Solo: A Star Wars Story (PG-13)

SciFi/Fantasy 135 min. May 25, 2018
By Jordan Riefe
Last June, when directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard on Solo: A Star Wars Story, many fans feared the worst. But the new movie isn’t just expertly paced and plotted, starring a talented young cast surrounded by savvy veterans; it’s everything you want from Star Wars: cool chases, exotic creatures, duels and acts of derring-do, and that’s just the opening hook. We’ll never know what Miller and Lord may have come up with, but what we have is a franchise movie that works as a stand-alone in a way many sequels don’t anymore. Even better, the script avoids the confusing, convoluted narratives so common to modern blockbusters by providing one simple objective: Get the Coaxium.

Streamlining the plot frees up time to explore characters and relationships. Solo, we learn, is a nickname stemming from the fact that Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has no family. He almost becomes lunch for Chewbacca, a desperate captive, but instead helps him escape and wins his trust. Solo’s role model is criminal Beckett, a portrayal by Woody Harrelson that ultimately feels like a variation on similar roles in War for the Planet of the Apes and The Hunger Games trilogy. Having a moment is Donald Glover, whose performance dovetails smoothly with that of his predecessor, Billy Dee Williams.

Howard keeps things moving at a measured pace through dramatic scenes and conjuring kinetic energy in the action sequences. Anchoring Solo is Ehrenreich, who captures the body language and phrasing of original Han (Harrison Ford), portraying a street-smart Romeo as he transitions into the outlaw life. Beloved Game of Thrones dragon mama Daenerys Targaryen, Emilia Clarke brings a girlish energy, hardening over time into the sleek shell of a survivor.

Production designer Neil Lamont paints Planet Corellia as a brutalist deco urbanscape, with landscapes of mountains and deserts that dominated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and other entries in the series. It points to a sameness in studio cinema, imposed mainly by Disney but perpetuated by all, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously fans are happy to keep revisiting the bellowing Wookiee and the warp-speed dashes through the wide beyond, and satisfying as it is, Solo gives them what they want: more of the same.
Ron Howard Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo Lawrence and Jon Kasdan Walt Disney Pictures

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