Tag: star wars

MOVIE REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

In a way, I’m glad I waited a week to write a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest anthology movie from Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm set in the Star Wars universe. As I walked out of the theatre last Wednesday night, following a sparsely attended midnight screening, I would have told you how much I enjoyed it, how it was a fairly straight-forward action movie, how I enjoyed the performance of leading man Alden Ehrenreich.

But over the course of a week, I’ve slowly started to think less and less of the film. As of right now, a full seven days since I saw it, I’m ready to tell you that I don’t think it’s a good film at all.

Set a decade before the events of 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Solo: A Star Wars Story (honestly, how many times am I going to have to write Star Wars before this review is finished) is ostensibly an origin story for Han Solo, one of the universes best characters, and one of film history’s most iconic figures.

Starting out on the shipyards of Corellia, where Han is an orphaned teen caught up in the local gang culture, we follow the rogue as he is separated from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and escapes his home, takes on his infamous moniker (spoiler: he got it because he was alone), and joins the Empire as a pilot because he just wants to fly, man. He ends up in a ground battle on the planet Mimban.

From there, he is united with lifelong friend Chewbacca and falls in with pirate Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his crew (also featuring Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) on an intergalactic version of The Great Train Robbery – the aim: steal a train carriage full of the valuable hyperspace fuel coaxium.

But the heist goes wrong, leading Han to improvise in front of super-criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany): he and Beckett are joined by Qi’ra and playboy smuggler Lando (Donald Glover) to steal raw coaxium from the planet of Kessel. If you’re at all familiar with Han Solo, the name Kessel will ring a bell – we’re treated to a full display of the infamous Kessel Run (achieved in just over 12 parsecs), before Han double-crosses both Beckett and Vos and hands the coaxium over to an early version of the Rebellion.

Qi’ra is forced to kill Vos, thus saving Han, and reports to his superior, the presumed dead Darth Maul, last seen in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, set prior to this film, in which he was sliced in two by Obi Wan Kenobi.

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. But it didn’t seem like so much in the theatre last week: we bounced from location to location, enjoying the sights – “hey, it’s the Kessel Run”, “woah, he just met Chewbacca”, “oh, that’s how he got his name” – and taking in a few big action scenes, albeit none on the level of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

That is the films first major problem: it’s kind of bland.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had its share of drama behind the scenes – original writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced part-way through production by Ron Howard, a director without a distinct visual style who isn’t known for making large scale, effects-heavy franchise films.

The result is a film that just kind of happens. There are no scenes on the level of Rey and Kylo killing Snoke in his chambers or Holdo launching into hyperspace through a star destroyer from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi; the closest we get is the Kessel Run, which ends up featuring a black hole and an asteroid-sized octopus, and even that one feels a bit anti-climactic since it is over fairly quickly.

The other major problem Solo: A Star Wars Story has is that it feels piecemeal.

There is a lot going on – from the street chase and escape from Corellia, to the Kessel Run, to the final showdown on the planet of Savareen – and it feels kind of muddled, like none of it necessarily connects to the rest. As the week has passed, that is what I am most struck by: it all just feels so disjointed.

The most exciting scene – the train heist on the planet Vandor, seen prominently in the trailers – takes place in the first act of the film when it clearly would have made for the most exciting conclusion to the whole movie. Instead, it doesn’t hit as hard because we’ve not spent any time with anyone; it just kind of happens. It all just happens.

That is the main crime of Solo: A Star Wars Story: none of it sticks, none of it resonates, and none of it is still with me a week later. Instead of an experience, the film is just a series of events that vaguely tie-in to the Star Wars universe and set up an inevitable sequel. And it’s all just bland.

(For those of you who’ve seen it, I can imagine a version of Solo: A Star Wars Story which dispenses with the opening scenes on Corellia and Mimban – they seems like Lucasfilm adding stuff purely to pre-empt fan calls that “we should have seen this or that” – and where Han and Chewie are already established smugglers, leading to his team-up with Beckett. The Kessel Run still happens half-way through the film and features the Falcon and Lando, as per the film, but somehow it goes wrong. The Darth Maul reveal happens here and he orders Vos to kill the crew, but Vos decides to give them another chance – the train heist on Vandor, where the double-crossing occurs, leading to the death of Vos, Beckett and the rest of his crew. I’d cut the Rebellion out entirely.)

It isn’t all doom and gloom. You may be glad to hear that Alden Ehrenreich is actually pretty good as Han Solo, putting his own mark on the character instead of doing a Harrison Ford impression, and his relationship with Chewie is one great element of the film. Donald Glover and Paul Bettany appear to be having fun, but they also appear to be holdovers from the Lord/Miller version of the film, stuck out of place in most scenes.

And I did enjoy the Kessel Run, it has to be said. I love a good giant monster.

