these movies made for the fans? Who says that Han Solo has to become a mess because he has lost his girlfriend in this movie to the ambitious revenge plans of Darth Maul? Hey, Han won the ship of his dreams—who needs a woman? And that is pretty much the attitude which is very refreshing in these kinds of movies where Anakin Skywalker was drawn to become Darth Vader because of his love for his secret wife. The ability to shrug off trouble is exactly what makes Han Solo a great character and why these types of Star Wars movies are needed for the franchise. The emotions over the last three films have been too heavy-handed, Luke has died, Han Solo as an elderly figure has died, and all the members of Rogue One died. It’s nice to see a film mostly without heartache for a change that is full of fun and adventure—because most of us have enough of all that in our lives, who wants to pay money to see more of it?

As I said the best parts of Solo: A Star Wars Story are the scenes it recreates from the best parts of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back—the scenes in the cantina in the very first film, the heroics on Hoth in Empire and into the asteroid field which has never been recreated in any film since—in forty years of trying. The price of the entire movie would be worth just watching the Kessel Run, a desperate journey into the Maw of Star Wars legend where a black hole makes passage very dangerous—impossible really. To watch a bold young Han Solo cut off from an exit into the Maw by an Imperial Star Destroyer turn the Millennium Falcon around within a gravity well and to fly back into the worst part of it in order to escape is something that no modern movie can duplicate. It’s not just that there has been a 40 year build up into creating an elaborate mythology about what constitutes a “Kessel Run” but the execution of it on a movie screen is something that has just recently become technically possible—its quite something to see. Why would anybody wait to see a big firework display on the Fourth of July? Because its cool. That’s also why everyone should see Solo: A Star Wars Story at least once, because this one scene of the Kessel Run is just that cool. Luckily, that’s not the only thing worth watching but if you had to pick one thing, that would be it.

The character of Han Solo is something that is very unique, and precious to human creation, there really has never been another character in film or literature like him. You won’t find a comparable character in any Shakespeare literature or within the music of Mozart. The Greeks and Romans never came close in any of their work in creating a foundation for the kind of fearless character that Han Solo is—the boldness and self-confidence that made the character something so many people have loved now for half a century. The only literary reference out of all creative efforts by mankind over our entire history has been the work of Wofram Von Eschenbach’s Parzival in the Middle Ages with a little bit of Lancelot sprinkled in for good measure. George Lucas literally created the character of Han Solo during his racing days where souped-up cars and cruise music filled his mind. After nearly dying in a car crash and deciding to get serious with his life he ran into the work of Joseph Campbell and these stories by Eschenbach and Han Solo was born. The spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone were popular during this period so Lucas put all those strong images of maleness into the character of Han Solo from A New Hope and something really new was born which certainly does deserve its own movie—or series of movies. The character of Han Solo is beyond review for most studied people, because there is no reference for which to place context in the traditional way. Han Solo really isn’t afraid of anything. He is like Parzival in Eschenbach’s epic Arthurian legends in that he knows how to get to the Grail Castle with his hands limp against his horse trusting fate and his raw talent to take him anywhere he needs to go. Getting “there” is never the goal for Han Solo, which is why he always finds himself exactly where he needs to be where heroics are needed. Solo always trusts that he can get out of whatever trouble he finds himself in which makes seeing a movie starring a character like that extremely unusual. Usually what drives a dramatic narrative is the hopes and fears of the protagonists—but in the case of Han Solo he’s really not afraid of anything and he believes anything is possible and it is on that boundless optimism that we as viewers are transported to possibilities that are best experienced in a great movie. That puts Han Solo into a category all his own and makes a movie like this so much more special.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a movie that is special. You don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy it, but if you are, then we are seeing the start of something really positive emerging creatively from the Lucasfilm group. I would place Solo as one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s up there with Raiders of the Lost Ark and even Scarface. It’s a reflection into the way movies used to be made with themes that simply have not been part of the modern theatrical experience. It’s a movie you will want to watch in the future on a home system just to feel good about something. When you are having a bad day, this is the movie you will want to put in and watch for a few hours—its fun, its optimistic and is full of adventure. Additionally, it takes the mythology of Star Wars and really begins the expansion of it in ways that build the brand under the Disney tent like nothing else could. We go places in this film that unlocks thousands of potential stories for the future. If everything we know about Star Wars came out of the first three films done forty years back in the eighties, then this film takes a step into that world to unlock more potential on a scale of 100 times what we’ve known. Simply put, there is a creative impulse to this movie that is so bold and audacious that it is formulative into everything that comes after it, even if those creative endeavors are not Star Wars related. Solo: A Star Wars Story is in a place of its own and shows theatrical leadership in ways that are not only necessary, but excessively refreshing. It is the movie to see if you are going to see one, not just once, but as many times as possible. It’s that good.

Rich Hoffman

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