Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan
Cinematographer: Bradford Young
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, and Simon Emanuel
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
While Alden Ehrenreich did a great job evolving Hans’ arrogant and condescending smirk and other mannerisms, his performance just didn’t match Harrison Ford’s persona; his voice, in particular, felt too high versus the calm cool that Harrison Ford took on. However, Danny Glover’s Lando more than made up for it; providing one of the greatest performances across the entire series (including the original trilogy); going so far as to exceed Billy Dee Williams. It’s Ron Howard’s expertise that allowed him to pull off a Star Wars poker game, which although I didn’t understand the rules, was directed with enough personality and suspense that it didn’t matter.
Of course what they’re playing is the infamous game in which Lando loses the Millenium Falcon to Han, who we discover actually loses, creating just enough of a question to make us wonder both a) how he gets the Falcon, and b) when the next will occur. What makes the film work so well against The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017), and even the first half I’ve seen of Rogue One (2016) is that it’s no throwback overload, sprinkling Easter Eggs in all directions simply to appease the fans. While Hans’ name and Chewie's intro felt a bit cheap like the others, it was this scene that shifted the rush; and when you hear about the Kessel Run, you know what’s coming.
L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is my favorite droid of the series and progressing the mythology in a way that improves the universe. In this case, we realize that the droids have been treated very much as the minority-figure/comedy relief characters; never taken all that seriously. With films like Prometheus (2012) and Ex Machina (2014) exploring cyborg sentience and the ethics of AI consciousness, Howard extends the same concerns to Solo. At first, we see the droid cockfights as kind of cool and reminiscent of Robot Wars on Discovery; then we piece together that those robots are no different than the self-awareness of L3-37 who attempts to protest the fighting. Later we discover she’s under the impression that Lando is in love with her, unsure how the relationship could work; offering just a subtle hint that she might have reciprocal feelings. It’s a testament to Howard’s skill in allowing us to empathize with the issue, made all the better as Glover paints just enough of a gray area to make us wonder if he is, indeed, attracted to L3-37.
They end up on the planet Kessel in order to retrieve the coaxium shipment; located on a gorgeous practical set that rivals anything from the original trilogy. The plan goes awry, in which L3-37 leads a revolt of the droids while Chewi saves his fellow Wookies and disaster strikes; L3-37 loses her life in the process as they’re overwhelmed by the Imperial Army; forced to make Kessel Run that has piqued our interest for over thirty years and fully delivering one of the series' best uses of computer graphics in creating high suspension; accomplishing that magical feeling that cinema can occasionally provide in making us question what will happen although we know.
They return to Savareen to process the coaxium before Vos returns. The pirates from the botched train heist return and we discover that they’re actually early rebels; in dire need of the coaxium to both prevent the Empire from using it to complete further mass murders and for financing their operation.
In one of the series best double (or triple) crosses, we watch as Han and Beckett betray Vos, retrieving the coaxium to which Beckett again tries to pull a fast one on Han, leading Han to “shoot first” and kill him. Beckett says he made the right decision and we get another brilliant answer to a long-held mystery; defending that Han likely shot Gweedo first as a lesson learned from this very moment and putting an end to the debate.
While Qi’ra’s double-crossing and conversation with Darth Maul felt unnecessary (especially given how close this film is to A New Hope (1977) where we never even learn or see any Siths). I enjoyed Qi’ra’s character and it was an otherwise appropriate ending for helping us understand Hans' bitterness and allow us to empathize with his arrogance. While it felt like just one too many double-crosses, and that the film could have easily book ended A New Hope (1977), I suppose Disney couldn’t allow a one-off origin story stop there when Marvel can create a half dozen films per character.
Overall, it’s the film I’ve long been waiting for. While costing an extraordinary $275 million (which it’s looking to fail to make back), the story somehow feels small and intimate. It makes me hopeful that with the right directing/writing team the Star Wars universe can go on in an interesting direction that might restore that little kid excitement I’ve begun to lose since A Phantom Menace (1999).
BELOW: Less lightsabers and more old fashioned action
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