Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca / Disney
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” isn’t the life-changing event that some devotees of the lore George Lucas cooked up in the mid 1970s want it to be, but it is a fun summer adventure that does fill in the backstory of one of filmdom’s most beloved rascals.
Han Solo may be a lot of things — and a scruffy nerf herder may be one of them — but no matter how rough around the edges he may be, he’s one of the “good guys.”
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We’ve known that since the first time any of us saw “Star Wars” and witnessed his return at the film’s climax to ride shotgun for Luke Skywalker when he used The Force to make a perfect shot to take down the Death Star.
Director Ron Howard’s latest film shows us that the rag-tag character with delusions of grandeur may fancy himself an outlaw, but he’s been one of the good guys since before we knew him.
The movie begins with an adolescent Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) stuck on the grimy planet Corellia working/enslaved by a gang headed up by an icky, evil centipede-type creature, Lady Proxima. Han and Qi’ra attempt to break away from the gang via land speeder, but after ditching their ride, only Han makes it out. While Qi’ra is dragged away, Han vows that he will return to get her.
To get off the planet, Han joins the Empire with hopes of becoming a pilot, but three years later, he’s stuck among ground troops waging a land battle on a far-flung, war-ravaged planet. Here Han falls in with the scoundrel Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew of skilled crooks, who are looking to make a score to pay back debts to an erudite but no less blood thirsty gangster named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who is an overlord in the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn. Han deserts from the Empire to follow his new mentor Beckett, and the heist film is on.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Western wrapped up in space opera clothing, and a lot of that had to do with the performance of Ehrenreich as Han.
Now, Harrison Ford will always be Han Solo in my mind just like Sean Connery is James Bond, and Johnny Weissmuller is Tarzan. However, like other actors who have stepped into cherished film characters, I certainly believed and enjoyed Ehrenreich as this version of the character that I’ve known for years.
Ehrenreich wisely did not try to mimic Ford, but he did embody a younger, a bit more idealistic version of Han Solo, and his performance worked for me across the board.
Part of the reason it worked is the fantastic supporting cast and screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. Star Wars junkies and film buffs in general will no doubt recognize the name Kasdan.
Lawrence, Jonathan’s dad, earned Academy Award nominations for scripting “The Big Chill,” “Grand Canyon,” and “The Accidental Tourist.” He also co-wrote the screenplays for blockbusters like “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian / Disney
Kasdan knows his Solo and his Star Wars, and it shows throughout the film, but in particular in several scenes when Han’s plans don’t quite match his bravado.
The movie also re-introduces us to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) for the first time. Glover is charismatic and cool as the smooth-operating cardsharp Lando. One could easily see him fronting his own film as the character. Fans of Chewie will no doubt enjoy the considerable amount of scenes which put the spotlight on the massive Wookie, and as always Chewie delivers.
However, Clarke and Harrelson do an excellent job in their roles that play the chisel in carving Han Solo into the character he becomes at the end of the film, and Ehrenreich does a great job being their granite, as well as proving he’s not the mark they all expect him to be.
The film features twists, turns, and at least one big surprise that opens the door to sequels of all sorts if that is the direction Disney wishes to go.
My only real gripe about the film is a slight pacing issue in the middle.
(PG-13) 2 hr. 15 min.
To commemorate Memorial Day, Turner Classic Movies begins its annual war movie marathon tonight (Friday) at 7 CT. with the 1961 classic “The Guns of Navarone,” It’s followed by 35 more films that primarily focus on the sacrifices made by U.S. soldiers throughout our nation’s history.
Guns of Navarone
Directed by J. Lee Thompson, “The Guns of Navorone” is the epitome of the big-budget, blockbuster of its day with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn all offering excellent performances in a tension-filled story of how an Allied commando unit works to take out two massive, radar-directed guns that are preventing the rescue of 2,000 British soldiers marooned on an island in the Aegean Sea.
The film, nominated for six Academy Awards, is an excellent example of the war films that regularly entertained Cold War audiences in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The Dirty Dozen
If you are up for a double feature, “The Dirty Dozen” plays right afterward at 10 p.m. Made just six years later, the movie starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland, and others is a much more cynical film that delineates many of the changes America went through in the mid to late 1960s.
Though both films depict clandestine military efforts, “The Dirty Dozen” operation is a a suicide mission conducted primarily by military prisoners, who aren’t exactly on the same page. Both are excellent war films, but the themes couldn’t be more different.
For a complete listing of the war movies that compose the marathon go to http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article.html?isPreview=&id=1396232|18555&name=The-Guns-of-Navarone.