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…

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA There’s A Lot Of Boring Bombastic Bravado

Now playing at a multiplex near you:


(Dir. Ron Howard, 2015)

It’s Ron Howard’s “Moby Dick!”

No, not really. It’s Ron Howard’s adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 bestseller “In the Heart of the Sea,” about the incident that inspired Herman Melville’s 1851 classic “Moby-Dick.”

Via a framing device, Melville, played by Ben Whishaw, gets the tale how the whaling ship Essex was destroyed by a ginormous 100-foot sperm whale told to him by Bremdan Gleason as Thomas Nickerson, who had been a 14 year old cabin boy on the ship at the time.

So we flash back to the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts in 1821, where the young Nickerson (Tom Holland) fades into the background as Chris Hemsworth (THOR) as Owen Chase and Benjamin Walker (ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER) as George Pollard step forth as the stars. Hemsworth’s Chase, looking like he’s ready to pose for a romance novel cover, was promised that he’d be captain of the Essex, but the powers that be gave the job to the more refined rich boy Pollard.

Chase kisses his pregnant wife (Charlotte Riley) goodbye and the Essex sets sail on its voyage to hunt whales for oil. Tensions rise between Chase and Pollard when Chase defies the Captain’s orders in a vicious storm scene, but they agree to put their differences aside in order to achieve their chartered goal of 2,000 barrels of whale oil – a task that could take several years.

Several months into the voyage is where serious shit goes down. The whale we’ve been waiting for wreaks havoc on the ship and the crew in the central bombastic as hell action sequence, and the surviving sailors, including Chase, Pollard, Nickerson, and a few others including Cilian Murphy, looking as Willem Dafoe-ish as ever, as first mate Matthew Joy, are left with only three small open boats, and very little food or water.

As the men grow weaker so does the film. And, wouldn’t you know it, the cannibalism scene doesn’t help make the story any more compelling! Maybe it would’ve if I cared about these characters, but, even with knowing they were based on real people, the film’s mechanics made them feel like expendable cogs.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA has a lot of bluster and bravado bursting through its frames, especially during the whaling sequences, in which there’s some mighty fine filmmaking. It’s too bad that its post production 3D conversion renders the imagery dark and murky, diluting its possible power.

That said, the film would still be problematic in 2D. Howard’s film, his 24th as director, is an attempt at a swashbuckling ocean epic that has more realism and grit than the Hollywood sea adventures of the past, but it’s so CGI saturated that its ends up having very little resemblance to reality, and as such, detachment and boredom massively set in.

It also bugs me that Nickerson and Melville never met in real life, something I didn’t know until after the movie, but still felt contrived in the film’s context. It’s TITANIC-style storytelling, and the film could’ve really done without it. 

Gleeson, as the boozy, disturbed Nickerson, is likable as always, and Whishaw does his best with , but their scenes add little but some random humor to the equation.

Hemsworth and Walker’s rivalry never gets very interesting either, so what we’re left with is over-sized, over CGI-ed whaling spectacle that failed to leave much of an impression on me. From what I hear about this film’s opening grosses, I know I’m far from alone in that accessment.

More later…