Saturday, June 30, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story was written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan, and directed by Ron Howard (more or less).

Jonathan Kasdan, as you might have guessed, is the son of famous screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. He previously wrote In The Land Of Women and The First Time, neither of which I've ever heard of. 

Jonathan's pops Lawrence Kasdan penned some of the most famous and successful movies of the past thirty years. He previously wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Body Heat, Continental Divide, The Return Of The Jedi, The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, Grand Canyon, The Bodyguard, Wyatt Earp, Mumford, Dreamcatcher (I guess you can't write a winner every time) and Darling Companion (whatever that is). He co-wrote Star Wars: Episode VII– The Force Awakens along with JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt.

Ron Howard's an actor turned director, with a reputation for making competent but unremarkable films. He previously directed Grand Theft Auto (the movie, not the video game series), Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Gung Ho, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Far And Away, The Paper, Apollo 13, Ransom, EdTV, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind, The Missing, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels & Demons, Rush, In The Heart Of The Sea and Inferno. Whew!

So how's the film? Surprisingly it's not bad! I enjoyed most of it quite a bit, with a few eye-rolling exceptions. It's a fast-paced little adventure story, and much more fun than The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And it's about a thousand times better than the execrable The Last Jedi, which pretty much killed my life-long love for Star Wars altogether.

As fun as it is though, Solo highlights a major problem with Disney's Star Wars films. Basically they have absolutely no idea what to do with the franchise, so they keep looking to the past and duplicating what worked decades ago.

The Force Awakens was a virtual remake of A New Hope. Rogue One told the incredibly unnecessary story of how the Rebels stole the Death Star Plans before A New Hope begins. The Last Jedi was a bizarre retelling of The Empire Strikes Back, with huge swathes of The Return Of The Jedi thrown in for good measure.

And now Disney's announced two more retro projects: An Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, which by necessity will have to be set between the Prequel and Original Trilogies, and a Boba Fett standalone movie.

See the problem here? Disney doesn't know how to move forward, as they're too busy strip mining the past for content. Eventually they're going to have to figure out something new to do with the franchise, or we're gonna get a Greedo standalone film, right after Porkins: A Star Wars Story.

By now you've probably heard about all the behind the scenes turmoil on Solo. The film was originally helmed by the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who previously directed Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie and 22 Jump Street. Movies that made them the perfect choice to helm a Star Wars film.

Anyway, late in the process, Disney decided they didn't like the work Lord and Miller were turning in, and fired them due to "creative differences." 

They then brought in Ron Howard to take over the project. Disney claimed Howard was only filming a few reshoots, which is standard procedure in Hollywood these days. Crew members who actually worked on the film though reported that Howard reshot over EIGHTY PERCENT of the film!

Given all that, it's a wonder the film turned out as well as it did.

So far the film is a dismal box office failure, grossing just $357 million worldwide. While that might sound like a lot to you and me, it's pathetically low for a Star Wars movie. Bad as it was, The Last Jedi managed to gross $1.3 BILLION in its theatrical run!

Solo's $357 million take is also nothing compared to its massive budget, which Disney claims was $275 million. That's most likely a lie, as many sources who actually worked on the film claim that Ron Howards's extensive reshoots practically doubled the original budget.

Due to marketing and other hidden costs, movies need to make about twice their production budget just to break even. If Solo cost approximately $500 million to make, it'd need to gross a cool BILLION before it turned a profit! Obviously that's not going to happen. 

That's a shame too, as it's not a terrible film. I was even looking forward to additional films featuring young Han Solo and his friends. Sadly, given this film's poor box office showing, it's extremely unlikely that'll happen now.


The Plot:
We begin on the ship building world of Corellia
— a bleak, dark industrial world. Actually everything's dark in this movie, but that's a story for another time. A young man named Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) hot wires a speeder and roars off in it. 

As he flies down the street, we see a pair of gold alien dice hanging from the windshield— his good luck charm. He returns to the orphanage where he lives, which is run by Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt), an enormous worm-like alien. Much like a Dickensian character, Proxima sends her orphans out on missions to pilfer and steal whatever they can and bring it back to her.

Han sees his girlfriend Qi'ra (played by Emelia Clarke), and excitedly shows her a vial of coaxium (the substance that fuels hyperdrive engines) he just stole. It's such a valuable commodity they'll be able to use it to buy their way off of Corellia and live anywhere they want. He gives the vial to Qi'ra for safe keeping, along with his lucky dice (PLOT POINT ALERT!).

Just then several guards grab Han and drag him before Lady Proxima. She demands he hand over the goods from his latest mission, but he says things went badly and he barely managed to escape with his life. Proxima doesn't believe him, and orders her guards to beat him.

Han pulls out a rock and pretends it's a thermal detonator, which fools no one. He throws the rock through a window, and a beam of sunlight stabs through (even though minutes ago we saw it was nighttime). Proxima shrieks and dives into her pool of water. Han grabs Qi'ra and they run for it.

Han & Qi'ra jump in his stolen speeder and drive off. They head for the nearest space port, intending to use the coaxium to book passage on the next ship leaving the planet. Suddenly they're rammed from behind by a larger speeder, piloted by Proxima's men.

Han tries to lose the goons by flying through a crowded factory. The speeder gets stuck in a narrow corridor and he and Qi'ra flee on foot. They make it to the spaceport and lose themselves in the crowd, hiding from both Proxima's guards and squads of Imperial stormtroopers.

