Brad’s April Escape - Part 18
April 28 - Solo: A Star Wars Story
Each weekday this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is my personal favorite Star Wars film of the Disney era so far, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018).
Solo - An Introduction
I'll admit to being in the majority when a spinoff film focusing on Han Solo was announced in 2014. "We don't need a Han Solo movie," was probably my scorching hot take at the time. Then in 2016 and 2017, the film went through some well-documented issues during production. Ron Howard was a known commodity to me as a director, and has a long history with Lucasfilm, which I thought was very cool, that he could be a part of the franchise in modern days after starring in George Lucas's second-ever film, American Graffiti (1973).
With Howard leading the team, the result of Solo: A Star Wars Story exceeded my expectations. If I could sum up this film in one word it would be "fun." Alas, there's no fun in analyzing a film with just one word, and the quality of this film demands far more than just one.
The box office performance of Solo is irrelevant to me. I had the best time with this movie all four times I saw it in the theater, a more entertaining time than I've had with any of the five Disney-era Star Wars films to date. The stakes were somewhat smaller, and this character-focused story allowed the storytellers to tell a smaller, but more fun tale.
I'll also admit, Han was never high on my list of favorite heroes from the Original Trilogy era. I was a Luke kid, and always identified on a far deeper level with Luke than Han. But this film got me to appreciate Han as a character in a more significant way than ever. This film had a really solid and deep cast, an offbeat but rousing score by John Powell, and seamless visual effects from start to finish.
10 Things I Like - Solo
1. The separation of Han and Qi'ra at the Imperial travel center reminds me quite a bit of Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones. I appreciate Anakin's presence in that film's fireplace scene, as he showed all of the mistakes and insecurities of any 19-year-old guy hopelessly in love with a girl far out of his league (been there, done that). Han shows many of the same qualities here. I mean, how could he be dumb enough to let Qi'ra just get swiped from him while going through the checkpoint? Because he's young and dumb. But Han pounding at the door, screaming for Qi'ra is a very accurate representation of a guy, circa age 20, pouring all his passion into yelling for the woman he knows deep down he's not good enough to have, but was thisclose to running away with, all the same.
2. Jon Favreau's relationship with Lucasfilm dates back to the early 2010s when he voiced a Mandalorian character in The Clone Wars. But his crack at the voice of Rio Durant was so endearing. The line in this screen shot "Ooh tell us about the girl Han! Is she pretty? Does she have sharp teeth?" elicits a smile and chuckle from me every time, even now, nearly two years after its release. Rio's role is sadly short in this film, but his presence is so witty and enjoyable, he adds an irreplaceable texture to the first act of the film.
3. A consistent Han Solo thing throughout all five Star Wars films he's appeared in - his ability to communicate with beings or droids that speak a completely different language, and yet, he carries on conversations in Basic on his end without skipping a beat. He does it with Greedo and Jabba in ANH, the service droid in Echo Base in ESB, the Ewoks in ROJ and with the death gang after his Rathtars in TFA. Here, he trash talks an alien during the first game of Sabacc. It's one of those subtle details that have made Han a more endearing character to me over the years.
4. Again, I'll relate this scene to one from the prequels.
I had long imagined Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious to have pure action scenes. And that wish came true in the senate duel with Yoda in ROTS. It was just so cool seeing Sidious in a high-stakes saber duel, something previous films vaguely hinted at but never came close to showing.
In that vein, we have Han and Lando here, teaming up in another action scene in their escape from Kessel. These two never had a battle scene in the OT era where they were side by side, guns ablaze, even though we all imagined hundreds of such battles in our imagination. No need for imagination here, as Lando has got Han covered by tossing him his blaster as they try to get out of the Kessel mine. This images makes me smile, like Sidious in action, because it was the real-life visual of something I could only dream up for decades. It was well worth the wait.
5. A hard screen shot to capture, but this moment is one of many favorite musical moments for me in the film.
I'll admit I was slow to warm up to the John Powell score for Solo. It was so different from other Star Wars soundtracks, but I gotta say, this one has shot up the rankings for me. The score is fast-paced, emotional and percussion-heavy, filled with perfect callbacks to some of John Williams's best themes. In this shot, the Falcon has outraced the Imperial blockade. The music moves from an Asteroid Field-inspired frenzy to this very quiet, almost relieved movement. Quiet flute notes hit a high mark on the music sheet, signaling a brief respite from the chaos for our heroes. It's such a calm sequence, and comes at the end of the track "Reminiscence Therapy." This part of the track begins at the 5:23 mark of the track and goes on for a bit longer in the soundtrack than it does in the film. A wonderful gear shift from Powell, who did outstanding work from top to bottom on this soundtrack.
