Solo: A Star Wars Story – My Spoiler-filled thoughts

OK it’s a bit late, but here are my thoughts on SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY.

*** WARNING: This post contains MAJOR spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story. If you haven’t seen the film yet (if this is the case, we need to talk) you may want to click away now. You’ve been warned. ***

I really, really like Solo: A Star Wars Story. In this post, I’ll try to break down some of the major elements of the film that I really liked. I’ll also try to explore how I think they work in the context of a Star Wars movie and what the film adds to the Star Wars universe.

As I mentioned in my spoiler-free review, I’ve been a Han Solo fan almost my entire life (I was a kid when the character first hit the big screen). Han’s always been my favorite STAR WARS character. So when I heard they were making a Han Solo stand-alone film, you’d think I’d be excited. You would have been wrong. I was skeptical. I didn’t know if we really needed to see Han’s backstory on the big screen, and I didn’t think ANYONE could replace Harrison Ford as Han (I feel the same way about Indy). Well, I’m happy to say I was wrong on both counts.

As I also mentioned in my spoiler-free review, there were a lot of things that I feel Rogue One got wrong that Solo got right. I’ll try to touch on some of those I go, but I don’t want this to be a “bash on Rogue One” or “Compare Solo to Rogue One” post.

I started writing what became a scene-by-scene analysis of the movie, but I don’t want to retell the story here, I want to talk about what I liked. So, I’m going to try to do that without being too long-winded.

Synopsis

First, a quick synopsis in case you haven’t seen it. If you’ve seen the movie, you can jump right into my thoughts.

OK Seriously. Spoilers start now. If you haven’t seen the film, and don’t want it spoiled for you, stop reading right now!

We start with Han as a young man (I’m guessing early 20s) as a runaway on Corellia. We meet his first love Qi’ra (pronounced Kira), also a runaway. They work for the crime lord Lady Proxima in exchange for food and shelter. Han and Qi’ra want to escape Corellia, buy a ship, and see the galaxy together.  In an attempt to bribe their way through the boarding process at a Coronet City (hello EU) spaceport, Qi’ra is captured by Proxima’s goons, but Han manages to slip away. Desperate to escape, Han takes the only way out he can see: He visits an Imperial recruiting station inside the spaceport, and enlists – hoping to become a pilot, return to Corellia, and rescue Qi’ra.

Fast forward three years and Han is a grunt in the Imperial army, having been kicked out of the flight academy. Here he meets his mentor Tobias Beckett, the leader of a crew of thieves who are planning to steal an Imperial transport they need for a train heist to steal fuel for Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a member of the crime Syndicate Crimson Dawn.

Han attempts to blackmail Beckett into taking him with his crew, threatening to turn him in as an imposter. But his plan backfires and Beckett (masquerading as an Imperial Officer) turns Han in. Han is taken captive and taken to be fed to “the beast”. The beast ends up being Chewbacca, who is being held captive by the Empire. In a fight where Chewie nearly kills Han, Han speaks a bit of the Wookiee language to Chewie and convinces him that together, they can escape. They escape just in time to catch up with Beckett’s crew as they’re leaving the planet and join Beckett’s crew.

The train heist doesn’t go as planned. Rival gang leader Enfys Nest arrives and foils their plan. Beckett’s crew fail to retrieve the fuel that they need to deliver to Dryden Vos. When they arrive on Vos’ ship to work out whatever they can with him, Han encounters Qi’ra, who somehow has managed to work for Vos… and is indebted to him.  The crew apologizes for losing the shipment, but Vos isn’t happy. Bargaining for their lives, they work out a deal to steal unprocessed fuel from Kessel… but they’ll need an “extremely fast ship”…

Qi’ra introduces Han to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a young cardplayer/gambler/scoundrel (you’d like him). Han challenges Lando to a card game, and through the course of the game, ends up nearly winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando. Lando discovers that Han and Qi’ra are working together, and agrees to use his ship (the Falcon) to help them – for a cut of the deal.

