Wednesday, October 10, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

I grew up with STAR WARS (honestly, who hasn’t?)—I had the figures, the playsets, was a member of the Star Wars Fan Club…yes, even as a child, my geekness knew no limits.

I was never one of those fans which knew every last stinking detail, however.  I did not study the films and book, did not argue with others about the politics of THE PHANTOM MENACE.  I have always enjoyed film as a means of escape, a way to break from the overbearing reality of life, to leave behind concepts like bills and pressure and gravity.  I want to be entertained, and occasionally enlightened.  And while I do appreciate the amount of work that goes into every film I watch, I do not like lazy filmmaking.  I do not want to be coddled or placated.

So what the hell, Ron Howard?  With every film that is made, there is a main director, and then there is a “second unit director”.  The second unit guy is the one responsible for filming stunts, cutaways, landscapes, and setups.  They work pretty hard, as do most on a film crew, to help the shots blend once it all gets to the editing room.  Yet with SOLO, I get the distinct impression that everyone on the second unit crew was working overtime.  Part of the problem is that Ron Howard is one of those directors that you never get a certain sense of style from.  Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay films are easily recognizable, and not just because their names are stamped all over the advertising.  Both have a type of flair to their storytelling; with one, you get a fantastical sense of wonder, and the other likes to beat you on your face with fast editing and an arse-load of robots.  But Mr. Howard doesn’t have that easily recognizable flair, so you cannot really tell if he is just a name attached to the film as a money-making ploy.  Certainly, he has a great body of work thus far: APOLLO 13, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, and BACKDRAFT are all personal favorites of mine, and damn good movies.  He is a straightforward storyteller—not something you would necessarily see for a Star Wars film.

The script, written by WARS alum Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan, has a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) hooking 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 meets up with the charismatic Lando Calrissian.

One job of a director is knowing, or rather trusting, that your cast can pull off the words on the page.  In this film, the actor’s jobs are a bit more demanding; Ehrenreich MUST BE the Han Solo we all know and love, and Donald Glover MUST BE Lando.  To their credit, they pull it off—in Glover’s case, he makes a strong argument for his own stand-alone SW film.  While Ehrenreich captures Solo’s charms and mannerisms, even some of the famous facial expressions, Mr. Glover IS Lando.  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.  

It is quite possible that the special features, besides Donald Glover’s masterful performance, may be the best things in this release.  In fact, I am totally encouraging you to purchase this on Blu-ray—but only because of the documentaries.  The best of those are the first two; one is a round table discussion with Ron Howard hosting his actors, which is wonderful to witness.  You get to see the actors being themselves, and the enthusiasm feels authentic.  The other is a discussion with the writers, which we don’t always get with these big studio productions.  Daddy Kasdan is an SW legend, having written the first three films.  And it is fun to watch him (and everyone else) tiptoe around George Lucas when he visits the set.

While there is a lot coming up in the Star Wars universe, between TV and film, 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.

Grade: C+
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Probably

-- T.S. Kummelman

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