Review for Solo: A Star Wars Story
If Solo didn’t derail the Disney Star Wars express, it may just have turned it into siding, at least judging by the unfulfilling box office. It seems that Disney are jinxed when it comes to Star Wars. The Force Awakens might have pleased fans the galaxy over, but the same couldn’t be said of The Last Jedi, and for the final film in the trilogy, director Colin Trevorrow was unceremoniously replaced by J.J. Abrams. The plan was to alternate the big trilogies with standalone features, so that there would be at least one new Star Wars movie a year in cinemas. The first spin-off, Rogue One, while doing well had a bumpy road to the screen, with extensive reshoots reported. And then Solo came along. Production was almost complete when the original directors were removed, and Ron Howard called in to finish directing the movie, and he practically started again from scratch, with some reports stating that 80% of the film was reshot. It sounds like a train-wreck production; I just hope that the film isn’t as bad. Certainly Rogue One defied expectations when it was released. Regardless, Disney are being more circumspect now about the Star Wars movie production line.
Growing up on the streets of Corellia isn’t easy for a child, liable to fall into a life of crime. It’s a life that Han and Qi’ra wanted out of, but when the opportunity came, only Han escaped, into the Imperial Academy. His stint as a trainee pilot doesn’t last long, and 3 years later he’s a grunt following orders on the surface of some forsaken planet. But he has a plan to desert, get a ship, and go back to Corellia to rescue Qi’ra. He gets his chance when he meets Tobias Beckett, a thief who with his band has infiltrated the military to steal a certain bit of hardware. Han’s going to find that the criminal underworld is a whole lot more dangerous than being shot at in the middle of a war, and a whole lot more interesting as well.
Solo gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 Surround French, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio Descriptive English, along with subtitles in English, French, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. It’s a stellar transfer of a recent film, the image is clear and sharp, the colours are strong, and with the film given a disc to itself, you don’t have to worry about compression. The audio too is excellent, wonderfully immersive and bringing across the action to impressive effect. If there is one thing of note about Solo, it’s the darkest of all the Star Wars films to date, with a visual aesthetic of shady, smoky, misty environments, making sure the idea of the criminal underworld is never far from the mind. The music has a few touches of John Williams here and there, but the original score very much feels part of a galaxy far, far away.
You get two discs on either face of a BD Amaray case, and both boot to animated menus.
The extras are all on disc 2, kicking off with Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable, which sees Ron Howard join the main cast for a chat about the movie. This lasts 21:44.
Kasdan on Kasdan lasts 7:50, and sees screenwriters, and father and son Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan interviewed.
Remaking the Millennium Falcon lasts 5:36.
Escape From Corellia lasts 9:59.
The Train Heist runs to 14:30.
Team Chewie lasts 6:41.
Becoming a Droid: L3-37 lasts 5:06.
Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso lasts 8:02.
Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run lasts 8:28.
Each of these featurettes look at the making of certain aspects of scenes in the film.
Finally there are 8 Deleted Scenes running to a total of 15:13.
Solo: A Star Wars Story may not have impacted the cinema box-office the way that Disney intended, but it there’s any justice in the world, the discs should fly off the supermarket shelves. Once again, Disney have put their production woes behind them, and have delivered a fun, action-packed and exciting film. It actually edges Rogue One in my estimation, as it adds some much needed light heartedness and levity to the franchise. Rogue One was understandably dark, tonally speaking, and when it comes to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, there’s been a sense of the passing of a torch. Solo is just fun from beginning to end, an action-packed caper in a galaxy far, far away.
It also had some pretty big shoes to fill, and some might have considered the attempt a waste of time. The original Star Wars trilogy bought with it the now de-canonised Expanded Universe, and one of my favourite trilogy of novels was the Han Solo trilogy, A.C. Crispin’s take on the life of the character, from street-rat on Corellia to the mercenary, shoot first smuggler that we all fell in love with in 1977. It’s a fantastic story and well worth reading. Solo covers much the same ground, although we meet Han at a more mature stage in his life. The story is different, but it is just as much fun, and the film’s take on Han Solo’s formative years works just as well, seeing an idealistic young man on the path to becoming a professional cynic.
The million dollar question is naturally about whether the recasting works. Joonas Suotamo has it relatively easy, as he captures Chewbacca’s simian grace just as well as Peter Mayhew created the character. But Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover certainly aren’t lookalikes for Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams. But it isn’t long before you accept the new actors in the familiar roles. They both manage to capture the essence of the characters while making them their own. Alden Ehrenreich is definitely not Harrison Ford, but he very much is Han Solo in this movie, and never once was I tempted to compare and contrast performances.
It is at its heart the most simple and fundamental story, that of a boy and a girl. Han and Qi’ra wanted to escape the criminal underworld on Corellia together, but circumstances wound up separating them. From that point, Han’s ambition is to become the best pilot in the galaxy, and find Qi’ra again. That simple wish sets the path of his life and it’s how he winds up meeting Beckett, the man who would be his mentor, and of course his lifelong partner in crime, Chewbacca. We also see that a pattern is set early on in his life, one that keeps getting him into trouble. In the original Star Wars, he had to dump Jabba’s cargo when his ship was boarded by Imperials, and wound up with a price on his head as a result. Here, a job goes wrong when he chooses to save their lives rather than hold onto their ill-gotten booty, and that leads them into even more danger when they have to make restitution to Dryden Vos, the crime syndicate leader who they were pulling the job for.
It’s one action set piece after another, escaping from Corellia, battle on Mimban, a futuristic train heist, the Kessel Run, and the climax of the movie, but it’s all interleaved with the character moments that make films like this meaningful. Seeing Han’s friendship with Chewie forming, the first meeting with Lando is the sort of thing that Star Wars fans have long waited for, and this film doesn’t disappoint. At the same time the other characters in the film, Beckett, Qi’ra, Dryden Vos, L3-37 all add much to the richness of the narrative, all hinting at colourful back-stories of their own that you’d want to see explored.
The only, minor nitpick might be just how much this film ties into that Expanded Universe. There are name drops, hints and references through the film, and while for some mentions of Aurra Sing, Bossk and Dathomir might perk their ears up, there is a danger of creating small universe syndrome. I have to admit that my heart did sink a little at a certain cameo towards the end of the film, although I suspect that no Star Wars film is allowed to be a Star Wars film without a lightsaber humming at least once in the movie.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is fantastic, an entertaining ride from beginning to end, and leaves enough room to play with before we catch up with A New Hope, that you might hope for further adventures of young Han, Chewie and Lando. As befits a modern cinema release making its way to home video, this Blu-ray is perfect, although for even greater perfection there’s always UHD. Hopefully sales of the Blu-ray will restore enough of a smile to the House of Mouse for them to start work on that Obi-Wan movie that has oft been hinted at.