Han, Lando, Beckett, Chewie, and Qi’ra (along with Lando’s sidekick/companion/first mate, the droid L3-37) make their way to Kessel. There, they manage to steal the unprocessed fuel that they need. There’s a spectacular shootout, but L3 is lost in the fight.

This brings us to the famous Kessel Run. Having been injured in the shootout and dealing with the loss of L3, Lando can’t fly. So Han jumps in the pilot seat and flies the Falcon out of Kessel. Making the Kessel Run is a complicated series of twists and turns, as there’s only one safe route in and out of Kessel. With the unstable fuel acting as a literal ticking time bomb, they have to find a faster way out, or it will explode before they can reach the planet Savareen – where they can have the fuel processed and stabilized. Utilizing L3’s navigational database (which they upload into the Falcon’s navicomputer), Han is able to find a faster way through the Kessel Run… while being pursued by Imperial TIE Fighters.

The crew arrives (in a heavily damaged Millennium Falcon) at Savareen just in time, and the fuel is processed. But Enfys Nest shows up once again. Lando leaves in the Falcon. Ready for a fight, Beckett and his crew are surprised when Nest reveals that she is, in fact, a young woman leading not a gang of pirates, but of resistance fighters and that they need the fuel for a rebellion (hmmm). Han comes up with a plan to scam Vos out of his money AND the fuel, but Beckett says he doesn’t want any part of it and leaves.

Han, Chewie, and Qi’ra deliver the fuel to Vos, but Vos believes he’s been double-crossed by Han, whom he suspects has swapped out the real fuel for fake fuel. Han soon realizes he’s been double-crossed himself by Beckett, who reappears when Vos has him come into the room.

Han then reveals that he expected this move from Beckett and that the containers that Nests’ gang has are actually empty. Beckett kills Vos’s guards and takes the fuel and Chewie with him. Han and Qi’ra fight Vos, and Qi’ra kills Vos. She then tells Han to save Chewie, and that she’ll be right behind him. Han leaves.

Qi’ra then takes the Crimson Dawn ring from Vos’s finger and uses it to establish communication with the real head of Crimson Dawn – who is revealed in a hologram to be none other than the Villain formerly known as Darth Maul (I told you there were spoilers!). She doesn’t go with Han, but decides instead to take this path and make take Vos’ place under Maul. (note: If you haven’t seen Clone Wars and Rebels, you’re probably really confused by this. The short if it is that Maul survived his battle with Kenobi on Naboo, and reappears on Clone Wars. At one point, Maul ends up leading the Crime Syndicate Black Sun, and also the Mandalorian Death Watch gang. Watch Clone Wars, it’s good stuff).

Han catches up with Chewie and Beckett. Beckett attempts to kill Han, but Han shoots first. As Beckett dies in Han’s arms, he tells him “That was a smart move kid, I woulda killed ya”.  With his mentor lying dead on the ground behind him, Han watches as his love Qi’ra leaves in Vos’ ship.

The movie ends with Han catching up with Lando, and asking for a rematch of the card game. This time, Han wins out, and the Millennium Falcon is his. The final scene is of Han and Chewie aboard the Falcon, making the jump to lightspeed and headed for Tatooine to meet “a bigshot gangster”.

My Thoughts on the Film

OK here’s the thing: I REALLY liked this movie. It just might be the most fun Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi. It’s a throwback to the adventurous, matinee serial feel of the original trilogy and especially of the original Star Wars (aka A New Hope).  So, it’s hard to write a critical review because honestly, there isn’t much I don’t like about the movie. So this is actually more of a breakdown of why it works for me, rather than a critical review.  There were a few things that I thought could maybe be done a bit differently and I’ll touch on that, but those moments still work the way they are.

