Off the Shelf…’Solo: A Star Wars Story’

In the post-trilogy landscape, there have been some really great Star Wars films that exist beyond the hallowed Episodes IV, V and VI. The Force Awakens, even as a thinly veiled remake of A New Hope is so much fun. Rogue One is the prequel you’ve been looking for, and along comes Solo: A Star Wars Story attempting to flesh out the mythology of everyone’s favorite smuggling scoundrel.

Did it work? Let’s just say that in our theatrical review of Solo, we were not very kind (check that out here). But having seen this four times now, I have warmed to this story which is serviceable and quite thrilling in parts. Say what you will, but I can now look past most of its faults. I also like Encino Man, Mannequin and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, so I’ve never claimed to have super high standards. But the film is fun if you, much like young movie goers, try not to think of the original trilogy (admittedly, that is nearly impossible to do). Also the supplements in this Blu-Ray edition add a lot to this release, and the visuals are really stunning.

In addition to us running through all the special features in this Blu-Ray review, I did want to look at one thing that we missed last time: John Powell’s score. From a musical standpoint, the British composer dug deep to come up with a sensational score for Solo. The narrative bits are not without fault, but the score more than makes up for the shortcomings, the heaps of fan service and, oof, that lighting. The score is exemplary; lush, layered, reverent, and sensational, and it truly gets better with each listen. The choral work is an acquired taste, but it’s a solid score and fast moving up the list of my all-time favorites.⁠

The way Powell handles his themes, as well as iconic Williams’ cues, makes this a patchwork that offers nostalgic warmth while feeling incredibly fresh. It’s also really catchy. It’s easily is best score since How to Train Your Dragon. He has a way of delivering a multi-layered score that builds and builds in a way you don’t hear the brilliance until it’s over. It’s so engrossing, especially because of how simple everything starts. It’s a mad dance of themes and this film is no exception. Now on to the supplements.

Of the special features, “Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable” is the most fun because it shows you that the team had a blast making the film. Here, director Ron Howard and the stars sit for an intimate, comical, and entertaining discussion of their experience on Solo. And this film is quite the passing of the torch in many ways. We not only get young versions of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, but iconic Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan both write this story. In “Kasdan on Kasdan“, the two share what it was like to write the movie’s script together.

The action in the film is, as stated above, is thrilling, and a lot of that comes with the practical sets – something that’s become a standard in the SW series after Ep III was released. Three features focus on that. First is “The Train Heist“. This supplement explores the challenges and thrills creating that action-packed sequence, including its remote location and spectacular effects. Following that, “Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run” Han and Chewie take control of the Millennium Falcon to see how this legendary moment in Star Wars history unfolds. This is the best if the supplements because of how they filmed the sequence with an enormous wrap around rear projection screen. The actors really reacted to real-time imagery that was photorealistic, and didn’t require a lot of post-production effects. Last is “Escape from Corellia“. The film starts with a chase through the streets of Corellia, and this making of also touches on the actual stunt driving/drifting and practical effects that make it so gripping.

The next two features shift focus on supporting characters in “Team Chewie” and “Becoming a Droid: L3-37“. The former shows what it takes to bring your favorite Wookiee to life (check out our video interview with actor Joonas Suotamo here) in this lighthearted look behind the scenes. The latter spends time getting to know the newest droid L3-37 and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who helped bring her from a green spandex clad costumed actress to believable CG droid.

New Star Wars directors try their hand at outdoing the Mos Eisley Cantina (not an easy task), and Solo really does have a notable bar-based sequence. In “Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso“, the production team give viewers an in-depth tour of the rough-and-tumble bar. It’s one of the most smile-inducing scenes in the film (the music really adds to it), and watching Han and Lando play Sabaac has high replay value. Bradford Young explains why much of the film is so dark, and ILM designers briefly touch on how they invented the rules for Sabaac.

There are eight deleted scenes and, sadly, they are mostly forgettable. Pity because I was really holding out hope that any edited bit would have added to the story. That said, Proxima (voiced by the great Linda Hunt) had such a small role despite being mentioned ominously in the title cards, does get some more screen time.

As we get to see the Millennium Falcon change hands from Lando to Han, the supplement, “Remaking the Millennium Falcon“, tracks the transformation of the most famous ship in the galaxy, from Lando’s swank and impeccable pride and joy to Han’s stripped-down hot-rod freighter with “special modifications.” A nice added bit to this is footage of George Lucas showing up on one day of filming..

G-S-T RULING:

Aside from being a film people may have wanted (but audiences didn’t need), Solo has many noteworthy components. Paramount among them is Donald Glover; he plays the role exceptionally. And you really have to give it to Alden Ehrenreich for giving it his best Harrison Ford even if he’s only kind of channeling Han Solo. The ending is fairly good, and the scenes with the Falcon are exciting. It would have been nice if this was received better in theaters – things were set up nicely for a sequel – but this might be the end of the road for these spin-offs..for now at least. Still, I have no problem putting this on my shelf along with the other Star Wars films.