[Early Review] Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotomo

Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

 

I was blessed earlier this week with the opportunity to see Solo: A Star Wars Story before its initial release. I cannot express in words the feelings I had sitting in a theater with my best friend and taking in the experience. I’ll get to it another time.

Solo has had a long and difficult journey to get to the big screen. After original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were let go from the project, seasoned director Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon, Inferno) stepped in to complete filming. By that, I mean to reshoot most of the film. So after all this, and making its May 25th release date, is Solo a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise?

The film picks up about ten years before we meet the titular smuggler in A New Hope and witnesses the major events in his life leading up to that point, from his joining up with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotomo) to his initial interactions with con artist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, Spider-Man: Homecoming, TV’s Atlanta). Han (Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!, Rules Don’t Apply) struggles between making the right choices and the smart choices, and he finds that the good in him is capable of outweighing the bad.

So, there’s still a lot of spoilery territory with Solo, so I’ll tread as best as I can. First of all, I can say that this film is not an improv-heavy comedy. It’s probably the funniest Star Wars film in some time, but it never hinges too heavily on it.

The best sequences in the film rely on the relationship built between Han, Chewie, and Lando, and thankfully these three performers steal the film. There was a lot of talk about Ehrenreich’s performance and his need for an acting coach, but the final product was some solid work from the actor. I have to imagine there is a great deal of stress in taking on the mantle of a character from four previous films and dozens of books and comics, and I’m sure it was difficult to switch director’s and styles as much as I’m sure he had to, but I thought he did quite well in the role, never falling into Harrison Ford impressions.

Joonas Suotomo has had some practice as Chewie from the past couple Star Wars installments, and he provides Chewbacca with youthful charisma that meets, but never passes, Peter Mayhew. Donald Glover is excellent as Lando, again never falling into caricature, but driving his own path that makes for some truly smarmy work from Glover.

The supporting cast is admirable as well, with specific love given to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, TV’s True Detective) as Beckett, Han’s mentor. The scenes he shares with Val (Thandie Newton, Crash, TV’s Westworld) are tender and joyful. There is also an interesting parallel to the relationship between  master and apprentice in both Jedi and Sith lores.

I also want to touch on the score. While I enjoyed the previous non-Williams score from Rogue One, Solo’s score from John Powell is fantastic and thrilling and feels more like it is a part of Star Wars. John Williams crafted the Han Solo theme and then handed off duties to Powell, and the partnership created something truly special.

Solo is not without its faults, however, and the issues with the film are particularly glaring when they happen. First, the film has some serious pacing issues. This is an issue Ron Howard’s films tend to have. It just feels like it went on far too long and when I thought the finale was coming, it didn’t.

There’s also a checklist feeling to the film. One thing I really enjoyed about Rogue One was that they took a sentence, a mere moment, of the lore and expanded it for a film. Solo instead chooses to hit every major Han Solo milestone in one film, and it feels like someone at Lucasfilm has a checklist and is checking items off as they happen in the film:

“Oh, he has to meet this character.”

                “Oh, he has to do this major event.”

                                “Oh, we have to explain this throwaway line.”

The film suffers from it, and they should have just picked one major event or relationship from his life to dive into. I disagree with reviewers saying this adds nothing new to the franchise, but I can also kind of understand what they mean.

Finally, there’s a scene at the end, when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean, where the film takes a major turn down a different path and it feels both forced and confusing, and while I, a major Star Wars fan, get it, I feel like casual fans won’t. Not that they can’t understand it, but it felt very out of place. While I won’t divulge this scene, but you will definitely know what I’m talking about.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a thrilling adventure, one that I quite enjoyed. While it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more unique, and I still can’t claim that we needed this film, it was a nice pallet cleanser for the serious tone of The Last Jedi. There are some fine performances and some really cool sequences, the film still feels like it’s trying too hard to do too much. That being said, I cannot wait to see it again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Star Wars Days] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

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Director: Richard Marquand

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Sebastian Shaw, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Alec Guinness

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas

131 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

IMDb Top 250: #72 (as of 4/21/2016)

 

Another year, another excuse to celebrate Star Wars. Hey everyone. Today we are taking a look back on the only Star Wars film we haven’t talked about yet, Return of the Jedi.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) is still in the clutches of the vile Jabba the Hutt. As Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, TV’s Regular Show, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness) and company hatch their plan to rescue him, the Empire is slowly working on the creation of a weapon more powerful than the original Death Star. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, The Lion King, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) and his master, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) oversee the final touches on the weapon and a final confrontation is set into motion uniting father and son in an epic battle as the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance in this final film of the original Star Wars trilogy from director Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge, Eye of the Needle).