The Introduction

In an effort to differentiate from the trilogy/saga films, LFL  decided to NOT include the trademark opening crawl in these stand-alone movies. It didn’t work for me in Rogue One. The opening of the film was too abrupt – LFL logo, “A Long Time Ago”, then BAM! Orchestra hit and cut to a static shot of a planet. From a story-telling perspective, this is a HUGE mistake.  The filmmakers are relying on the viewer already knowing (from marketing, etc) what the state of the Galaxy is… or to play catch-up and figure it out as the movie unfolds. The opening crawl of a Star Wars film sets the stage for what we’re about to see, and Rogue One has no other mechanism in place to do that.   Ultimately, it’s one of many things that make Rogue One feel less like a Star Wars film and more like generic sci-fi.

Ron Howard and the folks at Lucasfilm came up with a way to fix it, and it works well. Solo opens with the Lucasfilm logo, followed by “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”… but then we’re presented with three title cards explaining the situation we’re about to be dumped into the middle of. I’ve tried to replicate these cards to give the idea of what it looks like. They aren’t an exact match to what you see in the film, but here they are:

There are several things that jump out at me about this in addition to the use of the same font and color as the “A long time ago” title. The phrasing is similar to the opening crawls.  Key phrases are in all caps, once again mimicking the opening crawls. The final card even ends with the “….”, just like every opening crawl. To be honest, it won’t surprise me if (when) some enterprising fan grabs this text and renders a traditional opening crawl.

This text also begins similarly to the opening crawl of most of the saga films, by telling us the current state of the galaxy. Let’s take a quick look at that:

The Phantom Menace: “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic.”
Attack of the Clones: “There is unrest in the Galactic Senate.”
Revenge of the Sith: “War! The Republic is crumbling…”
Solo: “It is a lawless time.”
Star Wars (A New Hope): “It is a period of civil war.”
The Empire Strikes Back: “It is a dark time for the Rebellion.”
Return of the Jedi: “Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine…”
The Force Awakens: “Luke Skywalker has vanished.”
The Last Jedi: “The First Order Reigns.”

As you can see, all but two of these directly address the state of the galaxy, and those two address it indirectly, telling us something specific about Luke Skywalker. In fact, if you read the first line of each crawl chronologically, they are themselves a brief timeline of the entire saga (give it a shot).  The opening text of Solo – “It is a lawless time” fits right in.  This is the first indication that Ron Howard “gets it”. While there isn’t a formal opening crawl, Howard understands the underlying DNA of how a Star Wars movie works.  From a viewer’s perspective, while it isn’t the bright yellow text scrolling into infinity, reading this text gives you that familiar feeling. This is Star Wars.

There are a couple of key story points in the text. The first is that crime syndicates compete for fuel. This is the basic plotline of the film. The second is that Han is not an orphan like he was in the old Expanded Universe, but rather a runaway. Just like the traditional opening crawl, this text tells us what’s important to pay attention to.

I want to take just a moment here to discuss fuel. I’ve seen it discussed (lamented?) on the web that “fuel was never mentioned in Star Wars before The Last Jedi“. Well, that’s simply not true. While not spoken, in A New Hope we see flight crews disconnecting what are presumably fuel hoses from the X-Wings before the battle of Yavin. In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan specifically asks the administrators of Utapau for fuel. In Attack of the Clones, Anakin directs a clone pilot to “aim above the fuel cells”. In The Phantom Menace, the hyperdrive was leaking. What was it leaking?  In The Empire Strikes Back, Han says “Bespin, it’s pretty far but I think we can make it” – implying he’s (probably) concerned about the fuel to get there. In fact, if I counted correctly, there are about 70 canon references to fuel listed on the Star Wars wiki entry for “Fuel”. So while it hasn’t been a key plot point, saying that fuel wasn’t mentioned before The Last Jedi is just not accurate. Move along, Move along.

