Solo: A Star Wars Story: I Have an Okay Feeling about This

“Iconic” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but rarely is it more appropriate than when talking about Han Solo, one of the most beloved and influential sci-fi characters of all time. He’s a scoundrel with a heart of gold, a good-for-nothing troublemaker who becomes one of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance and best friend and most trusted confidante of Luke Skywalker.

A movie about such an irresistible character should be a slam dunk. And yet, Solo: A Star Wars Story went through serious behind-the-scenes upheavals on its way to hitting theaters. Long story short, the movie was originally going to be directed by 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were fired several months into production and replaced by Ron Howard, who subsequently re-shot most of the film. We’ll never get to see Lord and Miller’s version of the movie, and we’ll probably never know the whole story behind their firing. But the movie Howard put together, while not a classic in the making, is still a lot of fun.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Han is played by Alden Ehrenreich, a 28-year old actor. He had big shoes to fill, since Han Solo is one of Harrison Ford’s most iconic (there’s that word again) roles. It would be difficult for any actor to play such a character, and Ehrenreich does pretty well. I’d imagine playing young Han Solo would be the kind of role every young actor would want, since who wouldn’t want to play such a famous character and hang out in such a fun universe. At the same time, no one would want to play young Han Solo because of the inevitable comparisons to Harrison Ford. Let’s get this out of the way: Alden Ehrenreich is not as good of a Han Solo as Harrison Ford, but to be fair to the guy, who would be?

The movie begins on the planet Corellia, a backwater that Han and his girlfriend Qi’ra (played by very likable Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke) are desperate to escape from so they can see the galaxy together. They almost succeed, only for Qi’ra to be arrested and separated from Han. Seeing no other options, Han enlists in the Imperial Navy in the hopes of becoming a pilot, getting a ship, and returning to Corellia to save Qi’ra.

None of this happens. Han ends up meeting a Wookiee named Chewbacca and the two of them fall in with a smuggler named Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his partner Val (played by Thandie Newton, so amazing in Westworld and criminally underused here). From there, the movie becomes a series of adventures as Han and his new pals jet across the galaxy, getting in heaps of trouble at every turn.

There’s not much of an overall plot here, it’s more of a series of adventures that, while fun, end up feeling somewhat inconsequential. Han and Co. are caught up in a mission to steal a supply of coaxium, an extremely valuable (and dangerous) starship fuel. Starship fuel, while undeniably cool, is kind of boring as a plot point. The movie’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t feel like much is at stake. You know Han and Chewie aren’t going to die, so you’re not worried about their long-term prospects. The suspense is short-term and comes from wondering how our intrepid heroes are going to escape from whatever predicament they currently find themselves in.

The story also doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the overall Star Wars universe. Rogue One, the other Star Wars spinoff movie, was a direct prequel to Episode IV, and felt strongly connected to the rest of the series. It told the story of desperate people on what they knew would most likely be a suicide mission, but they did it anyway because it was the right thing to do. It was a movie with a strong sense of purpose and a genuine moral compass. Solo, by contrast, has neither. It feels untethered from the rest of the series and its characters are either in it for the money or to save their own skins. As understandable as these motivations might be, they don’t necessarily make for compelling drama.

Despite the lack of dramatic heft, the movie is perfectly enjoyable as a piece of entertainment. There are a lot of fun and exciting action sequences and there is an undeniable thrill in seeing beloved characters in a new light. It’s fun to watch Han and Chewie meet and become friends, it’s fun to watch them meet Lando Calrissian and hop into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon for the first time. These are all things you knew would happen going into the movie, but it’s fun to see them regardless. I especially enjoyed watching Han and Chewie’s growing friendship, since they’re a classic duo and Wookiees have always been one of my favorite Star Wars creatures.

Speaking of Lando Calrissian, the filmmakers could not have found a better actor to play him than Donald Glover. He is absolutely perfect. He’s smooth as hell, but you don’t trust him for a second. I would happily watch Lando: A Star Wars Story, with Glover in the lead. He steals the movie.

One of the strangest and most surprising/disappointing things about the movie is how bland it looks. The special effects are good, as one would expect from a Star Wars movie, but for some reason Ron Howard shot the film with a shockingly dull color palette. In stark contrast to the vivid blood red that characterized The Last Jedi (say what you will about the story but that movie looked amazing), Solo is mostly shades of brown and grey. If I had to pick one word to describe the visual experience of watching the movie, that word would be: meh. This is never good for a sci-fi movie that cost $250 million to make. I don’t know why Ron Howard made it look so drab. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Despite its many flaws, I enjoyed the movie overall. There are fun and creative action sequences (the train heist is particularly fun), the acting is solid (Paul Bettany has a good time hamming it up as a scarred, red-eyed crime boss named Dryden Vos), and it’s a fun and entertaining sci-fi adventure. But the bland visuals and lackluster story keep it from being as good as it could have been.

The movie made around $80 million in its opening weekend, a respectable take but well below what Disney was projecting the film would make. I’ve already seen headlines online wondering if Disney and Lucasfilm will start rethinking their strategy regarding Star Wars movies, at the same time it’s been announced that a Boba Fett spinoff is in the works from Logan director James Mangold. That sounds promising, and there’s always Episode IX, which is due out next year. Whatever you thought about Han Solo’s first solo outing, rest assured that for the foreseeable future there will be more Star Wars movies on the horizon.

