Solo: A Star Wars Story: A Review

God, there’s too many colons.

When it was announced that Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, with the intention of making new films for a new generation, I reveled in the endless possibilities as to the stories that can be told. What happened after Return of the Jedi? What was Obi-Wan doing for all that time in Tattoine? What new characters are we going to meet? On top of that, I dreamed over the idea that new filmmakers were able to put their spin on a franchise of this magnitude. Names like Joss Whedon, Brad Bird, JJ Abrams, even David Fincher were at one point linked with a new Star Wars film. I never loved the idea of a Han Solo film, but to have Phil Lord and Christopher Lord (21 and 22 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) at the helm? Count me in.

Alas, amidst production drama, Lord and Miller got the boot and were replaced with the always reliable Ron Howard, and here we are. Solo: A Star Wars Story is out, and the final product is an adequate, if uninteresting film. I say adequate, because on a technical level, the film is perfectly fine. The special effects are stellar, as expected. The action scenes are very fun, and Howard does his absolute damnedest to prevent this from being a complete disaster. Not to mention, I am very relieved to say that the performances are good. Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson do what they can with the material given, turning stale characterizations into, at the very least, entertaining Star Wars characters. Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover is effortlessly charming and joyous to watch as Lando Calrissian, perfectly complimenting the role Billy Dee Williams made iconic nearly four decades ago. He’s breezy, cool and relaxed as Lando. However, even if this film serviced Oscar winning performances, the failure of the title character would be the failure of the film entire. With the being said, Alden Ehrenreich is perfectly serviceable as the famed scruffy looking nerf herder. Ehrenreich doesn’t try a Harrison Ford impression, almost as if he played the part as if there was no precedence before, which is great. The worst thing that he could have done is change the register of his voice, or smirk at the end of every sentence like many impressionists do. In that respect, Ehrenreich gets the job done.

The predominant issue of this film, however, is its very existence. Han Solo is one of the most beloved and celebrated characters in cinema history, but mostly as a side character. To put him front and center should take heavy consideration and thought, since you’re running the risk of having too much of a good thing. Solo does not suffer from this, but it hardly does anything new, fresh or inventive with the title character. Han Solo is being Han Solo, which is better than bastardizing the character, but the film comes off as uneventful and at times, boring.

We will never see Lord and Miller’s intended vision for this film, but knowing their high energy, spontaneous and unpredictable tones that their films adopt, a Han Solo film would have benefited exponentially from their technique. Their films are chaotic, fast paced, and heartfelt: traits that encapsulate the character of Han Solo. I have favored the Disney Star Wars experiment thus far. Yes I liked The Last Jedi. Say what you will about TLJ, and there is a lot, but at it least it took chances with Star Wars lore and felt like an original piece of work, compared to the nostalgic pandering that the other films are, in some way, guilty of. If Lucasfilm wants their films to succeed, they must be comfortable with taking risks. Lord and Miller could have been that risk that paid off, but that discussion will always conclude within the realm of the hypothetical. There are young, hungry filmmakers that have the potential to make the next great Star Wars movie. The MCU have had a wealth of success because they instill trust within their filmmakers, like Joss Whedon, Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi, and James Gunn (Edgar Wright notwithstanding). Those films are changing the state of blockbuster cinema, and though Ron Howard does a perfectly adequate job at the helm, knowing that Solo could have been different, and potentially better film is a hard pill to swallow. There’s a line in the film, “Stick to the plan, and do NOT improvise”, which perfectly encapsulates this film, as it’s a standard, inconsequential affair that frights at the idea of becoming something better.

 

Grade: C+

The Top 10 Films of 2017

Over the past year, I have had the absolute pleasure of watching truly great films. Though there have been a variety of sadly disappointing movies, I feel that 2017 has been the year where new, original motion pictures have been championed and celebrated. Making this list has proved to be a gut-wrenching affair. The rankings aren’t necessarily a statement on one film’s superiority to another. I believe these films to be amazing in their own, respective right. However, not making this list would be a disservice to my love for the following films.