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Originally titled Revenge of the Jedi (but then later renamed as Jedi do not take revenge), Return of the Jedi is solid conclusion to the original trilogy. By tying up the remaining plot threads very expertly set up in the previous two films, Return of the Jedi makes an argument for being one of the best installments of the series. The performances from our main three stars are great, the confrontation with Palpatine is filled with excitement and dread, and the redemption of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Batman, The Lego Movie) doesn’t feel overtly forced. The creature effects ranging from Yoda to Jabba the Hutt and Salacious Crumb (yeah, look it up) are pretty amazing for the time period.

That being said, a true Star Wars fan knows his faults, and I have few…

The use of cutsie-ing the series with Ewoks seemed like an odd choice. Not really bad, but definitely odd.

The film spends a bit too much time on Endor. Just saying.

And it contains the one frustration I truly have with the Special Editions (the removal of Yub Nub, I didn’t mind the added scene in its place, but could we not get one freakin’ Yub Nub???)

Now, back to the positives. The entirety of the opening act on Tattooine? Amazing! Perhaps the best piece of storytelling in the film!

The sound, effects, and score? Cannot say enough greatness, especially about John Williams and his ability to craft new pieces with every film that add to the mythology and create a richer musical vocabulary. Just incredible.

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So, all in all, as I continue on my Star Wars Marathon, I was happy to take a pit stop on Return of the Jedi. The film is often thought of as the weakest of the original trilogy, but I think that is more of a testament to how terrific this series is. Were we not destined to have more films, I would have been more than content at this final chapter (I’m not against more, though, so please continue to deliver, Lucasfilm).

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

For my review of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Editing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects [PENDING]

IMDb Top 250: #74 (as of 1/24/2016)

 

I’m still a little shocked that I’m sitting in my chair writing a review for a NEW Star Wars film, here in 2015. It’s a strange feeling knowing that the stories that inspired me to tell stories are back and big and (hopefully) glorious. Well, I won’t waste time covering all that I love about this franchise, and I’ll leave that to the previous reviews that you can check out below. Instead, let’s just focus on the elephant in the room: Is The Force Awakens any good?

Happily, yes.

It’s been thirty years since the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of the villainous Emperor and his disciple Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness, Kingsman: The Secret Service), the face of the rebellion, is missing. In his absence, the Empire has reformed into the First Order, and new evils Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Avengers: Age of Ultron), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, About Time, The Revenant), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, TV’s Girls, Frances Ha) have brought their special form of tyranny to the galaxy. Leia (Carrie Fisher, Maps to the Stars, Sorority Row) has dispatched rebel pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina) to find her missing brother. As Poe finds new allies in ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, Attack the Block) and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), they begin to uncover the mystery of Luke Skywalker’s location.

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I’m going to leave the plot details to this, which is probably too much already, but you probably should’ve seen the film by now. Where have you been?

So let’s look to our director, J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek Into Darkness). While the film has been criticized as being too similar to parts of the Original Trilogy, I found it to be more of an homage of where we’ve come in this franchise and where we are going. The Force Awakens is a transitionary film, and a lot of that can be credited to Abrams, plus most people forget about all the new elements to this film.

The film relies a lot less on the seasoned performers than I’d thought. Instead, we meet so many colorful characters to liven up the franchise and move it forward. Daisy Ridley is the most impressive to me as Jakku scavenger Rey, who finds herself in a much lonelier place that Luke Skywalker did at the beginning of A New Hope. She lives a solitary life on the planet of Jakku, where she steals from the relics of the previous Empire and uses it to survive on the desolate desert planet. Her emotional resonance as a forced heroine is astounding and impactful and her character is the strongest female we’ve seen in this franchise so far.

