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Life on the run.  Being chased through the streets of Corellia is nothing new to the boy fleeing some angry pursuers.  Such is the occupational hazard when one’s occupation is thief.  Young Han’s living is made by snatching saleable things to pay off an endless debt to the local crime boss; his protector and master in this age of the Empire’s domination.   Han is determined to trade this squalid life for a new one for himself and his lover/wingwoman, Qi’ra.  Seizing a chance to escape right off the planet, Han and Qi’ra are separated, and as usual, he must make the best of yet another of life’s kicks to the gut.

Han dreams of becoming the greatest pilot in the galaxy, but that requires time in the trenches as an Imperial Navy squid, where he risks his life in endless wars.  Now living under the descriptive surname, “Solo,” Han never quite lets go of the scrappy kid from the back alleys, and his insubordination and talent for trouble not only push him further from his piloting goal and any hope of finding Qi’ra again, but sees him meeting all sorts of new friends in low places.  After one infraction too many, he is tossed into a pit where no man returns after facing “the beast,” a muddy, matted mountain of fur, claws, and teeth.  However, Han realises this beast is not so much monster as misfit like himself, and his ability to understand the creature’s tongue begins a beautiful, fuzzy friendship.

Such resourcefulness wins Han and the bearlike Chewbacca places in a (another) gang of thieves, led by Beckett, who trades arms and resources to the crime syndicate, Crimson Dawn, for big rewards.  It is after a scam goes south that they are called to the (walking) carpet to face Crimson Dawn leader, Dryden Vos, whose right hand woman is someone Han knows quite well.  Reunited with Qi’ra, all Han needs to do is complete an impossible heist to repay Vos for his gang’s losses, and get the target off his back.  Self-possessed and cool, Qi’ra is not the wide-eyed, romantic girl Han left behind: Joining Han’s mission, her underworld savvy and smooth persuasion finds them an ally in their incredible scheme to steal a vital fuel source from under the Empire’s nose.

Debonair intergalactic smuggler Lando Calrissian is the owner of the fastest ship in the galaxy.  The suave playboy lives by his wits, and will follow a hunch for good times and profit.  Lando’s ship is just what Han’s crew needs to make their absurd quest a success, and so the smuggler and the thief find themselves across a gaming table, with Lando being sure never to play where he cannot win.  While Han is swindled, Qi’ra appeals to Lando’s bottom line, and the smuggler, his obstreperous navigator droid, L3-37, and his ship, the Millennium Falcon, join Team Solo.

Despite his life of scams and trickery, Han is a veritable babe in the woods against the constant multilevel chess being played by Lando, Vos, Beckett, and apparently, his own love, Qi’ra.  While reminded by Beckett all through their days together to trust no one, the lure of this ersatz family of scoundrels lulls Han into letting his guard down amongst these people he so wants to rely on, as they risk their lives on this outlandish scheme with the worst odds imaginable.  Surely, if they actually pull it off, all will be well, and Han can be the pilot he’s always dreamed of, and live happily ever after with Qi’ra, right?

Sadly, a lot of noise was made prior to SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY’s opening; from the firing of the film’s original directors, to “inside sources” calling the movie a failure a year before release, and settling the blame for it all on actor Alden Ehrenreich’s shoulders.  While I try to avoid this type of chatter, it was deafening, and I’m sure hurt the publics’ expectations for the film.

By no means is SOLO the disaster that many sourly heralded.  What it is is a breezy, summer popcorn flick, more entertaining than any chapter of the STAR WARS prequels (Though that’s not exactly a high bar.) and perhaps even superior to the wildly uneven THE LAST JEDI.

SOLO is an origin story of one of cinema’s favourite characters, that ties together a lot of what viewers have seen in the chapters that take place subsequent to this timeline.  From our first meeting him in the 1977 original STAR WARS, and even until the last of his days onscreen, movie audiences never really knew who Han Solo was.  We knew his grandiose personality, and watched his mercenary’s selfishness unwittingly and unwillingly transformed into heroism, due to the events of that first movie and his interactions with various Skywalkers, Kenobis, and galactic royalty.  SOLO makes a great arc in reverse of that man’s story, to show us a boy who, despite his delinquent upbringing, had an open heart full of love for his girl, and earnest hope for their future.  In this film, we see how those lights are shuttered down one by one, and Han’s soul becomes calloused.  It’s more emotional than one might expect, but we don’t dwell too much because SOLO gives us plenty of action.

