Han, Chewie, and Lando arrive on Blu-ray and 4K on Sept 25

When Disney announced an exciting new plan to create a new Star Wars Trilogy and complement it with additional movies outside the mainline thread, the immense excitement from fans was accompanied by an undercurrent of concern. Would side stories demystify and overexplain histories better left to the imagination? Would quality suffer under such ambitious scheduling? Can there be… too much Star Wars?

The idea of prequel tales of beloved characters is even more daunting, and an early Han Solo tale felt like more of an unnecessary risk than a safe bet. Ann Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy of novels had showed that it could be done well, but books and movies are completely different things. Han’s oft-referenced but vaguely defined past is a big part of his appeal. His relationships with Chewie and Lando, acquisition of the Millennium Falcon, and criminal past as a smuggler — these were well known at a surface level, but surrounded by a healthy air of mystery. And who on earth could fill the shoes of Harrison Ford? More than any other undertaking of the new generation of Star Wars films, this one just seemed kind of… unnecessary?

Solo proved to do considerably less at the box office than its predecessors — in part due to these concerns, as well as a response to the film’s very public production troubles — but it’s not at all the misfire that fans feared. While probably the slightest in purely narrative terms, the film is big and bold with a lot of nice fan service and callbacks that mostly work.

From a casting perspective, the biggest concern is of course the role of Han, and this is probably where things get the most dicey. Alden Ehrenreich is in my opinion adequate in the role, believable and occasionally charming. It seems that in casting they wanted someone to play the role naturally rather than try to imitate Ford (an approach which does work, consider Chris Pine in Star Trek), but it doesn’t stick the landing here. Giving the role continuity with Ford’s performance, on the other hand, would’ve been a big boost. Josh Brolin channeling a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones is by far the standout performance in Men in Black 3, and a similar spot-on performance here could’ve really been something special. Fortunately, Ehrenreich does become more of the Han we recognize as the story progresses, evident in small things like his stance with a blaster. (Less subtle is the silly way he gets his name).

The film serves up a team of characters, both new and old, to accompany Han on his heist. Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo taking over for Peter Mayhew) and Lando (Donald Glover, in the role originally played by Billy Dee Williams) are major highlights of the film, bringing some needed familiarity and fun. The immediate comradeship between Han and Chewie is natural and genuine, setting a meaningful precedent for their ongoing adventures, while Lando is every bit as smarmy, dapper, combative, and scene-stealing as we hope he’ll be.

What’s more surprising is that the new characters make an impact as well. Han’s lost love and childhood friend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and mentor Beckett (Woody Harrelson) are both endearingly realized, and the fact that both characters seem to straddle the fence between trustworthy and adversarial provides tension and drama because you want to like them.

Ron Howard knows how to work equally well in small nuance and big thrills, and Solo brings both. Endearing moments and subtle callbacks abound, providing heart and wit, while the major set-pieces are suitably bombastic and enjoyable — the best being an elevated train heist, and of course the legendary Kessel Run in the Millennium Falcon.

It’s worth nothing that the film is doing something different stylistically than we’ve seen before, favoring a muted palette and a sometimes gritty aesthetic (the opening scene recalls for me not Star Wars, but Blade Runner), while still keeping a tone that’s light and even jokey. Perhaps this is indicative of Ron Howard’s eye mixing with the comedic sensibilities of fired directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but it’s a unique angle that demonstrates that these side stories in the Star Wars universe need not adhere completely to a familiar template.

The Package

Solo will release on 4K (“Ultimate Collector’s Edition”) and Standard Blu-ray (“Multi-Screen Edition”) on September 25.

Additionally, limited edition retailer variants will be available as usual, with alternate packaging. Target will carry a book edition, while Best Buy will have a Steelbook.

Special Features and Extras

This is a Star Wars movie, and true to form, Solo gets a nice selection of behind the scenes featurettes exploring the effects, setpieces, development, and other aspects of making of the film, packed with behind the scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew.

  • Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable (21:44)
    Ron Howard interviews his cast in a lighthearted conversation. Highlight: Thandie Newton discussing channeling her badass mom.
  • Team Chewie (6:41)
    Joonas Suotamo takes over the role of the world’s most beloved Wookiee.
  • Kasdan on Kasdan (7:50)
    Father/son team Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan on their history with the franchise and scripting the new film.
  • Remaking the Millennium Falcon (5:36)
  • Escape from Corellia (9:59)
    Exploring the speeder chase which takes place early in the film
  • The Train Heist (14:30)
    It may be an old western staple but a train robbery is one of the most exciting sequences in Solo, with a few new twists.
  • Becoming a Droid: L3–37 (5:06)
    It’s actually pretty surprising how much of this droid’s on-screen representation is practical, the in-camera performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
  • Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso (8:02)
    The Fort Ypso sequence is this film’s cantina sequence equivalent, with some neat alien designs and of course the card game Sabacc, which features prominently.
  • Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run (8:28)
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (15:13)

Parting Thoughts

Not in the same league as the classics, but miles better than the Prequel Trilogy, Solo is a worthy if middle-of-the-road entry into Star Wars lore that could have been better, but also so much worse.

As is noted in the special features, legendary franchise screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was essentially given his choice of characters to explore, and he chose Han without hesitation. Perhaps it’s because of this assuredness that Solo somehow manages to be a pretty good delivery of what sounded like a really bad idea.

A/V Out.

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

Previous post Fantastic Fest 2018: HALLOWEEN Reveres and Revives the John Carpenter Classic
Next post 5 Great Flicks New to Netflix