 I enjoyed seeing Corellia. In the old EU, Corellia was often described as a very Earth-like planet, clean, with beautiful golden beaches. I think this version of Corellia works much better. It’s a giant shipyard (which aligns with Han’s statement from ANH “I’ve outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I’m talking about the big Corellian ships now”). It’s grungy and dirty. A “blue collar” planet if you will. I think this is a very fitting background for Han. Han mentions “Coronet spaceport”. This is Coronet City, the capital planet of Corellia – which first appeared in the old EU (now Legends) book Ambush at Corellia.

The Empire

Solo shows us a side of the Empire we really haven’t seen before: The human side. First, when Han joins the Empire (I’ll talk about that more in a bit), the recruitment officer is much nicer than any Imperial Officer we’ve seen. His “What’s your name, son?” feels genuine. He’s not robotic, he’s not stiff, he’s human. Second, the film shows the troops in the trenches as people. These are men and women who are experiencing the Hell of war. They’re dirty, wet, injured, and worn out. Instead of legions of faceless stormtroopers, we see faces in helmets. We see them lumber off after receiving their new orders. They’re worn out. I really liked this. We see that the Empire isn’t all evil, but that it’s made up of men and women following the orders of bad people.  Overall, I feel Solo portrayed war better in two scenes than Rogue One did in an entire film. These scenes felt like they could have been right out of a World War II or Vietnam movie.

Han, His Last Name, and Joining the Empire

OK, let’s talk about how Han got the name “Solo”. I liked this scene. As I’ve already mentioned, I liked the recruiting officer. But it goes further. When the recruiter asks Han his last name, he says simply “Han”. The officer asks “Han what? Who are your people?”, to which Han replies “I don’t have people. I’m alone”. Now, thinking back to the opening “crawl”: Han is not an orphan, he’s a runaway. It’s revealed later that he remembers his father. So, Han has a last name, he has just chosen not to use it. Han has literally chosen to be “Solo”. I felt like this was a small insight into Han’s inner self. He has chosen to be a loner. With the exception of Qi’ra (whom he has now been separated from), he’s alone.

On the subject of Han joining the Empire, the old EU version of the story was that Han had dreamed of being an officer in the Empire, and graduating from the flight academy. This never sat quite right with me… I just couldn’t get my head around Han aspiring to be an Imperial officer. In the film, Han joins up not out of any sense of duty, or any lofty goals – it’s out of desperation. He joins up to escape Proxima and Corellia. Han has no desire to serve “the cause” – a character trait that follows him into the original trilogy.  In fact, this movie does a great job of showing the duality of Han’s character. On the surface, he’s tough and only in it for himself. But when the chips are down, the “good guy” inside Han wins out. 

Seeing Han board the Falcon for the first time is pure nostalgia. And when they jump to hyperspace, you can see the joy on his face. Much like sailors who fall in love with the sea, Han is instantly mesmerized by the view out the Falcon’s cockpit.

I really found it interesting that Han remembers his father. He talks about how he used to build YT-1300s (the model number of the Millennium Falcon). It brought new questions to the table: Why did Han run away? Are his parents alive? Is that one of the reasons he loves the Falcon so much – because his father used to build them? I’d imagine at some point, we may get those answers in a book or comic. But for now, it’s fun to speculate and wonder. Personally, I’m guessing at this point, at least his father is still alive (to the best of his knowledge, anyway). When Lando asks if Han is close to his father, Han doesn’t reply with “he died”, he just says “not really”. This scene is well acted and is a touching moment between new friends as they begin to form a brotherly bond, discussing their parents.

Han and Chewie

If there’s any part of the film I feel is rushed, it’s Han meeting Chewie.  It happens pretty early in the film, and right after Han meets Beckett. From a script economy perspective, I get it (there’s a lot of story to tell in this movie), but it does feel like it happens a little too early in the film.

Having said that, the relationship between Han and Chewie is spot-on. The banter is there, and you can see the bond between them develop. One thing I really like here is that the “life debt” of the old EU is basically gone. Chewie isn’t with Han because he feels indebted to him, but rather he’s with Han because they’re friends. I think that’s a much better foundation for the friendship than a glorified version of indentured servitude.