6. "Kelly Kelly Kelly!" That was my first introduction to Woody Harrelson, circa 1991 in his breakout role on "Cheers." He has since gone on to a remarkable career, and I was excited to hear of him being cast in Solo. His character, Tobias Beckett, is gray and likable throughout. He has a tough exterior, but his heart is evident.
Woody's comedic talents comes through in an otherwise tense scene, as he's trying to get the coaxium into the Falcon's engine during the Kessel Run. "SHUT UP AND LET ME DO THIS!" is something I have been dying to say to impatient coworkers for years and years. Someday, I swear I will actually use that line in a real life situation.
That's the word that comes to mind here. That word was made famous in the film Young Guns (1988), a film set in a very different place - the old West - compared to a Star Wars setting. But it was very apt here. We see Lando blow off Han here on Savareen, but again, our imaginations kick in. We know their paths will cross again, and they will work together, or at least try to, many times in our imagination. The novel Last Shot is full of great Han-Lando stuff, but I'd always be up for more from our favorite heroic smugglers.
8. Here is the second of my three favorite musical moments in the score. The tunes you hear in this scene open the track "Savareen Stand-Off" on the CD soundtrack. I hardly know what instruments were being used by Powell in the first 30 seconds of this track, but they drop into this scene so perfectly. Han, Beckett, Chewie and Qi'ra are noticing the natives all around them, silent and appearing to be depressed. The music gives a deserted town in the desert feel to it. This track goes on to be more revealing and epic in nature as Enfys Nest reveals her true identity and the wonderful Marauder's theme comes back, quieter than previously, with a low male chorus underplaying the scene. A wonderful musical salad here.
9. Musical moment number three. Welcome back, Duel of the Fates! Well, an abbreviated, quieter version of it.
The reveal of Maul was a complete shock to me. I had no idea he'd show up, and his inclusion was a stroke of genius by Ron Howard and the Kasdans. It immediately linked this film much more tangibly to the greater saga, especially for those of us who have so enjoyed The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series. There was no hint Maul would show up, no clues or bread crumbs left by lines or characters earlier in the film. Nor were any hints dropped in the pre-release publicity tours made by the actors, writers and director. A secret well-kept, everyone.
Maul is getting a good amount of notice now, with his large role in the final few episodes of the Clone Wars. There's a fill-in story begging to be told, about Maul's rise to power within Crimson Dawn, and how Qi'ra fits into all that.
10. Name a more iconic duo. I'll wait.
A shout out here to Joonas Suotamo, who has inherited the role of Chewbacca from the late and beloved Peter Mayhew. Joonas has played the character in four of the five Disney-era films, and has done a more-than admirable job in the costume. But beyond his performance, I love how much the role means to Joonas, and the seriousness with which he takes his role. He completely understands what Chewbacca means to fans around the world, and embraces the part to the fullest. I saw him speak at Star Wars Galactic Nights in Hollywood Studios in 2018, and couldn't have been more impressed with him. I hope he knows his love and respect for the character of Chewbacca is evident and highly respected by me and fans across the world. Here's hoping you get many more romps in the suit, Joonas!
Alden Ehrenreich was such a pleasant surprise as Han. I do not envy the young man, and the pressure he had to feel to step into a role few would accept him in. Yes, a role like this could be rocket fuel for a career. or it could bomb it, entirely. I thought he perfectly balanced the known, reliable traits of Han while properly aging them down, for a more realistic pre-ANH portrayal of the character.
Brad’s Escapism Moment in Solo
I'll admit, I had lowered expectations for this film before my first viewing, mainly because Han wasn't among my favorite Star Wars characters. But this is the film I return to most often among the five recent entries in the saga. It's just a guaranteed good time, with plenty of laughs, fun characters, exciting adventure, and the promise of other stories, as yet untold.
In closing, sign me up for the #MakeSolo2Happen movement. I'm ready to have more fun in this little corner of the Star Wars Universe.
Coming next: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.