Honorable Mentions: Split, Thor: Ragnarok, John Wick: Chapter 2, Logan Lucky, IT, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman, and Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

  1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

*Tony Stark reveals Iron Spider Armor*

“Why don’t you try that on, and we’ll introduce the world to the newest official member of the Avengers: Spider-Man.

Spider-Man’s debut to the motherland of the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War was a glorious highlight in that film. To see Marvel’s most popular hero interact with Cap, Iron Man, and almost the rest of that film’s cast was just a taste, a tease of what Tom Holland can do as Spider-Man’s third cinematic incarnation. Homecoming was exactly that: a welcoming celebration of the title character, giving us a fresh, yet faithfully familiar portrayal of the web-slinger. While this is no means an origin story of Spider-Man, Homecoming truly delights and excels as a coming-of-age tale of Peter Parker turning into Spider-Man: the hero. Bombarded by adversity and clear and present dangers, witnessing Peter Parker scream “Come on, Spider-Man!” on the top of his lungs brings levity and much-needed vulnerability to comic book’s greatest anomaly: a frightened, at times delusional boy behind a mask claiming to the outside world to be a man.

  1. Get Out

Chris Washington: All I know is sometimes, when there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?

[pause, Georgina laughs creepily with tears in her eyes]

Georgina: Oh no, no. No. No no no no no no. Aren’t you something? That’s not my experience. Not at all. The Armitages are so good to us. They treat us like family.

Certainly one of the biggest surprises of 2017, Jordan Peele’s directoral debut is a hauntingly brilliant, hilarious and terrifying commentary of racial and class prejudice. There is such a fine line to walk on if one wishes to make a horror film. You want to be flashy, yet subtle; terrifying, but palpable. Not only does Jordan Peele pass with flying colors on this front, but to add the social commentary in the mix seemed to inevitably result in a pretentious, preachy film. Miraculously, Get Out manages to stray away from cinematic convention, resulting into a timely, smart and genuinely unpredictable film. As far as debuts go, Peele is a force to be reckoned with. Delivering Hitchcockian suspense in his first feature from beginning to end, Get Out works superbly well on all fronts of the cinematic experience.

  1. Lady Bird

Marion McPherson: I want you to be the best version of yourself.
Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson: What if this is the best version?

Speaking of debuts, long time writer and actress Greta Gerwig delivers her first feature on the director’s chair in the form of Lady Bird, chronicling the life of high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson as she tries to answer that all important yet impossible question: Who am I? What’s with the name, you ask? “Lady Bird” is her name, given to her, by her. Gerwig delivers a snappy, often hilarious screenplay, anchored with a direction that is lovingly intimate, making the viewer truly feel they are with these characters as they interact. As rich the direction might be, however, a film also hinders on what is presented on the screen, a la the actors, this film’s greatest strength. Laurie Metcalf beautifully plays the mother of the title character, displaying a generational disconnect between her and daughter. She loves her to death, but feels her advice has and always will fall on the seemingly deaf ears of Lady Bird. In addition to Metcalf, Saoirse Ronan delivers yet another career defining performance with a charismatic relatability and wisdom once thought to be lightyears of her youth. Along with last year’s amazing The Edge of Seventeen, the once dead young adult drama is on a full-on revival with this recklessly adolescent masterwork.

  1. Dunkirk

The enemy has driven the British and French armies to the sea. Trapped at Dunkirk, they await their fate. Hoping for deliverance. For a miracle.