Near the end of the film, as Han watches Qi’ra leave in Vos’ ship, Chewie instinctively puts his hand on Han’s shoulder. He knows that Han is taking this hard, and he feels compassion for his friend.

The Cast

I was concerned going into this movie that NO ONE could replace Harrison Ford as Han. But from the opening scene, in which we see a young, battered and bruised Han Solo hotwiring a speeder to escape a deal-gone-bad, I was sold. Alden Ehrenreich does a great job. Keep in mind, this is not yet the cynical, jaded, world-weary Han Solo that we meet in A New Hope. This is the story of how this young, hopeful young man becomes that Han Solo. You can see the changes in him as the film moves along. In fact, to me, even his physical appearance becomes more Harrison Ford-ish toward the end of the movie. By the time we get to the final confrontation with Dryden Vos, he’s very much the Han Solo we expect him to be.

While I was worried that my brain would constantly try to compare Ehrenreich to Harrison Ford, I never had that problem. No, this isn’t a Harrison Ford impersonation, and it shouldn’t be. That would feel weird. This is Ehrenreich’s own version of Han, and it’s obvious to me that he studied the character and found ways to make it his own.

I have to give a shout-out to Joonas Suotamo as Chewie. He first doubled for Peter Mayhew (the original Chewie) in The Force Awakens, taking on the more physical pieces of the performance that Peter just can’t do anymore. Joonas played Chewie full-time first in The Last Jedi and now in Solo. Joonas has worked hard to make the transition as transparent as possible for the fans, working with Mr. Mayhew to duplicate the movements and attitude that make Chewie who he is. Along the way, he’s brought a new depth to Chewie, which must be hard to do with a character that speaks in overdubbed growls, grunts, and howls. Joonas is a big part of what makes Han and Chewie work in this movie.

Emilia Clarke works well as Qi’ra.  She brings an interesting dynamic to her character: She’s got a spark. Her performance is fun to watch on screen. She’s the definition of a femme fatale. As a character, Qi’ra also shows us that Han has a history of being attracted to petite, feisty, strong women. During the shootout on Kessel (more about that in a bit), Qi’ra comes charging out, throwing some detonators and taking out several attackers. She’s a complex character to really figure out. Near the end of the film, Beckett tells Han that (in regards to Qi’ra) “it was never about you”, implying that she was playing him all along, just using him to get where she wanted to be. But I came away from the movie feeling that Qi’ra really loved Han, but chose her own destiny over him. There are some subtle things she does, like putting her hand on Han’s shoulder while he’s flying the Kessel Run, and it looks like they might not make it.  I don’t know, maybe she played me, too.

Woody Harrelson shines as Tobias Beckett, Han’s mentor. Woody brings the flavor of a tired gunslinger to the film. Even the character’s costume design is heavily inspired by westerns, just as Han’s original costume was. I liked this version of a mentor for Han much better than the Garris Shrike character of the old Han Solo Trilogy. Garris was too much of a Fagin-type character: mean to Han and all of the other members of his gang. Beckett is a real mentor for Han and Chewie both.

I enjoyed all of the members of Beckett’s crew. Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (voiced by Iron Man director Jon Favreau, also the voice of Pre Vizla on Clone Wars) were fun additions and likable characters. Both Rio and Maz Kanata from The Force Awakens have made me wonder “why do I like THIS CGI character, but didn’t like Jar Jar?” – to which I’ve answered myself with “because they’re portrayed like a normal character, not a goofball”.  I was surprised both by the loss of Val and Rio, and by how early in the film we lose them. The trailer gave the impression that the train heist would be the main point of the film, but it happens early on, and the crew fails – with dire consequences. I would have enjoyed seeing more of them, but Beckett’s loss of his crew acts as a motivator for his character – which I get from a story-telling perspective.

