SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2017, PG-13, 135 minutes, LUCASFILM LTD/DISNEY)
While I consider myself a fan of the STAR WARS franchise, I am not one of those die-hard fans. You know the ones I’m talking about; they have read every book, studied the scenes in every film, watched all the cartoons, and argue with other die-hard fans with the same passion usually reserved for Amway salesmen and strung-out meth heads over facts and trivia that other folks would consider borderline stalking.
Not that there is anything wrong with that—I feel the same way about ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, and have read the Harry Potter series at least as many times as I’ve watched the films (we’re talking about a disturbing number of times here, kids). So, the biggest problem I have with the latest Star Wars installment has nothing to do with the acting, the pacing, the casting, etc.
But more on my personal issues later—first, a quick synopsis: a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a thief that hooks up with a team of crooks led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), all in an effort to get back to his home with enough money to rescue his love, Qi-ra (Emilia Clarke, aka “The Mother of Dragons”). Keep in mind this is all pre-Jabba the Hut and his later adventures with Luke Skywalker and the gang. Along the way, he meets his BFF, and makes ‘nice’ with the charismatic Lando Calrissian.
It is at this point I find it necessary to pause, and let you all know that Donald Glover is my new Go-To-Gay-Guy. He has dethroned Michael Fassbender, who dethroned Sherlock, who stole the top spot from Denzel Washington. (Yeah, I know, I’m shaking my head, too.) Mr. Glover, also known as “Childish Gambino” in the music biz (I recommend “Sweatpants” and “This Is America” for starters), is a man of many, many talents. You may remember him as Rich Purnell from THE MARTIAN; he captured social anxiety like no other actor in recent history, creating a character whose genius was not overshadowed by his lack of social normality, even if it was an apparent trait of his personality. Watching him as Lando, whose personality is the exact polar opposite of Rich Purnell’s, should give you a true appreciation for what a talented artist is capable of. Not only does he become the character initially portrayed by Billy Dee Williams, but he does so in such a way that you are comfortable with how he stretches that character’s boundaries. He is the epitome of suave, even when he has no right to be. Nothing against Mr. Williams, but Mr. Glover makes you want to know more about the character’s history, gives you reason to pine for a (pun certainly not intended) solo film based solely on Lando’s past exploits.
Which is one of the aspects of this film in which the viewer feels that perhaps the focus should not lie entirely on the title character. Chewbacca is given a glancing backstory, whose friendship with Solo is initially one of necessity rather than camaraderie. And yes, Ehrenreich does a well enough job as our titular hero—he gets enough of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms down to lend the viewer some familiarity with the character. But he is no Donald Glover—again, it is almost enough to make you wonder if they didn’t make the wrong movie here.
The action is well executed and surprisingly effective. I say “surprisingly” because this is, after all, a Ron Howard film, and the last movie he directed that had notable extended action sequences was APOLLO 13, and that was two decades ago. Mr. Howard is unflappable in every scene, and the brilliant eye of cinematographer Bradford Young (ARRIVAL) helps immensely. The score by John Powell is effective, and not as over-bearing as you would expect.
But that issue I have… again, as someone that isn’t a rabid SuperFan, perhaps I can be forgiven for not being as excited as I perhaps should have been at the big reveal at the end of the film. As a fan that has seen every film in the series in theaters (yes, kids, I’m THAT STINKIN’ OLD), should I really be meant to feel left out just because I also haven’t seen every episode of the cartoons? Granted, The Big Reveal can probably be appreciated without having to read and see every single thing Star Wars related. But the nod/reveal/obvious tie-in with other media seems more a reward for those aforementioned SuperFans, more so than it is an “ah-ha moment” for the rest of us.
Next up in the “Star Wars Story” universe is a rumored stand-alone film for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ewan McGregor would be reprising his role. I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that the Big Reveal IS NOT Obi-Wan, however it would indicate that the next logical step would be in that particular direction. Or, it could be that I’m totally talking out of my hind-quarters, as I haven’t read every one of the graphic novels. Let’s just hope there’s more to the Lando Calrissian story, and that Disney decides to ride Mr. Glover’s well-tailored cape into the next film.
-- T.S. Kummelman