They step up to the gate and an Imperial Officer asks for their travel papers. As they have none, they bribe the guard with the coaxium. She lets them pass, but just as they step through the gate Qi'ra's grabbed by one of Proxima's men and dragged away. The gate closes with Han on the other side. He tearfully tells Qi'ra he'll come back for her, no matter how long it takes.

Han spots a nearby Imperial recruitment station. Having no other options, he decides to enlist in the Imperial Navy so he can become a pilot. A bored Recruitment Officer asks for his full name, and he replies, "Just Han." Needing something to fill in the blank, the Officer assigns him the last name of "Solo." GASP! This is moment in which he got his iconic name, as the entire audience audibly groans.

Cut to three years later. We see Han's been kicked out of the Flight Academy and is now an Imperial infantryman, fighting on the mud planet of Mimban. When his entire squad is wiped out by enemy fire, he sees a trio of nearby soldiers and decides to tag along with them.

Han soon realizes these soldiers are actually a group of smugglers: Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson), the leader, Val (played by Thandie Newton), his girlfriend, and four-armed alien Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau). He asks to join their crew, but Beckett tells him to get lost. When Han threatens to turn them in to the authorities, Beckett reveals the Imperial Officers answer to him (?). I guess he bribed them or something? Who knows. Beckett has Han arrested and thrown into a mud pit, where he's to be eaten by the creature that inhabits it.

Inside the pit, Han hears the creature growling. It rushes toward him, and Han realizes it's a large Wookiee. It attacks Han, pinning him in the mud as it violently chokes him. Han manages to gurgle out a trilling growl, which makes the Wookiee stop in its tracks. That's right— Han not only understands the Wookiee language, but can speak it as well. Sigh...

Han tells the Wookiee he has an escape plan, and points to a large pole supporting the grated ceiling of the pit. The Wookiee gets the idea and uses his brute strength to knock down the pole, causing the ceiling to collapse. Why the Wookiee never thought to do this himself a long time ago isn't made clear.

Han and the Wookiee escape, just in time to see Beckett and his crew take off in their ship. They run after the ship, begging for it to stop. Beckett sees Han and is so impressed with his moxie he actually lands and takes them aboard (which infuriates the no-fun Val). The ship leaves Mimban and blasts off into space. Han asks the Wookiee his name, and he says it's "Chewbacca." GASP! This is the iconic moment the two of them met! Han says he's not saying that every time, and shortens his name to "Chewie." GASP! This is how Chewie got his iconic nickname!

Some time later, the crew gathers around a campfire on the snow planet of Vandor-1. Beckett asks Han what his deal is. Val correctly guesses he has a girl back home. Han says she's right, and he'll do anything to rescue her. When they ask how he knows she's even still alive, the wide-eyed Han says he just knows.

Beckett says he and his crew are working for Dryden Vos, a major player in the criminal organization known as Crimson Dawn. Vos has ordered them to steal a huge shipment of coaxium from a train trundling through the mountains on Vandor-1. They intend to lower their ship over the train, attach towing cables to one of the cars, uncouple it and fly off with the shipment. If all goes well, they'll each have make enough dough to live out the rest of their lives as millionaires.

Beckett tells Han he'll need a weapon if he's gonna be part of the team. He disassembles a rifle into a small hand blaster, and casually tosses it to Han. GASP! This is the moment he got his iconic, trademark weapon!

Cut to the next day, as a bizarre double train, with cars above and below the track, barrels though the mountains. True to the plan, Rio flies the ship over the train, and Beckett, Han and Chewie jump onto one of the cars. Meanwhile, Val zip-lines several miles ahead, where she plants explosives on the track for some reason.

Beckett and the others attach the towing cables to one of the coaxium-filled cars. Unfortunately they attract the attention of a squad of Stormtroopers guarding the shipment. They use their magnetic boots to stick to the sides of the rapidly tilting train, and begin firing on the smugglers. Eventually Beckett's crew wipes out the Troopers.

But they're not out of the woods yet! Suddenly a swarm of speeder bikes appear and fire on the smugglers. It's the Cloud Riders, a gang of space pirates led 
by the infamous Empty Nest  Enfys Nest. The Riders attach their own cables to the train car, intending to steal it for themselves. Note that there are at least twenty other cars in the train that the Riders could easily steal, so it's not clear why they want THIS one so badly.

Han and the others fight back, killing several of the Riders. One of them infiltrates Beckett's ship, and there's a brief shootout before Rio kills the Raider. Sadly, he's mortally wounded in the process, causing the ship to veer wildly. Beckett tells Han to take over. He leaps onto the ship just in time to see Rio die. Han slips into the pilot seat and takes over.

Meanwhile, Val's attacked by a group of flying guard droids. She holds them off, but is wounded as well. As the droids swoop in for the kill, she detonates the explosives, sacrificing her life in order to save Beckett and the mission.

Chewie uncouples the train car, and he and Beckett jump onto the ship. Han flies off with the car in tow, but the Raiders try to drag it in the opposite direction. Han's alarmed when he sees they're heading straight for a mountain. Beckett orders him to stay on course, saying the Raiders will chicken out and release their cables.

Unfortunately Han panics, and severs the cables as he flies away. The train car slams into the mountain, and the unstable coaxium inside causes a massive implosion, taking out the surrounding geography and killing most of the Cloud Raiders. The survivors— including Enfys Nest of course— wisely flee.