Blade Runner 2049 is as Good as Belated Sequels Get

Confession time: the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, I didn’t much care for it. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

This could be because I saw it on TV and it was probably edited to some extent. This could also be because the version I saw was the original theatrical version, which most fans of the film agree to be inferior to later versions. But I think the most likely reason of all was that it did not conform to my expectations. I expected a rollicking, action-packed thrill ride. What I got instead was a dark, moody, slow-burning sci-fi noir. It wasn’t what I wanted at the time, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now. Scott’s Blade Runner is a stone-cold classic and has been hugely influential on generations of filmmakers and writers.

The idea of a sequel coming out some 35 years after the release of the original film could lead to understandable skepticism. We all know what happened with that last Indiana Jones movie, after all. But I am happy to say that the new film, Blade Runner 2049, is an excellent sequel. People have called it one of the best sequels ever made, and it’s hard to disagree.

Image: Warner Bros.

The new movie was directed by the brilliant French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. I haven’t seen all of his films, but the ones I have seen (Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival) were all excellent. Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today, and he has delivered another near-masterpiece with Blade Runner 2049.

Villeneuve’s film stays true to Scott’s beloved original in tone, style, and content. The cinematographer was the great Roger Deakins, and the movie looks amazing. It brilliantly recaptures the iconic look of the original movie while also providing new environments and landscapes that fit right in with the world these films have created. If Deakins doesn’t finally win an Oscar for his work on this film, then the Academy Awards are officially Dead To Me.


Image: Warner Bros.

But aside from the eye-popping visuals, the film is rich in ideas and emotion. One of the main questions the original film presented was: what does it mean to be human? If it becomes possible to one day create synthetic beings so lifelike they’re virtually indistinguishable from real people, who’s to say those synthetic beings aren’t human? HBO’s Westworld recently pondered similar questions, and they’re as relevant and intriguing now as they were when the first movie was released in 1982.

Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to the world he helped create, although (this could be considered a minor spoiler) he doesn’t actually appear in the new movie until it is more than half over. Most of the movie rests on the shoulders of Ryan Gosling, and he is more than up to the task of carrying the film. Gosling’s performance here is superb and absolutely Oscar-worthy.


Image: Warner Bros.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick recap. The original movie took place in 2019, and followed Ford’s character Rick Deckard as he attempted to track down four rogue replicants. Replicants were created by the Tyrell Corporation to serve as off-world slave labor, but after a series of violent rebellions, they became outlawed. Blade Runners such as Deckard were cops who specialized in tracking down and “retiring” replicants.

Gosling’s character, known simply as K for most of the movie, is a Blade Runner hunting down replicants in 2049, thirty years after the events of the original film. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, since I really want to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say that K’s background is complex and is an integral part of the film’s plot. It becomes necessary for him to track down Deckard, who hasn’t been seen for thirty years. When we do finally meet Deckard, he’s tired and worn out. It’s some of the best acting Ford has done in recent years. He does a great job capturing Deckard’s cynicism and world-weariness, and is soulful and sympathetic.


Image: Warner Bros.

In addition to Deckard and K, the rest of the characters are equally fascinating. Robin Wright plays K’s no-bullshit boss Lieutenant Joshi, Jared Leto plays a creepy evil industrialist named Niander Wallace (who now owns the company that makes replicants and has made a fortune producing a new, more obedient series of replicants), and an actress named Sylvia Hoeks plays Wallace’s main henchwoman, disarmingly named Luv. Despite her name, she is not to be messed with, and provides a fierce adversary for K as he attempts to locate Deckard.

There’s also the lovely Cuban actress Ana de Armas as a character named Joi (pronounced like the word joy), who is, for lack of a better word, K’s companion. No, not that kind of companion. She offers him support and guidance despite, let’s just say, not being entirely human. I found the relationship between K and Joi to be quite fascinating, and genuinely moving at times.

There’s a lot more I could say about the plot, but I’m not going to because this is a movie you should experience for yourself. I will say that I loved the film’s plot. The filmmakers did an incredible job of telling a story that feels like a logical evolution of the original film, instead of just a flimsy excuse to make another movie and make more money. Blade Runner 2049 is a movie made with immense care and attention to detail. It feels completely faithful to the original.

I wouldn’t call either Blade Runner movie an action movie. Both movies are deliberately paced, and while there are fights and chases, the emphasis isn’t on the action scenes. Both films have a long way to go and are in no particular hurry to get there. The new movie is nearly three hours long, but it didn’t feel that long to me. It immediately sweeps the viewer up into the vivid world it creates, and it’s the kind of world that is thrilling to explore, but you probably wouldn’t want to live in it.

Every aspect of this movie is Oscar-worthy, from the production design to the writing to the acting to the directing to the special effects to the cinematography. Every one of those things from the first movie became iconic, and it’s easy to see the same thing happening with the new movie. Denis Villeneuve and his team did an incredible job crafting this film, and they have made Blade Runner 2049 every bit as emotionally resonant and thematically rich as its esteemed predecessor, which is no small feat.

Coming up next, in The Foreigner Jackie Chan will show us that it doesn’t matter if you’re in your sixties, you can still kick ass.