Friday, January 4, 2019

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Might Just Be The Best Spin-Off in the Galaxy So Far

Some movies just have really bad luck. One wouldn't think that this would be the case for Star Wars, but since its Disneyfied resurgence in 2015 the beloved phenomenon has had its ups and downs. The highs have been relatively good enough to give the movies a new life, while the lows of critically-panned sequels and spin-offs are enough to put a kink in the franchise's hype. Overshadowed by high expectations and franchise-overexposure, Solo: A Star Wars Story has the unfortunate disadvantage of landing right in the middle.

Set before the original Star Wars films, young Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) joins forces with a group of smugglers in order to make good on a deal that went sour. Along the way, he reconciles with a partner-in-crime he thought he'd lost for good, gains enemies, and makes new friends as he aims to become the best pilot in the galaxy.

When the production history behind a movie makes headlines over and over again before its release, it's hard for fans or even curious moviegoers to get on board. The hype and click-bait sets up doubt and hesitation that this movie might not be any good. And that's just for regular action movies. Take an entry for Star Wars, and the controversies were deemed a disaster by both the media and many fans. Leading up to its box office release, there was talk about Solo: A Star Wars Story, but none of it was favorable: possible recastings, directors fired in the middle of filming, rumored complaints of on-set disagreements, and a fanbase tuning out its fandom. Despite constantly having the negative energy from the force trying to drag it down, the film pulls off a pretty impressive magic trick: to be one heck of a fine movie.

Similar to its spin-off counterpart Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the exploration of Solo's evolution is a fun fill-in-the-blank answer for anyone questioning what happened before or between so-and-so events in the Star Wars. Lead by Alden Ehrenreich, with Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Woody Harrelson, the group of misfits battling thieves, liberated droids, and space squids is one big dysfunctional family you can't help but love. All of the actors fit into place and share great chemistry; you want to see more of them even after their presence on-screen has already made an impact. Taking on the iconic Han Solo, Ehrenreich is given no easy task to follow in Harrison Ford's legendary footsteps and here he provides enough mannerisms, clumsy charisma, and bravado to pull off a younger version of him - Ehrenreich's not trying to be a copycat nor revolutionize the role; just exude enough of the character that we know and what he created to shine. Unlike Rogue One, Solo's story isn't trying so hard to fit in, just that it shares the leading character with the original films but is trying to carve its own path. "Fan-service" moments center on seeing familiar faces again like Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca as well as exploring how Solo acquires the Millennium Falcon, but even those scenes aren't showy or shoved into our faces, they're just moments of a bigger plot that's taking us along for a wild ride.

In contrast to a lot of films that fail to live past their ill-fated production, Solo rises to the occasion. Director Ron Howard steps up to the plate to re-calibrate the rumored disasters, and his ability to make the film's troubles an afterthought sparks intrigue of the solid storytelling he could bring to more franchises. Admittedly, some of the action is a little heavy-handed in the beginning, as one big set-up after another and the waste of a potential character (played by Thandie Newton) becomes convoluted. However, before the second half of the film, everything's working like a well-oiled machine. In fact, it's difficult to imagine why fans and critics were willing to 'cancel' this movie (for managing a 70% score on RottenTomatoes) merely because Disney has mass-produced George Lucas's vision. Had it not come off the heels of the divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, nor seemed like another product on the mouse's conveyor belt, this film's reputation would've been a lot better.

A growing issue with the Star Wars franchise, much like Harry Potter, is that sometimes studios or creators don't know when it's time to call 'Cut!'. They want to deliver fans more content, but what's generally delivered isn't and may never be up to par with what fans actually want. And sometimes more world-building takes away the mystery and imagination a story and its characters can leave on fans. Taking an iconic character like Solo and giving him a backstory as a smuggler-in-the-making and in a relationship pre-Princess Leia isn't something everyone was absolutely dying to see nor was it an easy feat. Settled on checking off a western-noir romp in space, there's plenty of heart, thrills, and twists to enjoy as Solo bounces from one over-confident escape plan gone wrong to another. With a great cast and competent director driving the ship, the final results makes Solo one of the better, if not best, spin-offs in the Disney galaxy for a long, long time.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Solo: A Star Wars Story? What did you think?

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