We then see Beckett burying his fallen comrades on the alien world. I guess Val's grave must have been symbolic, since it's unlikely she left any remains for burial. He then punches Han in the face for ruining the mission. Yeah, take that, Han! How dare you have no control over the fact that the Cloud Raiders showed up! Beckett's perfectly fine after this, as if his girlfriend and pilot never existed at all.

Beckett tells Han he should leave (how?), as Dryden Vos will be arriving any second. He says Vos'll be mighty upset when he finds out they don't have his coaxium, and will likely kill them all. Han says he ain't a-scared and says he and Chewie are staying.

Just then Vos' skyscraper-like ship appears and lands. Beckett, Han and Chewie enter and are taken to Vos' penthouse apartment at the top. Since this is a Star Wars movie, the penthouse is filled with dozens of aliens drinking at the bar.

Amazingly, Han runs into his old flame Qi'ra in the bar! He tells her he's sorry about what happened, and says he's been trying to make it back to Corellia to rescue her. Qi'ra says she's started working for Vos shortly after Han left. He notes she has a Crimson Dawn logo tattooed (or maybe branded, it's too dark to tell) on her wrist, and realizes there's more to her story than she's telling.

Just then Vos (played by Paul Bettany) appears. He's a sophisticated yet slimy human with bizarre scars all over his face, which might be the result of an accident or could be self inflicted— who knows? He invites Beckett, Han and Chewie into his private office. Qi'ra follows along.

As predicted, Vos is royally pissed that Beckett doesn't have his coaxium, and regretfully says he'll have to kill them all. As his guards raise their weapons, Han suggests they find him some more. He says there's a huge cache of coxium under the spice mines on Kessel. GASP! THE SPICE MINES OF KESSEL! I KNOW THAT!

Vos says the problem with that plan is unrefined coaxium is highly unstable, and has to be processed quickly after mining or it'll explode. They'd need an impossibly fast ship and a skilled pilot to get it a refinery in time. Qi'ra pipes up and says she knows where they can get a ship, and Han boasts that he's the best pilot in the galaxy. Vos thinks it over and agrees to give them one last chance, and says it they fail they're all dead. He orders Qi'ra to go with them, much to her dismay.

Qi'ra takes Han and Chewie to meet Lando Calrissian (played by Donald Glover), a charming con man who owns his own ship. Han challenges Lando to a game of sabaac, with the winner getting the other's ship (even though Han doesn't actually have one). Han pretends to be a newbie, but is actually quite a skilled player and seemingly beats Lando. Unfortunately Lando's a cheat, and literally has a card up his sleeve in a retractable holder. He uses this card to beat Han.

Lando then demands Han's ship, and he sheepishly admits he doesn't have one. Qi'ra tells 
him about the coaxium, and says if he helps them with the Kessel job, he'll have enough money to retire. Lando thinks it over and for some reason agrees to join them.

Lando picks up his co-pilot, a "female" droid named L3-37. She's a parody of both feminists and SJWs, as she constantly tells the other droids around her they're being exploited and should rise up and overthrow their masters. She's also the most irritating character in the entire goddamned franchise since Jar Jar Binks.

The group enters an underground hangar, where Lando shows them his ship— the Millennium Falcon. GASP! This is the iconic moment where Han first sees the Falcon! I... I think I'm going to swoon! Lando's upset to discover the ship's been booted, which I guess is a thing in the Star Wars universe. Beckett says he can remove the boot, but it'll lower Lando's share of the bounty. He reluctantly agrees. The group takes off for Kessel.

During the flight, L3 engages in girl talk with Qi'ra, and implies that she and Lando are in a physical relationship. Jesus wept.

They arrive at Kessel, which sits in the center of a treacherous and nonsensical region of space, surrounded by dangerous storms and massive "carbon-bergs." Sure, why not. They follow a marked "safe" route to the surface and land.

Qi'ra poses as a regional governor (Hey, that's from A New Hope!), and presents Han and Chewie as slaves to the head of the mining facility. Lando stays on board, recording his memoirs (?), while L3 traipses around and tells her fellow droids to throw off the shackles of their servitude and get woke. I just don't know anymore...

Han and Chewie are taken inside the mines, where they overpower their guards. As they look for the vault containing the coaxium, Chewie sees a group of enslaved Wookiees. He tells Han he has to try and free them, and they split up.

Han finds the vault and begins loading coaxium containers onto a cart. Meanwhile, L3's boneheaded actions cause a goddamned riot, as her liberated droids begin opening the slave pens. Hundreds of slaves then revolt against their masters, causing complete chaos.

Han struggles to push the heavy coaxium-laden cart back to the ship. Suddenly Chewie returns to help. His fellow freed Wookiees cover them as they load the coaxium into the Falcon.

Lando shrieks when the guards begin firing at his pristine white ship. He fires on the guards, and tells L3 to haul her metal ass back to the ship so they can take off. Just then she takes a blaster hit to the chest, as the audience rises to its feet and cheers. Lando cradles the annoying droid, and is wounded himself as he drags her upper torso back to the Falcon.

Since Lando's checked out and in no state to fly, Beckett tells Han he's the pilot now. He fires up the Falcon and blasts off. Lando cradles L3 in his arms as she powers down and dies. Thank the Baby Motherfraking Jesus!

Unfortunately the Falcon's path out of the Kessel Run is blocked by a massive Imperial Star Destroyer, which sends out a squad of TIE Fighters. Apparently the Empire somehow heard about the coaxium heist and arrived within thirty seconds.