Donald Glover is pretty spot-on as Lando. His introductory scene, when he’s telling stories while playing Sabaac, sounds almost dead-on to Billy Dee Williams. I enjoyed his take on the character. The early game of Sabaac between Han and Lando is an interesting move. When it appeared that Han was going to win the Falcon that early in the film, I was beginning to believe the entire film was going to feel a bit rushed. The decision to have Lando “cheat” Han out of the Falcon brought a little more dimension to Lando’s character, and tells us a bit more about why in The Empire Strikes Back Han tells Leia that he can’t trust Lando. I also got a kick out of how they played with the fact that Lando mispronounces Han’s name. Funny stuff, which I have joked about with my family and friends for years. I also really liked that Lando seems to have the utmost respect for his own mother. I thought this was a nice touch. BTW – did you catch the “I hate you” – “I know” between Han and Lando? 

Paul Bettany gives us a villain unlike any we’ve seen in Star Wars before. He’s a little like Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in Die Hard. He can seem nice, he’s sophisticated, but he’s brutal. I especially enjoyed him when – just moments after threatening to kill Han, Beckett, and Chewie for loosing the Coaxium – he says “OK. This was fun! We should do this again sometime!”

Enfys Nest

Hmmm… To be honest, I still haven’t completely figured out how I feel about Enfys Nest. The character design is cool, but during the train robbery sequence, Enfys moves almost like a Jedi, deflecting laser blasts with a staff, jumping, and flipping. It was cool, but I did (on a 4th viewing) find myself wondering if there’s even more to this character.

The big surprise here is the revelation that Enfys Nest is young woman leading a group of resistance fighters, NOT a rival gang. It was great to see Warwick Davis return to Star Wars once again as a member of her group, and this time he even gets a line! Oh and BTW, this is apparently his same character from his cameo in the Pod Racing crowd in The Phantom Menace, Weasel.

The Action Sequences

The train heist scene is a fun ride, that adds to the “old west” feeling of this film. In fact, there are moments in the musical score for this sequence (as well as others in the film) that REALLY feel like a western score. Besides that, if you know me at all, you know I love trains. So to have a train in Star Wars? Yes, please! The fight with Enfys Nest is fast-paced and adds to the excitement of the scene. There are so many elements and perils in this piece: A speeding train that twists and turns, that’s elevated high above the valley floor; Imperial troops firing on the members of the crew; Enfys Nest and crew; Imperial Vulture droids firing on Val; the race against time before the train reaches its destination; trying to steal a car from the train by blowing the bridge (which the rest of the train will indeed run off, plummeting to the valley floor) and flying it out. It all makes for some pretty heart-pounding action, and even though we know Han and Chewie will make it out, it’s still an adrenaline rush. 

The heist on Kessel is one of the most fun parts of the movie. There’s a side plot where L3 (who is concerned about equal rights for droids) decides to free all of the droids working in the mines, as a distraction. There’s something the droid builder in me really enjoyed about seeing astromechs and gonk droids rebel.

Speaking of L3 and droid rights, I’ve heard complaints about this. But, this is a thread that’s been running through Star Wars since 1977. When Luke, 3PO, R2, and Obi-Wan enter the Mos Eisley cantina, the bartender tells Luke “We don’t serve their kind here. Your droids, they’ll have to wait outside”. I’ve pondered this discrimination against droids for years, and my own head canon is that it’s (at least partially) due to the Clone Wars and the droid army. Regardless, this is NOT a new concept that droids are treated as second-class citizens (or worse). I’m not surprised it finally came to the surface.