When I think of 2014’s Interstellar, I think of a director’s masterwork with somewhat paradoxical execution. I felt the last act of the film to have much too dialogue for a film that prides itself in its visual sophistication, especially in regards to its themes of love and parenthood. Christopher Nolan’s latest war epic Dunkirk, however, completely rights the wrong of his last odyssey. Gone are the expositional science lessons. Standing at an uncharacteristically lean 106 minutes, Nolan delivers his most intense, cutthroat, and bombastic picture to date. The war genre has been gradually, and jadedly, glamorized, as if war is to be encouraged, like the loss of life is something to be fond of. Dunkirk strips away every convention that has plagued this cliché ridden genre, making a new, original beast of a war film. Character development is at a deliberate minimum, focusing on the horrors and sheer intensity of the event itself. Dunkirk shows Nolan at his most potent, focused and bombastic, a true lover of the cinematic art and experience.

  1. The Shape of WaterRelated image

When he looks at me, he does not know – how – I am incomplete. He sees me… as I am.

It’s weird. It’s different. It’s beautifully tailored by the mad mind of Guillermo del Toro. Easily his best and most wondrous feature since 2007’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water pits del Toro delivering a gorgeously original love story between a sea creature and a mute janitor. The premise alone sounds offputting and inadvertently comedic, but del Toro’s confident and fearless direction matched with pitch perfect performances from Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones as simply “Amphibian Man” makes this odd love story into a whimsical and joyous anomaly of a film.

  1. The Big Sick

Emily: I didn’t heckle you, just woo-hoo’d you. It’s supportive.

Kumail: Okay, that’s a common misconception. Yelling anything at a comedian is considered heckling. Heckling doesn’t have to be negative.

Emily: So, if I… if I yelled out like… “You’re amazing in bed!”, that’d be a heckle?

Kumail: Yeah. It would be an accurate heckle.

By far the most straightforward film on this list, The Big Sick sees the beginnings of Kumail Nanjiani’s and Emily Gordon’s relationship and the all-too true tumultuous happenings around it. Not only does love interest Emily fall into a coma, but the internal conflicts practically blossom almost in spite of this. Kumail sees himself in the cross roads of his life, reminded of his cultural upbringing, being a first generation American from Pakistan, and his life of a stand-up comic despite his conservative parents’ wishes. They don’t know about his relationship with Emily, having the guise of actually wanting an arranged marriage. This well-intended deception is eventually revealed, leaving for some truly heart wrenching moments that perfectly encapsulates one’s wish to please their parents but, at the same time, trying to live their own, satisfactory life. The drama is ever present, but the comedy is where The Big Sick truly shines, giving Kumail Nanjiani a star making performance with pure and perfect comedic timing, layered with the aforementioned cultural dilemma. The straightforward nature of this film is almost deceptive to the naked eye: this is a smart, hilarious and honest film about love and the insanity it can bestow.

  1. The Disaster Artist

Greg Sestero: You’re really gonna make this thing?

Tommy Wiseau: No, Greg. We are going to do it. Together.

The irony. The Room, the cult phenomenon often touted as the ”Citizen Kane of bad movies” is a true paradox of cinema. The film is so bad, so incomprehensible and odd, that the story of how The Room was conceived and made turns out to be one of the most gratifying experiences in the theatre. The Disaster Artist is not a 100 minute-long bashing of its source material; it shows the power of friendship, with two unlikely friends pushing each other to their very best, because anything less than the best won’t cut it in their world. James Franco annihilates the role of Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, star and producer of The Room. This isn’t an imitation of Wiseau, so much as it is a portrait of the man, and all the oddities that come with it. The Disaster Artist is a peak behind the curtain, a character study of a man too odd and eccentric for those around him. He accuses others of not understanding his vision, misguided at it is. The film is ultimately a surprisingly heartfelt love letter to friendship, and one’s will to present his uncompromised vision and the greatest pleasure of all: to call it his.