As the ship's rocked by TIE Fighter blasts, Han says their only hope is to leave the safe route out of Kessel and head through The Maw— a deadly cluster of black holes. Lando points out that there's no route through the cluster that's less than twenty parsecs, which will take too long and cause the unstable coaxium to explode.

Han remembers that L3 had a sophisticated navigational database in her head, and suggests uploading it into the ship so they can pilot a quick & safe way out. Qi'ra apologizes to L3's metallic corpse, rips the hard drive out of her head and plugs it into the Falcon's nav computer. Sigh... that's right, folks. The goddamned Millennium Falcon was just retconned into containing the mind of a feminist, SJW droid.

The ship plots a course out of The Maw, and Han flies them through it. Suddenly they're attacked by a massive space squid or something. Han gets an idea and flies dangerously close to one of the gravity wells. The creature follows, and is pulled in and torn apart. Unfortunately the Falcon's caught too, as the well begins dragging it in.

Han suggests adding a drop of coaxium to the ship's reactor to help them break free. Beckett does so, and just as the Falcon's about to be pulled in, the coaxium gives them the extra boost they need to rocket out of the dangerous region. Because he took a short cut, Han brags that he... get ready for it... made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. GASP! This is the iconic moment in which he first said the thing we know!

The battered Falcon barely makes it to Savareen, where they begin processing and stabilizing the coaxium in the nick of time. Lando looks at his ruined ship and tells Han he hates him. Just then, Empty Enfys Nest and the Cloud Riders show up (???), demanding the entire shipment of coaxium.

Han cockily points to the Falcon, and tells Nest it's filled with several dozen deadly smugglers. He says all he has to do is snap his fingers and they'll emerge and wipe out the Riders. Wait, weren't they all killed during the train heist? Did Nest recruit some more in the past day? Anyway, right on cue, Lando takes off in the Falcon, leaving Han with space egg on his space face.

Enfys Nest removes his helmet, revealing he's really a young Maya Rudolph teenage girl. She says her mother was from Savareen, and Crimson Dawn agents raped and pillaged the place years ago. She's now doing everything in her power to keep the coaxium out of the criminal organization's hands. Han and Beckett discuss what they should do.

Suddenly Vos' ship arrives and lands. Han, Qi'ra and Chewie take a sample case of coaxium to Vos' penthouse. He examines a vial, declares it's fake and accuses Han of selling the real stuff to the Riders. Vos reveals he has an "inside man" who told him this plan, and reveals it's Beckett. Han and the others are gobsmacked by this stunning information, even though he's the only person it could possibly have been.

Han then says he anticipated Beckett's betrayal, and the coaxium he sold to the Riders is actually fake (?). It's a double double cross! A fight breaks out in the penthouse, as both Han and Qi'ra attack Vos. In the confusion, Beckett grabs the coaxium, takes Chewie hostage and leaves.

Qi'ra battles Vos and ends up stabbing him in the heart. She then tells Han to go after the coaxium and rescue Chewie. She says she has a few things to take care of first (?), but will join him soon. She's obviously lying and has no intention of following him, but Han believes her and runs off anyway.

Even though Beckett had a good ten minute start, Han somehow appears in front of him. They banter for a bit, and then Han decides he's had enough, pulls out his gun and shoots Beckett in the chest. GASP! This is the iconic moment in which Han learned to shoot first! Han then cradles Beckett in his arms for some reason, as he watches his mentor/enemy die.

Back on Vos' ship, Qi'ra contacts her real boss, who turns out to be Darth Maul (!). GASP! A rare appearance of a character from the Prequel Trilogy. Qi'ra lies and says Beckett killed Vos before she killed him, and the coaxium was destroyed. Maul apparently buys this story, and promotes Qi'ra to Vos' position. She then flies off in the late Vos' ship, and looks mournfully out the window at Han as she zooms overhead.

Han gives the entire shipment of coaxium to Enfys Nest. She says she plans to use it to fight back against the Empire. In fact you might say she's going to start a... rebellion. GASP! This is the iconic moment in which the Rebellion against the Empire was formed! Before she leaves, she gives Han a vial of coaxium, saying it should be enough for him to buy his own ship.

Cut to an unknown planet, where Lando is once again playing sabaac. Han and Chewie appear, causing Lando to do a spit-take. Lando hugs Han and says he hopes there's no hard feelings. Unknown to him, Han swipes Lando's hidden card from under his sleeve.

Han challenges Lando to another sabaac rematch, with the Falcon as the stakes. Han lays down his hand, and Lando once again reaches for his hidden card. He's startled when it's not there, and Han announces he won "fair and square." GASP! He said the thing! This is the exact moment he talked about in The Empire Strikes Back!

With the Falcon now theirs, Han and Chewie decide to head for Tattooine, where a gangster's putting together a crew for a new mission. GASP! They're talking about Jabba the Hutt! The Falcon blasts off into space.

In an effort to not be completely negative, I want to point out that I liked most of the film. It's a fun little adventure, and I liked that the stakes were relatively small and there was no threat to the entire galaxy. The characters were fun and engaging (with one big exception), and the majority of the acting was decent.

I did feel the film felt a bit rushed though. I always kind of assumed the various events of Han's life happened over a period of years. It never occurred to me that he met Chewbacca, did the Kessel Run and won the Falcon from Lando all in the same day.

Would it have killed them to have spread things out over two or three movies?

The main problem with a film like this is that Han never had any backstory whatsoever in the Original Trilogy, which makes it difficult to write an origin movie. Because of this, the screenwriters had to pore over every one of his lines in the original film, microscopically examining them for ideas. As a result, his every utterance in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi becomes a plot point in this film.