Look, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a terrible film. It is a fairly serviceable action film. Heck, if it wasn’t a Star Wars film, none of this would be an issue. But it is a Star Wars film, one with a fairly hefty $250 million price tag.

It should’ve been better. It could’ve been. Alas, we’ll never know.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is directed by Ron Howard (with an assist from Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), from a script by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan, and stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woodly Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany, and the voices of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau. It is in cinemas now.

REVIEW Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

It’s kind of funny: I feel a little bit like I can’t talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi – arguably the biggest film of the year, which came out late last week – without acknowledging the online backlash which has emerged against it in the last few days. And the reason I feel I need to acknowledge it is that, by contrast to that, any review I give is going to seem alarmingly positive and contrarian.

I really liked Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And more than that, I think the backlash against it is a sad by-product of the internet culture surrounding uber-popular franchises. Fans have spent the better part of two years speculating about the events of this film and guessing the outcomes of several mysteries – Rey’s lineage, Snoke’s background – and are disappointed that the film didn’t match up with the collective conclusion reached by these fan communities.

Or to put it another way: Rian Johnson’s film was too imaginative.

And the fans annoyed or turned off by minor details like Luke Skywalker drinking green milk, or Laura Dern’s Holdo having pink hair, or the presence of porgs or nuns or ice foxes, or the addition of a sense of humour that has not been a big part of these films … I mean, firstly, those are exceptionally minor details that have no real bearing on what was happening in the film, and secondly, that is how blockbuster franchise films are made – they play to nostalgia, they set up merchandising, and they pander to a broad audience. This is how blockbuster films are made in 2017; if you can’t look past that stuff, you’re never going to enjoy a blockbuster film again.

I’m not saying every criticism is wrong. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has a few structural flaws that force the story to drag a bit longer than it needed to – some scenes, like those on Canto Bight or parts of the bombing run that opens the film or the closing of Finn and Rose’s capture on the star destroyer, could have been edited further. Poe’s mutiny against Holdo didn’t need to happen for the story; I assume it was added purely for his character development. And at least one of the jokes probably didn’t need to drag on as long as it did (Poe messing with Hux, I’m looking at you).

But despite all of that, there was no part of the film I didn’t like. Every scene had its place in the film, and each contributed to a sense of tension that stayed with the film throughout, until it was released in the final moments as it set up the next film in the franchise.

When you boil everything down, you’re left with two story strands: the first is Rey’s mission to Ahch-To to recruit Luke Skywalker to the rebel cause – and her rejection by a disillusioned Luke, who now believes the Jedi should not exist – while the second follows the Resistance as they go on the run from the First Order, with their numbers dwindling as their ships get picked off one by one. Both plots are absolutely riveting.

Rey’s tutelage (such as it is) at the hands of Luke form an emotional spine for the film, and lead to one of the greatest set pieces in Star Wars film history as Rey confronts Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke. It is also gives stars Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver a bit more to play with in terms of character progression, giving them more opportunity to play off each other and setting up their dynamic as we head toward the conclusion of this new trilogy; that Ren both kills Snoke this early in the franchise, and delivers the gut-wrenching blow that Rey’s parents are nobodies, makes the Vader wannabe a true iconoclast, tearing down what came before and taking the franchise into new ground. Hell, Ren even says it himself: “let the past die, kill it if you have to”.

Plus, I can’t say enough about Mark Hamill, whose performance here is mesmerising. The Last Jedi’s Luke is a grizzled and disillusioned version of the wide-eyed optimist we last saw in Return Of The Jedi; this is a character who has seen some shit, and whose worldview is informed by so much life experience that happened off screen. Hamill manages to convey that perfectly, transforming over the course of the film as that optimism slowly returns. I would go as far as to say his performance is Oscar-worthy.

The secondary plot isn’t as riveting, but it has its moments: Oscar Isaac does some great work as Poe Dameron, who learns what it takes to be a true leader in the Resistance, even as he constantly rubs his superiors – Carrie Fisher’s Leia and Laura Dern’s Holdo – completely the wrong way. If anything, I felt like John Boyega’s Finn was the odd man out here. His side-mission to fetch a code-breaker and shut down a hyperspace tracker on a First Order ship, alongside newcomer Rose (played by Kelly Marie Tran), took far too long and detracted from the legitimate tension of a slow-speed pursuit that has left the Resistance in tatters.

However, the payoff is worth it. An extraordinary scene in which Holdo rams the lead rebel ship into a star destroyer at lightspeed drew audible gasps in the theatre, and the concluding scenes on the tiny planet of Crait – visually splendid and narratively satisfying, as it brings the film back together – formed a highly emotional climax to the film.

So don’t believe the hype – or the anti-hype, as it has turned out to be. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a great addition to the Star Wars universe, taking the story in a few unexpected directions and giving us a handful of visuals and scenes that are among the best in the franchise history. And I’m very excited to see where this franchise goes next.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is written and directed by Rian Johnson, and stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o. It is in cinemas now.

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