SOLO: A Passable STAR WARS STORY With No Real Surprises

Opening tonight at every multiplex from here to a galaxy far, far away:


(Dir. Ron Howard, 2018) 
Now that we’re starting to get used to the idea of having a new STAR WARS movie every year, here’s the highly anticipated young Han Solo adventure which fills in the intergalactic space smuggler’s back story. 

Fans will finally get to see how Han meet Chewbacca (and give him his nickname, Chewie), how he got his treasured blaster, how he won his beloved ship, the Millenium Falcon, from Lando Calrissian; and how the hell he ran the Kessel Run, first mentioned in the original 1977 film *, in under 12 parsecs.

But the obvious question is: do fans really need to see how these things happened? Maybe they were best left as asides in movies from 40 years ago?

Anyway, Alden Ehrenreich plays the 28-year old Han (we also see how he got his last name, and it’s kind of GODFATHER PART II-ish) who we first meet as a slick street thief in the lawless world of Corellia. Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (a brunette Emilia Clarke, you know, the blonde who loves dragons from Game of Thrones) scheme to escape the drudgery of Imperial shipyard slums, but they get separated after a lightspeeder chase.

Han ends up joining the Empire to become a pilot, but because he’s Han, he gets expelled from the academy, and he meets up with a gruff as usual Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, a criminal scoundrel with a crew who will give Han lessons in how to be a criminal scoundrel. One of the first lessons is, of course, trust no one.

Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo takes over from Peter Mayhew for Chewbacca whose first encounter with Han I won’t spoil, Westworld’s Thandie Newton plays Beckett’s lover/crime partner, and most importantly, a smooth as ice Donald Glover steps into Billy Dee Williams’ shoes as the iconic Lando, stealing every scene he’s in.

With respect to not spoiling plot points, I’ll just say that the premise involves a heist (will all the STAR WARS STORIES be heist flicks?) in which Han and crew set about stealing some of the plutonium-like Coaxium (McGuffin!) from mines on the planet Kessel for the slimy yet dapper crime lord Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany), who appears to have Han’s love, Qi’ra, under his command.

All the things you’d expect in a STAR WARS movie are here from tons of blaster fights, scrapes with storm troopers, quipping robots (Lando’s droid, L3-37, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge fulfills that function), gripping space battles with TIE Fighters, etc. Well, everything, that is, except the Force.

For the first time, the Force isn’t part of the story. Nobody has it or speaks of it – I didn’t see any lightsabers – so this may be why Han doesn’t believe in it when we catch up with him in Episode IV.

SOLO is a fine sci-fi adventure that keeps moving so there is a fair amount of fun, but it was pretty much what I expected. Ron Howard, who took over from Phil Lord and Chris Miller (THE LEGO MOVIE, the 21 JUMP STREET films), assembles all the elements from the crisply coordinated set-pieces to the marks of the colorful ensemble with his well polished style, but I still would love to see what Lord and Miller would’ve done with it.

I was entertained plenty, but I still craved something more. There was nothing that I was surprised by – even a secret cameo in the third act didn’t mean much to me. Aldenreich is good in the title role, but I can’t say I really bought him as being the same character that Harrison Ford made so iconic. That’s probably because I’ve lived with Ford for forty years as the legendary scruffy headed nerfherder. A friend said that Aldenreich doesn’t look like Ford, but he looks like the character. I guess I can go with that, but it’s still hard to not think of Ford.

I can go with Glover’s Lando though – maybe he’s the one who should’ve gotten his own movie.

So SOLO is a predictable package that’s a passable STAR WARS STORY. The way it leaves room for a sequel is also really expected – i.e. there’s no Jabba the Hut and Greedo here so that could be featured in a follow-up that’ll serve as yet another prequel to the first film. It’s obvious that Lucasfilm is planning on filling every gap in the shared universe of these narratives, so that there will be nothing left to the imagination. 

Forget the other franchise of the same name, this is the real NEVERENDING STORY.

* Click to find out why I’ll never refer to the first STAR WARS as A NEW HOPE.

More later…

Film Babble Blog’s Top 10 Movies Of 2017 Part 2

And now Part 2 of Film Babble Blogs Top 10 Movies of 2017. Included are memorable lines, or exchanges from each film. For Part 1, featuring entries 10-6 click here.

5. THE BIG SICK (Dir. Michael Showalter)

Terry (Ray Romano): “So, uh, 9/11…No I mean, Ive always wanted to have a conversation with…about it. With…people.”

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani): “You’ve never talked to people about 9/11?”