If you're OK with that, you'll likely love the movie. If you have a problem with it, you're in for a rocky two hours and fifteen minutes.

• Like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Solo doesn't begin with an opening crawl. It does open with several static paragraphs of onscreen exposition though.

• Might as well get this out of the way now. Solo is without a doubt the DARKEST movie I've ever seen. And I ain't talking about its tone— I mean dark as in "absence of light."

Seriously, at my screening I literally could not see the faces of any of the characters. For most of the run time I had to guess who was talking. Even the daylight scenes were dark and murky. 

I actually turned around and looked up at the projection booth several times, as I was sure something must have been blocking the window. It was obvious that this wasn't just a dimly-lit movie, and something was seriously wrong. That's too bad, as the film certainly sounded exciting. Too bad I couldn't see what the hell was happening.

It wasn't just my imagination either. The next day I emailed the theater and told them something was wrong with their projection system. Amazingly the manager responded and said he'd check it out. A hour or so later he emailed back and said he inspected the projector in that theater and the bulb had been accidentally turned down to 68%, instead of the standard 91%. He thanked me for letting him know something was wrong, and sent me two free passes to make up for the problem.

See? I KNEW I wasn't crazy, and that something was seriously wrong! Now the question is why the hell is 91% the standard projector brightness? Why aren't they cranking it up to 100%?

I actually went back a few days later to see the movie in its proper brightness. Believe it or not, it looked slightly brighter, but was STILL way too dark to see much of what was happening. 

Oddly enough, this wasn't an isolated incident. Apparently audiences nationwide had the same problem, and were complaining they couldn't see the characters' faces during the movie. 

In an interview with IndieWire, theater projection consultant (which I guess is a thing) Chaplin Cutler said there are a variety of factors that can cause a movie to look too dark. Films are projected through a window in the theater wall, and if the glass becomes dirty, it can darken the picture. The projector bulbs also dim over time, and because they're pricey, theater owners often wait too long to change them.

3D can also be a factor. When a theater shows a 3D movie, they place a special lens over the projector that splits the image in two. Supposedly it's a pain to remove this lens, so theaters often leave it on when they show a 2D movie. Unfortunately the 3D lens significantly darkens a 2D image.

There's also the fact that all theatrical movies these days are digital. That makes it necessary to compress the files, which often causes loss of detail in darker scenes.

Those are all great excuses, but this isn't some indie movie by a no-name studio. It's a Disney film, for corn's sake. They've been around for almost a hundred years, so you'd think they'd know about all this stuff by now and be able to compensate for it.

In addition to being literally too dark to see at times, Solo also has some of the ugliest cinematography I've seen in quite a while. Everything's dull and dingy, with an unpleasant brown tinge. Most infuriating of all, much of the film is backlit by bright windows or light sources placed behind the actors. Jesus Christ, even I know better than to do that. Lighting a movie from behind blows out the screen and makes it virtually impossible to see the actors.

Supposedly Bradford Young is the guilty party responsible for the horrible, horrible cinematography on Solo. This is surprising, since he also worked on Arrival. I had no problems seeing what the hell was going on in that film, so I dunno what went wrong here.

I really think these "A Star Wars Story" films need some sort of onscreen caption or something to explain just when they're taking place. Sure, the die-hard fans all know the timeline, but I guarantee the general public doesn't have a clue, and is wondering how Han Solo is alive and young after being killed as an old man in The Force Awakens.

For the record, Solo begins thirteen years before the events of A New Hope. There's then a three year time jump in the first act, so the rest of the movie takes place ten years before Han meets Luke in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

• Solo clocks in at two hours and fifteen minutes. That's a bit too long for a fun, breezy heist movie. Trimming it by fifteen or twenty minutes would have helped it greatly.

• Alden Ehrenreich does a passable job as Han Solo, but I still think there were better choices out there. It's not that his performance was bad per se, it's just that there was never a point in the movie where I actually thought I was looking at a young Han.

Dave Franco (!), Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Miles Teller (and his punchable face), Nick Robinson, Leo Howard, Tony Oller, Chandler Riggs (!!!), Hunter Parrish, Rami Malek (?), Landon Liboiron, Ed Westwick, Tom Felton (WHAT?), Joshua Sasse, Logan Lerman, Ansel Elgort (I could see him in the part), Jack Reynor, Colton Haynes, Max Thieriot, Scott Eastwood (???), Chris Pratt (that's gotta be a joke, as he's currently OLDER than Harrison Ford was during filming of A New Hope!), Emory Cohen, Taron Egerton, Jack O'Connell and Blake Jenner all auditioned for the role.

Personally I think actor Anthony Ingruber would have been the perfect choice. He sounds and acts exactly like Harrison Ford, and best of all looks eerily like him as well. Look him up on Youtube, and see what I mean. It's amazing how well he channels Ford.

• The filmmakers might have botched the casting of Han, but they made up for it with Lando. 
Donald Glover was absolutely perfect in the role. He moved and acted exactly like a young Billy Dee Williams, and even had the voice and inflections down pat. 

Some fans are complaining (imagine that) about Glover's performance, saying it was nothing more than an impression of Lando. Well... so what? Isn't that kind of the idea when you cast someone to play a previously established character?

• Tessa Thompson, Naomi Scott, ZoĆ« Kravitz, Kiersey Clemons and Jessica Henwick were considered for the role of Qi'Ra, before it ultimately went to Emilia Clarke. Eh... she does an adequate job I guess. Honestly I just don't think she's much of an actress. I hope she's socking away her Game Of Thrones money, because I don't see much of a future for her once that show's done.

