[Screen It]


(2018) (Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi: A young thief ends up on an intergalactic journey as he attempts to score enough money to buy a ship and return to and get his girlfriend off their home planet.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo (ALDEN EHRENREICH) is a young thief who lives on the planet Corellia where he, along with others like him, pulls off crime jobs for a huge worm creature, Lady Proxima (voice of LINDA HUNT). But having recently stolen a speeder and a valuable fuel source known as coaxium, he thinks he and Qi'ra (EMILIA CLARKE), a fellow thief and his girlfriend, will be able to bribe their way off the planet and travel somewhere far away across the galaxy.

Things don't go as planned, however, and when Qi'ra is captured while he gets away, he joins the Empire in hopes of becoming a pilot so that one day he can return to Corellia and save Qi'ra. Three years later, however, he's just a grunt engaged in trench warfare on some distant planet. He sees his chance to escape when he realizes that one of the captains there, Tobias Beckett (WOODY HARRELSON), is really an imposter with a small crew of bandits. When he blows the whistle on him in hopes of blackmailing Beckett into allowing him to tag along and get off the planet, he's outranked and thrown into a pit where he's to be the victim of a feared monster who turns out to be none other than the Wookie Chewbacca (JOONAS SUOTAMO).

They manage to escape together and convince Beckett to allow them to leave the planet along with Beckett's crew that consists of Beckett's lady, Val (THANDIE NEWTON), as well as their four-armed pilot, Rio (JON FAVREAU). Han's plan is to help with one heist, make enough money to buy a ship, and get back to his home planet to rescue Qi'ra. But things go amiss when a group of marauding space pirates led by Enfys Nest attack in hopes of securing the same valuable booty that's ultimately lost in the melee. All of which means Beckett now owes a lot of money to powerful crime boss Dryden Vos (PAUL BETTANY) whose right-hand lieutenant is now none other than Qi'ra.

She's ordered to accompany Han, Beckett, and Chewbacca as they attempt to pull off another but more dangerous heist where they're going to need a fast ship to make that happen. Enter Lando Calrissian (DONALD GLOVER) and his droid partner L3-37 (voice of PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE) who just so happen to have such a vessel, the Millennium Falcon. From that point on, the rag-tag group of thieves must contend with the various perils of their mission, another run-in with Enfys Nest, and the uneasy prospect of what will happen to all of them should they fail.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In the old days of Hollywood, studios were usually hesitant to kill off beloved characters who appeared in TV shows or movie sequels. After all, most viewers kept coming back to see them and thus deaths were a rarity for well-known roles.

That is, of course, unless those playing them decided to stop for any number of reasons, but even then the powers that be would either recast the part (think of everyone who's played James Bond) or get creative in terms of resurrection, if you will, from the great beyond (such as occurred with Spock in the original "Star Trek" films after his demise in installment part deux).

Of course, nowadays, and especially in certain TV shows, it's not unusual for popular characters to get the ax, while in the movies that usually still involves recasting the part rather than killing the characters outright.

But what if that happens anyway, especially in a lucrative franchise such as, oh, I don't know, "Star Wars?" Well, since it appears Han Solo is no more after the events of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Disney has decided to put the timeline on rewind and bring us yet another offshoot film (from the main and numbered nine pics) with "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Granted, this isn't the first time one of Harrison Ford's iconic characters has been played by someone else at a younger age, what with River Phoenix doing so in the early scenes of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and Sean Patrick Flanery playing the part in the short-lived TV show "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles."

Yet, everyone (meaning only "Star Wars" fanatics) seemed concerned about this development, perhaps due to bad memories of a few of the franchise's characters from the central episodes (the original ones) appearing as younger versions of themselves in George Lucas' less than beloved part one-through-three trilogy.

Then again, perhaps some of that worry stemmed from industry news reports that this film's original directors -- Phil Lord and Chris Miller -- left the project about five months into production over "creative differences" and were replaced by Ron Howard who can often hit movies out of the park but sometimes also swings and misses.

And the rest may have understandably worried that this was little more than trying to milk as much moola out of this franchise as possible without being as concerned with the integrity of the story, characters and themes of this universe that Lucas created a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away.

Having seen the film, I can happily report that despite those trepidations and the fairly late in the game directorial switcheroo, this offering -- for the most part -- should satisfy diehard fans of the series as well as the rest of the movie-going world looking for some entertaining escapism at the movies.

That said, it takes a while for the 135-some minute film to get its footing and achieve the right balance, and for Alden Ehrenreich to step into Ford's shoes playing the character. But once both of those occur after some okay but less than stellar or even terribly interesting introductory sequences, the flick takes flight and never looks back, and offers hope that the inevitable sequel will continue carrying that momentum forward.

The story -- penned by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan -- exists in a "world" where the Empire exists but is more of a background presence (with occasional interruptions into the foreground of the plot) and there's no sign of anything The Force related. We first meet Han (Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend (Emilia Clarke) on a filthy planet from which they hope to escape via some thievery and bribery. But only he gets out and his next plan -- to become an Empire pilot so that he can get back to Corellia and extract Qi'ra -- similarly goes awry, resulting in him being an infantryman in some muddy trench warfare.

It's there, however, that he meets Captain Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who's an officer in name only as he's a longtime thief in charge of a small crew (played by Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) that's after a big prize. Han, with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) now in tow after a less than glamorous or civil introduction, talks his way into joining their team and soon they're on their way to the film's first big signature set piece. That's an old-fashioned train robbery where said train is of the high-speed kind racing along an elevated track through the mountains where both robotic sentinels and armed space pirates try to stymie the heist.

The failure of that leads to a visit to a crime kingpin (Paul Bettany) who isn't happy that the goods weren't delivered, so Han spitballs an idea that, while far-fetched and dangerous, might just work. If only they could find a ship that might not look like much but has it where it counts. Enter Lando Calrissian (a terrific Donald Glover), his partner (in more ways than one), the feminist, pro-robot rights droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and their ship, the Millennium Falcon.

It's from that point forward where things become more fun and entertaining and when Ehrenreich really finds the groove of the role. You might not ever believe he's a young Harrison Ford (unless you're near-sighted and forgot your corrective eyewear), but he increasingly gets the spirit and soul of the character right to the point that you stop making comparisons and go along for the ride.

There are some brief goosebump-raising moments as things connect back to events and elements from the original trilogy, but not enough to transition this from good to great. That said, Howard handles the action scenes admirably, the special effects are top-notch, and the score is good (if not coming anywhere close to John Williams' original work, that it occasionally references here and there).

Overall, I enjoyed "Solo: A Star Wars Story," but was never blown away by it, and that was even going in with low expectations. Regardless, if you've liked most if not all of the previous entries in this movie universe, you're probably going to be entertained. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed May 14, 2018 / Posted May 25, 2018

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