The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Solo: A Star Wars Story

In the original 1977 Star Wars, there's a piece of dialogue about how Han Solo “did the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.” It's a throwaway line designed to imply that he's a darn good pilot. Solo: A Star Wars Story tells you how he did it, plus how he met Chewbacca, developed his rivalry with Lando Calrissian, and came into possession of the Millennium Falcon. Do we need answers to these questions? Not really, but if you're willing to accept that the movie is going to give them to you anyway, there's a lot of fun to be had.

Alden Ehrenreich – who stole the show in the Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar! – plays Han Solo as a younger man. The movie follows him as he escapes a crime-ridden planet, falls in with a band of smugglers led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson), is reunited with old flame Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), and attempts to make a big score by stealing some powerful fuel. Along the way he develops new friendships (Lando, Chewie) and crosses a ruthless crime lord named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Solo: A Star Wars Story is big on fan service. Probably close to a dozen moments are designed to make the audience say, “Hey, that refers to [insert well-known Star Wars character or event] There are additionally two cameos from characters who famously enter the franchise much later on. One is blink-and-you-miss-it, the other unavoidable. That kind of thing can be annoying in movies. Although the references are plentiful here, the film largely weaves them in naturally – or at least as naturally as such things can be. In other words, they aren't as cloying as they could have been. You might even detect a wink at times, as though Solo knows you know what it's doing.

On other fronts, the picture smartly devises a plot that you can become invested in. The gist of the story is that Han Solo realizes he's near the bottom rung on the ladder of life, with the only way to climb up being a willingness to take insane risks. That idea is repeated throughout, as the character meets adversity with sheer defiance. The way he and his cohorts scheme to pull off a seemingly impossible heist to outwit Vos is effectively conceived, allowing us to understand how Han is being shaped by the experience, while simultaneously throwing in unpredictable twists and turns that escalate the drama.

Director Ron Howard stages the action scenes beautifully. The highlight is a long sequence on a train that weaves through the mountains via an elevated track. It features characters dangling off the side, a shootout on top of the cars, and a daring aerial rescue. Cinematographer Bradford Young's shadowy visuals provide a nice sense of ambiance. The Kessel run is exciting, too, mixing humor and thrills in a pleasing way.

Without a doubt, the biggest thing that might give one pause when it comes to Solo: A Star Wars Story is seeing someone other than Harrison Ford play this iconic character. Han Solo, with his swagger and skill, inspired the imagination of millions of kids worldwide. You can't think about him without thinking of Ford. The good news is that, after a few minutes, it's not hard to accept Ehrenreich in the role. He doesn't do an imitation of Ford, yet clearly studied the actor's speech cadences and mannerisms when playing the character. Just enough feels recognizable to make us buy into the idea that this is a young Han Solo. Ehrenreich is then free to add some of his own little touches. Perhaps against all odds, he pulls it off.

The other actors are terrific, too, especially Donald Glover, who portrays Lando. He does something similar to what Ehrenreich does. Glover obviously understands the nuances of Billy Dee Williams' original performance, which he replicates before putting his own stamp on the role. He's the scene-stealer here. Emilia Clarke, meanwhile, proves a wonderful addition to the Star Wars universe. Qi'ra is an ambiguous figure whose allegiances are never quite clear. The actress gets maximum mileage out of that, ensuring that her character is a (no pun intended) force to be reckoned with.

Solo: A Star Wars Story could have used a stronger, more prominent villain. There's no bad guy on the level of Darth Vader or Kylo Ren. Beyond that, the movie is actually really entertaining – funny, action-packed, and well-acted. It wasn't necessary to fill in all the gaps about Han Solo's life before Luke Skywalker enlists his help in a Tattooine cantina, but the movie exists anyway, and it's a whole lot better than most cinematic prequels. In fact, it's a very satisfying journey for any Star Wars fan looking for a good story set in this beloved fictional world.

( 1/2 out of four)

Solo: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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