• Joonas Suotamo plays Chewbacca, as he's done now in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Suotamo replaced original Chewie actor Peter Mayhew, who sadly had to retire due to ill health.

Suotamo does as good a job as anyone's likely to do, but it's painfully obvious that Mayhew's no longer inside the fur suit. Sadly it's just not the same.

• Dryden Vos was originally played by actor Michael K. Williams, and the character was supposedly some sort of CGI lion-man alien.

Unfortunately Williams wasn't available for the extensive reshoots, so he was replaced by Paul Bettany, who played him as a live action humanoid.

• Thandie Newton, who plays Val, is a stunningly beautiful woman. You'd never know it from watching Solo though, as she's saddled with a horrible Toni Home Perm that adds a good ten years to her age and makes her look like a frumpy 1950s housewife. 

It almost looks like she's sporting a replica of Moss' do from The IT Crowd!

• Jon Favreau voices Rio Durant, a four armed CGI alien member of Beckett's crew. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but Favreau/Rio sounds EXACTLY like Rocket Racoon from the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies. Ah, who am I kidding. Of course they were trying to make him sound like Rocket.

Empty Enfys Nest is played by Erin Kellyman, whoever that is. All I know is she's a dead ringer for a young Maya Rudolph of SNL fame. Distractingly so. In fact when she first took off her helmet and revealed her face, my first thought was, "Wow, why'd they waste time and money digitally de-aging Maya Rudolph?" Eventually I figured out it wasn't her, but man, do they look alike.

Somebody in Hollywood needs to cast these two as mother and daughter, or the same character at different ages. C'mon, agents! Get on this, stat!

• Warwick Davis makes a brief appearance as Weazel, a character who was allegedly in The Phantom Menace. Davis played Wicket the Ewok in The Return Of The Jedi, and has been involved in eight other Star Wars related projects over the years.

Davis also starred as the title character in Willow, which coincidentally was also directed by Ron Howard.

• Phoebe Waller-Bridge provides the voice and motion capture for the detestable droid L3-37.

On the Graham Norton Show, Waller-Bridge claims that when she auditioned for the role, she played the character as a human, because not only had she never seen a Star Wars movie in her life, but she "didn't know what a droid was."


OK, I'm calling shenanigans on that last part. I can accept the fact that someone's never seen the films, but how the hell can a grown-ass human adult have never heard the word "droid" before? It's only two letters away from "android," which isn't exactly an arcane term, and it's the name of one of the most popular smart phones in the world! Jesus Christ!

Either Waller-Bridge is a complete and utter moron who needs help finding her way home, or she just wanted a "cute" story to tell on a chat show.

 Naturally since this is ostensibly a Ron Howard film, he stuck his brother Clint into it (as he always does). 

• Because this is a Disney Star Wars film, it's filled with references from the various movies. It's a pretty lengthy list, but somehow the shoutouts didn't seem as blatant and obtrusive as they did in Rogue One

Here are a few of the references I noticed. I'm sure there were probably others I missed.

— During the train heist, Val mentions Bossk. He's the lizard-like bounty hunter in The Empire Strikes Back (which takes place after this movie!).

— When Lando meets Beckett, he says, "You're the man who killed Aurra Sing!" Beckett replies that he only gave her a push, and the fall killed her. Sing was a bounty hunter who popped up VERY briefly (we're talking one second or so) in The Phantom Menace.

— When Han and the others enter Vos' penthouse, he asks if they'd like some Colo Claw Fish. The Claw Fish was one of the giant aquatic beasts that tried to snack on Qui-Gon and Co. in The Phantom Menace.

— To keep Vos from killing them, Han and Beckett try to think of alternate sources of coaxium. Qi'Ra suggests Scariff. That was the planet that sort of got blown up by the newly minted Death Star in Rogue One.

— Lando consistently mispronounces Han's name, just as he did in The Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi.

— Onboard the Falcon, Qi'Ra discovers Lando has a closet just for his capes (!). Han interrupts her as she's trying on a blue cape— which appears to be the same one Lando wore in The Empire Strikes Back.

— En route to Kessel, Beckett teaches Chewie how to play Dejarik, the 3D chess game first seen in A New Hope. This is at least the third time the game's appeared in the franchise now.

— In the elevator on Kessel, Han's horrified to see Chewie's torn off the arms of a guard. In A New Hope, Han warns 3PO that Wookiees are known for that.

— When the gang's on Kessel, Beckett sports the same guard helmet and armor that Lando wore when he infiltrated Jabba's palace in The Return Of The Jedi. I always assumed Lando just picked up the armor in the palace, but apparently he owned it for some reason, and stored it on his ship!

— On Kessel, Qi-ra dispatches a guard with a martial arts move. When Han looks at her in amazement, she says she knows "Teras Kasi." That's a nod to the 1997 Playstation videogame Star Wars: Masters Of Teras Kasi. Most fans consider it one of the worst fighting games ever made.

— During the famous Kessel Run, Han says, "I have a really good feeling about this." That's of course a play on "I have a bad feeling about this," a phrase which has famously been uttered in every previous Star Wars film.

— At one point Lando mentions Sharu, the Oseon system and the Starcave Nebula. These are all references to a series of novels from the 1980s, detailing Lando's adventures prior to losing the Falcon to Han. For the record, the novels are Lando Calrissian And The Mindharp Of SharuLando Calrissian And The Flamewind Of Oseon and Lando Calrissian And The Starcave Of ThonBoka. I have a feeling the titles are the best things about these books.