Terry: “No what
s your, what’s your stance?”

Kumail: “What
s my stance on 9/11? Oh um, anti. It was a tragedy, I mean we lost 19 of our best guys. (awkward pause) That was a joke, obviously. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy. And its not funny to joke about it.” 

4. THE DISASTER ARTIST (Dir. James Franco)

Tommy Wiseau (James Franco): “I did not hit her. It’s not true. Its bullshit. I did not hit her. I did not. Oh, hi Mark.”

3. DUNKIRK (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance): 
Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?

 (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Giles (Richard Jenkins): “Would I tell you about her? The princess without voice. Or perhaps I would just warn you, about the truth of these facts. And the tale of love and loss. And the monster, who tried to destroy it all.”

1. GET OUT (Dir. Jordan Peele)

Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) confiding with his daughter’s new boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya): “By the way, I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could. Best president in my lifetime. Hands down.”

Spillover with a few more quotes (Click on the titles in boldface for my reviews):

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)

BABY DRIVER (Dir. Edgar Wright)

LUCKY (Dir. John Carroll Lynch) “There’s a difference between lonely and being

GOOD TIME (Dirs. Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie)

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Dir. Chris McKay) Black. All important movies start with a black screen.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Dir. Rian Johnson) Yoda’s review of the sacred Jedi texts: “Page turners, they are not.”

PHANTOM THREAD (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

MOLLY’S GAME (Dir. Aaron Sorkin)

HOSTILES (Dir. Scott Cooper)
Films I havent seen yet, but didnt want to wait to do this list any longer before I caught up: COCO, BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE), MUDBOUND, THE SQUARE, FACES PLACES, and many, many more.

More later…

THE LAST JEDI Continues STAR WARS’s Winning Streak

Opening in your star system tonight:


(Dir. Rian Johnson, 2017)

Warning: There may be Spoilers!

At the end of the previous Episode of STAR WARS, Stormtrooper turned Resistance (the new version of the Rebel Alliance) fighter Finn (John Boyega) was left injured and unconscious after helping to destroy the First Order’s (the new Empire) Starkiller Base (another Death Star), General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the rest of the good guys were mourning the death of Han Solo (Harrison Ford); while newly recruited Resistance fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) had traveled to the planet Ahch-To to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) so that he can help bring down the bad guys.

The last shot of FORCE AWAKENS has an emotional Rey handing an old grizzled Luke his old iconic lightsaber.

So now, after two years we get Luke’s reaction to Rey’s gesture, and it doesn’t disappoint. Neither does the rest of THE LAST JEDI, the solid seventh entry in the series that satisfyingly follows through with the threads of the former film, while providing a steady stream of call backs to the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) that should please both the casual and hardcore fans.

The most obvious prediction about the content of THE LAST JEDI is that it’ll mirror Episode V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as much as THE FORCE AWAKENS mirrored the first STAR WARS movie (still not calling it A NEW HOPE, dammit!).

Well, yeah, there are definite parallels – Luke channeling Yoda in training Rey to the ways of the force, Yoda himself appearing (welcome back, Frank Oz!), the reveal of a character’s lineage, and those much loved AT-AT walkers – but it has enough clever story beats and tongue-in-cheek humor needed to make those elements feel fresh.

The plot deals with the First Order achieving more power in their fight against the Resistance via being able to track their movement through hyperspace. General Leia gets harmed in an attack, and while she’s incapacitated, Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes control to the chagrin of Poe Dameron (a cocky, returning Oscar Isaac) who’s called a “flyboy” twice by Amilyn.

Finn finds a friend in fellow Resistance member Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who catches him trying to run away like he was planning to in Episode VII. Together they travel to a planet that has a Monte Carlo-style gambling resort to find a code breaker, but end up with the somewhat shady Benicio del Toro as an unnamed character with an odd speech impediment.

As for the rest – you know the drill: space battles, lightsaber duels, and the powerful pull of the dark side of the force fill the screen as John Williams’ triumphant score bursts out of the sound system.

THE LAST JEDI has more depth, darkness, and drama than THE FORCE AWAKENS. It’s a blast, even in its talky downtime, and it makes great use of its game cast.

Hamill gets his beefiest role since RETURN OF THE JEDI, and it’s his best performance (yes, I’ve seen CORVETTE SUMMER). Ridley and Boyega make more of an impression that their first efforts, while Driver steals the show every time he appears.

However, there are a few issues. There is no backstory to the Emperor figure that is Snoke, and the reveal of who Rey’s parents are feels like an afterthought. Also, C3PO’s red arm in the previous movie is never explained (I hear there’s a comic that tells what happened there but I doubt I’ll ever read that).