Also throw in John Boyega, who provides a nice amount of true terror and comic relief without becoming a stock character. Finn has to deal with a life he learns he doesn’t want, and while I feel like the start of the film doesn’t do him justice, he grows to be lovable by the film’s climax.

Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver aren’t novice performers even if they aren’t exactly household names, and both turn out incredible performances as Poe and Kylo, two opposite ends of a spectrum. Poe could be a repeat of Luke but becomes something entirely different. Kylo Ren could just be Darth Vader 2.0, but the film is as much his origin story as it is Rey’s, and Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He is angry, spiteful, emotionally unstable, and mentally broken, which makes his character’s evolution something very interesting to see in the film.

Now, our returning actors are top notch as well, and of them, this is Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) film. It’s nice to see Ford really giving it all to this franchise again, and even his relationship with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, Killer Ink, Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Journey) has grown and changed in the past three decades. On that note, Chewie gets a lot more development in this film than I expected.

Abrams isn’t afraid to bring something new to this franchise (and I don’t mean lens flares, though there are a few), and that can be seen from his choice in cinematography and editing. Though this feels like a Star Wars movie, it has a lot of updated choices to its camera movement and pacing that add to the excitement.

John Williams returns to the franchise, too, and his score, which has been nominated for an Oscar, is astounding. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of new music Williams created for the film, which has its cues in the themes we’ve had before, but so much more, and it makes him deserving of the gold statue.

From a production standpoint, it’s easy to see the attention and care given here by the use of practical effects, which also elevate the visual effects and style of the movie throughout.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an awakening to the entire franchise, bringing us back to that childhood wonder of the original film while scoring a path to future adventures. It angers me that I find myself more excited for the next installment because of how much I enjoyed this one. Now, the film is imperfect in a few ways. I didn’t feel like every new character landed the way they were intended to, and some of the film’s most climactic moments (in the spoilery territory) faltered and their impact lessened. That being said, I found myself nitpicking Episode VII because of how much fun the movie was. Why haven’t you seen it yet? If you have, why haven’t you seen it again? Go. Go now!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

For my review of Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, click here.

[Top 250 Friday] 12) Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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Director: Irvin Kershner

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan

124 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Winner: Special Achievement Award (for visual effects)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

iMDB Top 250: #12 (as of 6/3/2015)

 

On the very short list of the Best Sequels of All Time, The Empire Strikes Back is pretty darn close to the top. Director Irvin Kershner (RoboCop 2, Never Say Never Again) brought not just the best installment in the Star Wars franchise, but also an amazing science fiction epic.

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It has been three years since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, TV’s Regular Show, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and the Rebels destroyed the Death Star. While Luke heads to the Dagobah System to train with the Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz, TV’s The Muppet Show, Zathura), Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Age of Adaline) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally, Maps to the Stars) evade the malicious Empire while trying to find somewhere to hide out when they come across Cloud City and Han’s old friend, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams, Batman, Barry Munday).

Kershner presents Empire as a dark continuation of the Star Wars Saga. Luke is challenged in his furthering of his Jedi abilities with Frank Oz puppeting the creature Yoda in a great performance of the little green Jedi Master (there was even a campaign to win Oz the coveted Oscar for an acting role), while Han and Leia are tested in their abilities to trust, both one another and those close to them as they carefully avoid detection by the enemy. New to the series, Billy Dee Williams handles his role capably and intermingles into the cast with ease.

The film is beautifully shot and looks just as nice now as it did 35 years ago. Ben Burtt displayed some great new sound effects for this film, setting a new standard for sci-fi while setting itself above the rest. The film is also perfectly paced. I could watch it ten times in a row and it would still flow well.

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Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series (and also the only one not written by George Lucas). It proves that some films can best their predecessor. The film, now 35, is still an amazing piece of cinema.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, click here.

For my review of George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, click here.

 

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