The shootout to escape Kessel is hands-down my favorite sequence of the film. I told my wife (I believe during our 2nd viewing) that this is the scene where Han really becomes Han. There’s gunplay, and Han shows off his abilities with a blaster. Then, L3 goes down, and Lando rushes out to save her. Of course, Lando gets wounded and goes down, and with a quick “Dammit!” Han rushes out – against his better judgment and sense of self-preservation – to help Lando and L3. This right here is the soul of Han Solo: He always says he’s in it for himself, but when the chips are down, he’ll die for his friends. Of course, Chewie is right there and rushes out to help all 3 of them. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t actually choke up a bit seeing Han, Lando, and Chewie working together in the middle of a firefight to escape. AND… there’s this shot. The best shot in the movie (in my non-film-school-educated-brain) where the camera follows Han up the boarding ramp of the Falcon, where he fires his blaster as he quickly backs up the ramp. It’s SO very reminiscent of blasting his way out of Mos Eisley, and we quickly realize that this is something he’ll probably do a LOT in his adventures as a smuggler.

The Kessel Run is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. I can’t really do it justice here. I can’t do any better than Bryan Young did over at STARWARS.COM. Go read that if you want a review of that scene because he does a much better job than I could. BUT, I’d like to add this: The use of music in this scene is great.  More on that below.

The Score

One of my biggest complaints about Rogue One was that it seems like Michael Giacchino didn’t understand John Williams’ use of leitmotif – that is, different themes for different situations or characters. An example: If you watch the original trilogy, the first time we see Leia in each film we hear either ‘Princess Leia’s Theme’ or ‘Han Solo and the Princess’. This continued in The Force Awakens. We even hear Leia’s theme in Episode III when Bail Organa takes baby Leia home to Alderaan. But in Rogue One, the first (and only) time we see Leia, we here not her own theme, but the Force theme (which was originally Obi-Wan’s theme). There are several examples of this, and I could rant for a few more paragraphs, but I won’t do that to you… not here anyway.

In contrast, John Powell got it right for Solo.  throughout the film, John Powell merges his new work (and the new theme for Han that John Williams composed) with classic Star Wars motifs – some of which we haven’t heard since A New Hope. And he uses them correctly.

When the Star Destroyer first comes into view, we hear what was the Empire’s theme in ANH. No, not the Imperial March, but the short 4-note motif that is used every time ANH cuts to the Death Star (about 6:18 into the track ‘Imperial Attack’ on the complete ANH soundtrack).  It then cuts to the same piece of music that accompanies the blockade scene in ANH, just after the Falcon leaves Tatooine (about the 3:00 mark of the ANH track ‘The Millennium Falcon/Imperial Cruiser Pursuit’). We’re also treated to pieces of ‘The Asteroid Field’ from The Empire Strikes Back, which is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music from the entire saga. Seeing the Falcon fly to that music made me feel like a kid again. We even hear the ‘Rebel fanfare/TIE Fighter Attack’ theme. Is it fanservice? Probably, but it’s so very awesome!

There are several other places where Powell makes great use of classic themes. During the Train robbery, we hear what was originally Darth Vader’s theme (again, not the Imperial March, but a short motif from the ANH score – about 4:54 of the track ‘Imperial Attack’ on the complete ANH soundtrack) when the troopers arrive on top of the train. We hear a beautiful rendition of the Star Wars main theme (complete with a choir) when Han first sees the Falcon. Powell also uses the Rebel Fanfare several times, including in the Kessel Run, during both card games with Lando, and in a few other places.

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack in the car as I commute to work, and I really like the theme for Enfys Nest. It’s tribal, and unlike anything we’ve heard in Star Wars before – just as Enfys and the gang are unlike anything we’ve seen in Star Wars before.

John Williams wrote a new theme for Han (yay!) and for the opening sequence, composer John Powell uses this new theme to build excitement as Han races away in the stolen speeder. The theme has a very classic swashbuckling/adventure/western feel to it, which is perfect for Han Solo.

BTW – did you catch that major-key version of the Imperial March that was playing in the recruiting video Han saw? I’m very disappointed that wasn’t on the soundtrack.