Director and writer Johnson (BRICK, THE BROTHERS BLOOM, LOOPER) molds his style successfully into the series, and doesn’t need as many wipe transitions to move the pace along, something that J.J. Abrams overdid.

As for it being Fisher’s swan song (I think, but maybe they’ve got some footage of her that will be used in the next one), it’s touching to see her Leia in a more substantial role than in Episode VII. They take a big chance with her image in a surreal scene that I won’t spoil – I’ll just say that it works.

Glad to see that STAR WARS continues to be back on track again as the stench of George Lucas’s awful prequels has long since faded, and the good will of the galaxy far, far away has been regained.

I’ve seen that many critics are calling it the best since EMPIRE, and I don’t disagree. Maybe the nostalgia that the member berries have triggered has blinded my judgement, but I’m happy that the franchise that dominated my childhood is yet again going good guns (or blasters).

More later…

Elvis & STAR WARS: 40 Years Ago Today

Elvis Presley died on this date in 1977. STAR WARS was released earlier that summer. 

So the big pop culture question is: did Elvis see STAR WARS? 

Sadly, the answer from every source is no, he didn’t, but he wanted to. The day before he passed he was trying to obtain a print of the movie so he could watch it with his daughter, Lisa Marie. Three days before that, he had taken her, and his girlfriend Ginger Alden to see the then latest James Bond movie, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the last film he saw at the cinema (the picture above is of them in his 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III coming back from the movie).

I posted the above blurb a year ago today on Facebook – the 39th anniversary of the Kings death – and doing new research now I see that I wasn’t alone in wondering about whether he saw the hugely popular space epic. The STAR WARS blog, Episode Nothing, had a very similar post entitled Did Elvis see Star Wars?, and in 2014 the Elvis blog,, even asked “Could Star Wars have saved the life of Elvis Presley?”

As far back as 2005, the site, also speculated about it, and pondered if the movie’s director, George Lucas, ever saw Presley in concert.

It’s too bad that one of the biggest films of all time wasn’t seen by one of the biggest performers of all time. I, of course, can’t (or don’t want to) speculate on whether if it wouldve saved him, but I bet he wouldve loved it.

More later…

To Get It Out Of The Way, Here’s My STAR WARS Story From 1977

Not long ago, a film writer or fan (I can’t remember which, and the post is hard to locate) made a plea on Facebook for critics not to all start their reviews of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, releasing this week if you haven’t heard, by stating how much the original movie or trilogy meant to their childhoods.

It’s a good point, as the experiences of so many folks with the series are identical, mine included: As a kid, I grew up on STAR WARS (still not calling it A NEW HOPE, dammit!), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and RETURN OF THE JEDI, as an adult hated the prequels, and as an older adult I have a sliver of hope that J.J. Abrams will deliver a new entertaining entry that lives up to at least some of the hype.

But, in the interest of keeping it out of my review, I do have a story to share about seeing the film for the first time. I was seven in the summer of 1977, when my family – my parents and my older brother – and I went to the Varsity Theater in downtown Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to see STAR WARS. 

George Lucas’ sci-fi epic had a limited release in May – the date May 25, 1977 is tattooed in the back of every geek’s brain – but it didn’t open wide and come to my hometown until July 1st.

I’m pretty sure we didn’t go to see it the weekend it opened. I have memories of seeing many TV spots for it, plus pictures in newspapers and magazines that intrigued me greatly (that was as big as the buzz got in the pre-internet era) before my Mom and Dad gave in and took us some night in July, which I think was a weeknight. 

Like just about every kid, I was blown away by the movie – it was incredible looking from the first wide screen space shot to the last, really funny (I still remember the roar of laughter when R2-D2 falls face down after being zapped by a Jawa), and all around exciting, ultra fun stuff.

But, although it became my favorite movie in the years to come – collected the toys, had the posters on my bedroom walls, went as Luke Skywalker for Halloween, etc. – my first words walking out of the theater indicated a less than glowing viewpoint:

“‘King Kong’ was better.” I said this to my brother, and he has never let me forget it.

Now, it would be one thing if I meant the original, 1933 classic KING KONG, but I meant the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake, which had come out the previous Christmas. Now, I wouldn’t consider that film to define my childhood at all, but at the time it was my favorite of the very limited amount of movies I’d seen, and I apparently thought that STAR WARS hadn’t topped it.

Decades later, it’s been a well told story in my family with even my brother’s kids making fun of me for saying it (I join in on ridiculing my 7-year old self because, yeah, it is fun).