Oddly enough, in these novels Lando also travels with a droid copilot! I've not read any of these titles, but hopefully the droid in the books was nowhere near as annoying as the one in the movie.

— After Han practically destroys the Falcon during the Kessel Run, Lando tells him, "I hate you." Han replies, "I know." This is a reverse of the iconic Leia/Han scene in The Empire Strikes Back.

— At the end of the movie, Beckett pulls a gun on Han and begins monologuing. Before he can finish his speech, Han pulls out his blaster and shoots him dead. This of course is supposed to be the origin of Han's "shoot first" philosophy, as seen in the original theatrical release of A New Hope.

• For over forty years now, no one's ever given a mynock's ass as to what powers the ships in the Star Wars universe. They just go. That's all we've ever needed to know.

All that's changed in the past year. Suddenly the fuel source of Star Wars ships is an issue of vital importance. In fact it's a major plot point in Solo, and in The Last Jedi as well. 

I don't get it. What changed? Why's it suddenly such a relevant topic? Because we're worried about energy in the real world?

• Inside the Corellian spaceport, we see a flatscreen TV playing an Imperial propaganda commercial. This ad consists of shots of Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters, and amazingly is accompanied by a slightly reworked version of The Imperial March, which first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back

OK, so it was supposed to be a fun little Easter egg or whatever, but all I could think of when I heard it was how John Williams must exist in the Star Wars universe.

Hey, I had to occupy myself somehow during this movie, since I couldn't see the goddamned thing!

• When Han signs up with the Empire, he doesn't give the recruiter his last name because he's on his own and "he has no people." 
Later on he tells Beckett about his dad, who used to build space ships on Corellia.

So which is it, Han? Do you have "people" or don't you?

It's possible to reconcile his two statements with a little bit of effort, but we shouldn't have to do the writers' work for them.

By the way, during this "recruitment scene," we discover the burning question of how Han got his last name. What's that? You never wondered about that? Yeah, neither did I. Apparently it was a big bee in the bonnet of the screenwriters though, as they felt the burning need to explain it.

See, when the recruiter asks Han his last name, he mumbles that he doesn't have one. The recruiter, needing something to put on the form, says, "Hmmm... Han... ummm... Han Solo." Just like an immigrant who's complicated name was changed to "Smith" at Ellis Island in 1900.

Jesus wept. I audibly groaned in the theater at that line. This is NOT something that needed to be explained. His name's Han Solo. It's just a plain old surname in the Star Wars galaxy. End of story.

• When Han's thrown into the pit, the Imperial guards gleefully chortle that he'll be eaten by the monster inside. Once in the pit, Han notices the bones of the monster's previous victims.

Eventually the "monster" turns out to be Chewie. So what a minute... did Chewie actually eat the previous prisoners who were tossed into the pit with him? Are Wookiees really carnivores who eat intelligent species? Based on this scene, it sure looks that way! Holy Crap!

• I was underwhelmed by Han's first meeting with Chewie. Part of that might have been because the sequence is a shot for shot remake of the "Pit Witch" scene from Army Of Darkness.

• In the pit, Chewie tries to kill Han until he croaks out a few words in 
"Shyriiwook" (the Wookiee language). So... not only can Han understand the language, but he can speak it as well. Of all the things I thought I'd see in this movie, Alden Ehrenreich moaning and gargling onscreen was last on the list.

• For several years now, smart alecks on the internet have snarkily asked how the hell Chewbacca can pronounce his name, when his language consists of nothing but growls and trills. Good question!

Against all logic and reason, those noises apparently somehow represent his name. When Han finally asks the Wookiee what he's called, he utters a series of bleats that Han translates into "Chewbacca." I'm confused.

• Apparently Chewie is destined to undergo a major growth spurt sometime in the next ten years. Here in Solo, he's barely a foot taller than Han. Compare this to A New Hope, in which he absolutely towers over his partner!

• Right before the train heist, Beckett tells Han he'll need a weapon. He then disassembles a rifle, turns it into a handgun and tosses it to Han.

So I guess Chewie can just go fark himself then, as Beckett never gives him a weapon.

Since they insisted on explaining everything else in this film, shouldn't they have shown how Chewie got his laser-shooting crossbow thing?

The heist goes horribly wrong when Han panics and cuts the stolen train car from Beckett's fleeing ship. As the car crashes to the ground, the highly volatile coaxium inside causes a massive implosion, completely destroying an entire mountain.

But just a minute or so earlier, the entire train— consisting of twenty or so cars— jumped the track and crashed as well. If just one car load of coaxium could wipe out a mountain, shouldn't a couple dozen have cracked the planet in two? Whoops!

• After the train heist goes South, Beckett says Vos will be arriving any second. He tells Han and Chewie they should leave before he arrives, as Vos likely kill them if they stay.

Um... how the hell would they "leave" exactly? They don't have a ship. Does Beckett expect them to trudge to the train depot and steal a ship from there?

• Vos' penthouse office is a goldmine of Easter eggs and references. At least I think it was. Once again, the scene was so dark I could barely make out what was happening.

His collection includes the golden fertility idol from the beginning of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. You can see it right in the center of the screen as Vos and the others chat.

Vos also has what appears to be a suit of Mandalorian battle armor on display. It's the same style of armor worn by Boba Fett in the various Star Wars films (although this example looks to be a dark red, rather than green).