The Director

It’s clear throughout this film that Ron Howard understands the DNA of Star Wars. The tone of the film is very much in line with the Original Trilogy, and it hearkens back to the matinee serials of the 30s and 40s, as well as the westerns of the 50s and 60s. The humor is what it should be – not too over-the-top, or “Marvel-style”, but subtle and witty… and mixed in at the just right doseage. Howard does a great job of merging his own style with the style of the original films.  As usual, there are giant, elaborate sets that we barely see, a trademark of the original trilogy films.  I’d like to see Ron Howard come back for another film.

What Solo brings to Star Wars

I’ve seen a lot of chatter about Solo being an unnecessary Star Wars movie. To be honest, I was on that bandwagon before the movie opened.  I felt that Han’s backstory may not need to be told. Now that the movie is out, however, I feel that although the movie isn’t essential to the overall story being told by the saga films (the ones with episode numbers), Solo: A Star Wars Story brings elements to the universe that we hadn’t seen before and expands on others.

Solo gives us our best look yet (in film, anyway) at the seedy underworld of the galaxy. We see crime lords and crime syndicates. We see smugglers, gamblers, and other scoundrels doing what they do best.  Solo shows us better than any of the other films that there are other evils in the galaxy besides the Sith, the Empire, and the First Order.

As I’ve already mentioned, Solo gives us a much more intimate peek at the Empire. There’s no big Imperial baddy here, just boots on the ground.  It shows us (better than Rogue One) that even in a galaxy far, far away, war is hell (on both sides).  To a point, it humanizes the troops of the Empire, and maybe for the first time, we think about Imperial troops as more than a faceless enemy for our heroes.

Solo gets away from the Jedi and Sith. This is the first theatrical movie in the entire Star Wars universe that has no mention of the Force, Jedi, or Sith (although Maul does show up). There’s no mystical energy field here.  I love the mysticism and spirituality of the Force, and Yoda is one of my favorite characters. But there’s more to this galaxy than Jedi and Sith, and it’s fun to finally have a movie that explores that and isn’t burdened by a need to “deepen the mythology”.

If you’re a Han Solo fan, this movie furthers Han’s character arc. I’ve said for years that Han has one of the best character arcs, and this movie just expands that. Now, Han goes from an excited, hopeful youth of this film, to the jaded cynic of the original trilogy (“it’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense”), to a true believer in The Force Awakens (“It’s true. All of it”).  Han transitions from someone who is motivated by the innocence of young love, to someone who is motivated by money and is only in it for himself (the “fall” if you will), to redemption – sacrificing himself for his friends and the woman he loves in Empire – and finally to the man who will risk everything for his own son in The Force Awakens.

For those of us who saw the original trilogy before the special editions, this film sets the record straight: Han Solo will (and does) shoot first.

Solo provides (if they go this direction) a foundation upon which to build other stand-alone films.  Rogue One is a self-contained story that ultimately leads into A New Hope.  There really isn’t anywhere else to go with it. With the foundation of the competition between the crime syndicates and the re-introduction of Maul, Solo provides a base that future stand-alone movies could build on.  There’s a good possibility the stand-alone Boba Fett movie will happen, and I’d bet my credits on Crimson Dawn (and maybe even Black Sun) being a part of that story.  This is Star Wars (plural) after all, why not tell a continuing story about the warring crime syndicates?

An interesting thought: The next time you watch A New Hope, and you see Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet for the first time, consider this: while it’s in vastly different ways, these two men have both lost loves at the hand of Darth Maul.  They have something in common that they don’t even realize.

Finally, Solo brings back the FUN of Star Wars. The prequels were bogged down with the taxation of trade routes, trade negotiations, senate debates,  wooden dialogue, and a weak love story.  Revenge of the Sith was dark, burdened with telling the fall of Anakin Skywalker and rise of Darth Vader. Rogue One was equally dark (everybody dies), and while The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both included a great deal of humor, they ultimately delivered the deaths of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Solo is, in my opinion, the lightest, most fun Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi.  If you haven’t seen Solo: A Star Wars Story, go see it.  If you have, go see it again and (to quote one of the trailers for Return of the Jedi) return for the fun of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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