It feels good to confess that embarrassing moment here. I’ve come around to consider it one of my first moments of film criticism (albeit a hilariously misguided one). 

So I’m glad I got my childhood STAR WARS story out the way here so it won’t clog up my review of THE FORCE AWAKENS. For sure, nobody will want to hear it there.

I’ll leave you now with this picture of a couple of iconic action figures that I dug up out of a lunchbox in my closet (a STAR WARS lunchbox, yes):

More later…

The Incredible CREED: One Hell Of A Legacyquel

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

CREED (Dir. Ryan Coogler, 2015) 

Over at the movie website ScreenCrush, critic Matt Singer coins a term that I really hope catches on: “legacyquel.” Singer writes that it describes a “very specific kind of sequel – in which beloved aging stars reprise classic roles and pass the torch to younger successors.”

The phrase fits, especially when applied to the highly anticipated seventh chapter in the STAR WARS saga, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (out in 2 weeks!), but it’s the seventh installment of the Rocky franchise, CREED, that really embodies what a great legacyquel should be all about. And it’s largely because it features an Oscar caliber supporting turn by the series’ star.

On the surface, CREED is a spin-off centered on Michael B. Jordan as Adonis “Donnie” Johnson Creed, the son of Rocky’s greatest opponent, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, and it works as such for its first 20 or so minutes.

Donnie’s back story is that he was born to a mistress of Apollo’s who later died leaving him to bounce from foster homes and juvenile detention, until his adoption by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Donnie’s adopted mother worries about his fighting lineage, hoping that he’ll take a job in a corporate office instead of pursuing professional boxing, but she knows he’s his father’s son and there’s no getting in the way of his dream.

That’s where Sylvester Stallone, resurrecting Rocky Balboa from the ashes of what was supposed to be his swansong (2006’s ROCKY BALBOA), comes into play. Donnie travels to Philadelphia to coax the Italian Stallion out of retirement to be his trainer, but Rocky, still running the restaurant established in the last sequel (ROCKY BALBOA), tells him that he “don’t do that stuff no more.”

You know it’s only a matter of time before Rocky gives in and we’re immersed in training montages of Donnie, in a familiar gray sweatsuit, intensely working out at the gym, running through the streets of Philly at dawn, and chasing chickens, all set to the triumphant score of Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, which, of course, calls upon Bill Conti’s iconic Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now” at just the right moments.

Stallone’s Rocky now takes on the part that Burgess Meredith’s Mikey played in the first three films in the series, that of the lead’s trainer/father figure, and he wears it well. The duo attempt to keep their collaboration under wraps, but after his first major fight with the gym owner’s (Richie Coster) son (Gabe Rosado) it gets out that Donnie is Apollo Creed’s offspring.

This leads to Graham McTavish as the manager of “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (played by real-life professional boxer Tony Bellew), setting up a fight between his client and Donnie. The highly hyped event will be the last professional match for Conlan as he is going to jail for seven years for gun possession, and it will serve as this entry’s trademark final fight.

Meanwhile, Donnie has a love interest on the side in the form of his neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, SELMA), it turns out that Rocky has Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma but refuses to undergo chemotherapy because of what his late wife Adrian went through. This moment, in which Rocky faces his mortality in a cold hospital room, is one of the film’s most affecting. Stallone’s performance is a thoughtful and measured piece of work that deserves all the Oscar buzz its getting.

It’s also uplifting and exciting to witness the making of a bonafide movie star. Jordan bests his solid work in Coogler’s stirring 2013 debut FRUITVALE STATION, his first collaboration with screenwriter/director Coogler, and should really make a name for himself with his powerfully invested work here.

Jordan obviously did a lot of real training for the gripping and emotionally wrenching fight scenes, which were shot by cinematographer Maryse Alberti. Donnie’s first fight is a standout scene: a single, long unbroken shot taking place inside the ring, captured by stunningly choreographed camerawork.

In the incredible CREED, Coogler punches up the Rocky formula with great success. It believes so deeply in the Rocky mythos, that we believe in it too. We go along that these are real people with a shared history because every detail, from Rocky and Donnie’s interactions to the tidbits revealed about the past, is convincingly heartfelt. CREED keeps it real, while keeping all the Rocky feels.

It’s truly one of the biggest surprises of the year that CREED is as genuinely good as it is. It’s the must see movie event that few saw coming, and it’s, for sure, the legacyquel this season to beat. However, I hear that the Force is strong with its upcoming competitor.

More later…