There's also a large crystal skull on a shelf in Vos' office. Most fans believe this is a nod to Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. I suppose it could be, but I'm wondering if it's not a more obscure reference. There was a 1980 novel by Brian Daley titled Han Solo And The Lost Legacy, which featured— you guessed it a large crystal skull on the cover. Is it possible the skull's a shoutout to that little-remembered cover?

• Some fans have claimed that Vos' elaborate facial scars became brighter when he got angry. I honestly couldn't say whether that's true or not, as I seriously could not see what the hell was going on in the movie. 

If true, that's a clever little touch. It's also a direct swipe from Alfred Bester's 1957 sci-fi novel The Stars My Destination. In it, main character Gulley Foyle is forced to get an elaborate tiger tattoo on his face. He eventually gets the tattoo removed, but finds it becomes visible again when he loses his temper. He then has to learn to control his emotion, lest the tattoo become visible and he reveal his true identity. Didn't think I'd catch that one, did you, Kasdan boys?

• Shortly before the film premiered, screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan announced in an interview that the character of Lando Calrissian is "pansexual," and doesn't limit himself to women or even members of his own species. Predictably, the press and internet went wild over this nugget of info, passionately arguing the pros and cons of a fictional character's sexuality.

Oddly enough, there's absolutely NOTHING in the movie to suggest Lando's orientation. And I do mean nothing.

So what the hell, Jonny? Why bring up something that has no bearing on the film? Was he pandering to the SJW crowd in a desperate attempt to pique their interest?

Best Line Of The Movie: At one point Lando finds the Falcon's been "booted." Beckett says he can free it for a hefty fee. Lando says, "I don't like it. I don't agree with it. But I'll accept it." 

Words to live by!

• Welp, I put it off as long as I could, but it's time to talk about L3-37. Jesus Jetskiing Christ, has there ever been a more annoying character in the history of film? I used to think Jar Jar Binks was the worst character in the entire Star Wars franchise, but this fraking robot makes him seem appealing.

I hated everything about her. She was arrogant, recklessly headstrong and infuriatingly smug. I even hated her voice!

She wasn't just annoying, but dangerous as well. Her actions actually incited a full-blown riot that killed people, as well as the droids she was trying to "save." She even got herself killed and Lando wounded.

I honestly came close to standing up and cheering when L3 droid was shot and killed. Never in my life have I been so satisfied by the death of a fictional character.

Oddly she's played so broadly it's almost like she's like a parody of a typical SJW. How the hell did that happen? I know for a fact that a "woke" presence like Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy would never allow such a character onscreen. Is Kennedy really so dense that she couldn't see that L3 was making fun of the audience segment she loves so dearly?

I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think L3's name is supposed to be a joke. I think L3-37 is supposed to look like 1337, as in "leet speak." You know, when people online substitute letters with symbols, and write things like "b&" instead of "banned."

By the way, if you can stand to look at her, you can see that L3's upper arms appear to be made from spare astromech legs, much like R2-D2's. 

That's sort of a nice little touch I guess, but something's way off here. R2's legs appear to be about twenty four inches long, without the "foot." If L3's upper arms really are spare R2 legs, that would make her about ten feet tall. Obviously that's not the case.

Is there some sort of tiny astromech unit we've not yet seen, whose arms were cannibalized to build L3?

• Man, the planet Kessel is quite the mineralogical wonder. Not only does it contain the spice mines, but there're apparently vast deposits of coaxium underneath them! 

• Way back in A New Hope, Han bragged that the Millennium Falcon was "the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs." The idea of course was that the Falcon traveled the distance in record time, but Han's statement made no sense. A parsec is a unit of distance, not time. It's like saying you ran a hundred yard dash in ten feet.

Obviously this was a flub on George Lucas' part, as he must have heard the term "parsec" at one point but had no idea what it meant. That simple explanation wasn't good enough for the fans though, as for decades they've been trying to reconcile Han's statement.

The most popular fan explanation is that the Kessel Run was a dangerous region of space, but there was a relatively safe— but lengthy route through it, which was maybe twenty or so parsecs long. For whatever reason, Han decided to take a dangerous shortcut through the area, which ended up being just twelve parsecs.

Amazingly, that's exactly what happens in Solo, as the screenwriters incorporated this fan theory pretty much verbatim!

• During the Kessel Run, you can hear snippets of The Asteroid Field score from The Empire Strikes Back. Another nice touch.

• Late in the third act, Vos reveals that Beckett is secretly working for him. This leaves Han and Qi'ra completely gobsmacked, as their jaws practically hit the floor. Why is everyone so surprised when the inside man turns out to be Beckett? Lando's already checked out of the movie at this point, so Beckett's literally the only other cast member it could possibly be.

• Beckett takes Chewie hostage and leaves with the heavy case full of coaxium. Han and Qi'ra then say goodbye to each other for a good five minutes. Han then goes after Beckett.

Cut to Becket & Chewie lugging the coaxium up a sand dune. Suddenly they're confronted by Han, who's waiting for them at the top! How in the name of George Lucas' neck wattle did Han not only catch up to the pair, but manage to get ahead of them? Can he secretly teleport himself?

Solo's a film that didn't need to be made, but turned out far better than it had any right to. It's not a perfect film by any means, but it's a fun little adventure, and the first one Disney's done so far that actually feels like a Star Wars movie. Unfortunately fans apparently don't agree with me, and the film's sinking at the box office. I give it a B.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Site Meter