  1. Baby Driver

Mozart in a Go-Kart

Original films are slowly becoming an endangered species, though 2017 has seen a resurgence in original material, not unlike 2014. Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is the epitome of original filmmaking and the excitement that new stories can bring. Nearly every aspect of the film is fresh and new: Wright’s snappy dialogue matched with his break-neck paced direction, the way the characters interact with each other, and the soundtrack that quite literally acts as the DNA of the film entire. Music often acts as the backbone, the pulse of the film, acting as an emotional commentator to what is happening on screen. Baby Driver’s soundtrack does more than amp up the suspense or turn the action into a glorified music video; it is the driving force (shameless pun not intended) of the film by acting as a second screenplay of the film. Edgar Wright has hardly been better and more razor sharp, and with an already legendary soundtrack and all-star cast (Kevin Spacey not withstanding), Baby Driver is an insatiably sweet piece of celluloid.

2. Logan

Image result for logan

Laura: You are dying. You want to die.

Logan: How do you know?

Laura: Charles told me.

Logan: What else did he tell you?

Laura: To not let you.

Last year’s Deadpool was a much needed deconstruction of the superhero genre, relentlessly poking fun at the plot holes that have become commonplace in the genre. It was a satire, a lampooning of the genre that has become too long at the teeth. Logan also deconstructs the prototypical superhero film, but decides to reside within convention to do so. Gone are Wolverine and Professor X, as Logan and Charles live tragic lives almost in spite of their former glory. The very things that made them special, what made Charles the poster boy of mutant/human equality, is the exact thing that causes harm to the people he wishes to befriend. Their gifts, mutations, or abilities haven proven to be the catalyst to the predicaments seen in this film. Logan is a brutal, violent and honest portrayal of a beloved character who actually reaches the final act of his life, something that seldom happens in this generation of remakes and reboots. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart deliver award worthy performances of these characters who they know like the back of their hands. Steven Spielberg spoke of the superhero genre, saying that it will go the way of the western. The Western had Unforgiven, a last hoorah for the heroes and villains who encapsulated that era of film, due to meet a brutal and unceremonious end. In Logan, these heroes, once titans among common folk, meet a quiet demise, with the world having already forgotten them.

  1. Blade Runner 2049

Luv: You can’t hold the tide with a broom.

There’s a phrase many use when discussing current films: “They don’t make them like they used to”. It is a presumptuous dismissal of an entire filmography simply based on its youth. Films are made all the time, and good films are made some of the time. Blade Runner 2049 is a straight up masterpiece. Every single facet of filmmaking is done to effortless and sheer perfection. The performances are convincing and captivating. Hans Zimmer’s score perfectly compliments Vangelis’ hypnotic work in the 1982 original. The sound design is the thing that dreams are made of. From the opening logos to the closing credits, 2049’s sound immerses you into 2049 Los Angeles and the film’s task at hand. The cinematography is pure, cinematic ecstasy. Roger Deakins’ command of color and silhouettes has never been better, which is quite the statement considering the man’s legendary body of work. Every single shot is done with the grace and focus only befitting of Deakins’ loftily high standards. If this doesn’t win him that elusive Oscar, literally nothing will: this is some of the best cinematography of all time. However, all of these attributes would go in vain if helmed by the wrong director. Hell, not even Ridley Scott himself could make a better film than the original. So it must be noted that Denis Villeneuve’s direction will surely become the thing of legend, making the sequel that dare not be made, resulting in the best sequel of the decade, and one of the best ever. The idea of a Blade Runner sequel has been in the cards for some time, but the idea of actually making it was a hypothetical many cautioned to have it stay as such. It is because of Villeneuve that 2049 didn’t end up being a trainwreck, using the amazing aforementioned individual aspects of the film and making a picture that is greater than the sum of its parts. As a sequel, it perfectly captures the iconic dreamy and rain soaked neon Los Angeles of the original, also capturing the methodically patience testing pace that has divided moviegoers. As a film, it stands on its own with the greatest of ease, constantly rewarding your patience with a beautifully realized behemoth of a film, delivering the quintessential cinematic experience, reminding us why movies are made and why we watch them: to see the impossible come true.