Right from the jump (not to lightspeed, yet) we see the young man’s way with a fast, floating vehicle, as he flees from his angry marks, and later view him fighting and shooting his way out of sticky situations.  We watch his face reflect the same incredulity as his audience, as he swings from cables thousands of feet above snowy mountains, trying to steal a treasure haul.  Of course, we will see him sit for the first time behind the wheel (?) of the ship that will become as iconic as himself (It’s so clean and pretty, here.), and his baptism by TIE fighter, as he makes that legendary Kessel run that every Star Wars fan knows.  

Ehrenreich is at the helm of this film and he does just great.  This is not the Han Solo we know, but the one who will become him.  Ehrenreich handles Han’s physicality in the action scenes perfectly.  The actor is boyish enough to portray that open-hearted youth that this version of Han needs to be; while balancing the inherent cockiness, goofy bluster, and gallows humour forged by his misspent youth, aas well as the incoming jaundice of betrayal.  The audience feels it when the scales are pulled from Han’s eyes, and the hardening in his heart at the harshness of his reality; Ehrenreich show us all these sides wonderfully.

Perhaps fans might have expected for Ehrenreich to closely mimic Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal, but he could never have achieved it to anyone’s satisfaction, and if he tried, he would have been mocked and excoriated for doing so.  Ehrenreich’s depiction has plenty of recognisable touches of the familiar: There’s the twinkle in Han’s eye when he knows – or at least thinks – he’s got a situation down.  Likewise, his surprise and befuddlement when he’s proven terribly wrong.  The traces are there and it’s not hard at all to connect this performance to the older Han Solo, as played by Ford, but mostly Ehrenreich’s intelligent reading of Han is his own.  Ehrenreich captures the heart of the character as someone who had hope and optimism, and the joy of first love, and watched them all crumble and twist into something foul or unrecognisable before his eyes.

Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford, but he is Han Solo.

SOLO also features some memorable performances by not only Ehrenreich, but a nice turn by GAME OF THRONES’ Emilia Clarke as the love of Han’s life, Qi’ra.  Separated from Han, she’s had to get by on pure intelligence, moxy, and anything else at hand, and she doesn’t apologise for it.  She is smarter and quicker thinking than the men around her, and doesn’t wait to be consulted before making the right moves to put their plan into action.  For all she might have done to stand at the side of Dryden Vos, her feelings for Han are uncorrupted.  One of the warmer moments in the film occurs when Qi’ra tries to come clean about her life and transgressions to Han, and when he says he doesn’t care, we believe it.  I was impressed by how through his love for Qi’ra, we see Han’s attraction for strong, capable women who frankly outclass him.  This quality looms large for the character, later.

One would need charisma in abundance to take over the role made signature by 1970s sex symbol, Billy Dee Williams, and so we have multitalented Donald Glover playing the intergalactic seducer.  "Everything you've heard about me is true," are some of his first words to Han, which pretty much sets up the character.  This younger version of the deceptive bureaucrat we’ll meet in 1980’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, revels in his notoriety, side-parted fro, and impressive collection of capes.  Glover’s Lando is part Superfly, and part Morris Day from The Time, mixed with his own magnetism.  It doesn’t take much to sway Lando into Han’s plan, and one reckons that’s not only because he is entranced by the possible massive rewards, but because he can dine out on the stories of his part in this life or death, legend-making scheme.  Lando’s appearance in SOLO isn’t quite as prominent as advertisements would lead one to believe, but for that duration, Glover does give us spark, and lifts the fun up another level.

SOLO is not flawless.  There’s a patchiness to the storytelling that skips over many questions like, ‘How does Han speak Shyriiwook {Chewie’s language}?’ ‘How does he know how to fly?’ while creating a bunch of new questions relevant to the story before us.  The humour is quite corny and uninspired in some places: L3-37 is a droid rights activist that felt anachronistic and too cute in light of the political activism of recent years on our own home planet.  When her hectoring and boisterousness sets off a chain of events that actually saves the crew, it’s both a clunky plot device and an eye-rolling cheat.  There’s also a bit of fanservice toward the film’s end that may excite or divide viewers, as it feels like an attempt to right a wrong that people had shrugged off years ago.

Lighter and less epic than the stories that would succeed it in the chronology; SOLO is a very much a side event that fills in some gaps that didn’t necessarily need filling, while leaving some others untouched.  Perhaps, if there’s a second chapter, we’ll learn more about Chewbacca and his people.  Things we do learn about our favourite Corellian, are what kinds of betrayals and harsh realities befell the wide-eyed youth, and created the hardened shell around the scapegrace mercenary.  Like any end of innocence story, it’s sad to see, but gives the film nice emotionalism and heart.  However, the SOLO’s humour and laser-blasting action keep things moving at a regulated blockbuster pace.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is well-rendered, fun, and exciting, hitting many of the nostalgic touchstones of those earliest films, while introducing a story all its own, and well worth your summer box-office bucks.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 24th, 2018

 

 

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