Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Director: Ron Howard Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany

A young Han Solo finds himself getting involved with a criminal gang planning to steal from the Empire, as he tries to get together enough money to buy a ship. Through several twists of fate he meets Chewbacca, soon becoming his co-pilot, and the untrustworthy Lando Calrissian with whom he forms an alliance of convenience.

As everyone keeps saying, this is the Star Wars prequel that no one asked for. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know that back story of Han, as his mystery is all part of the allure, but actually the story is quite enjoyable and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I mean, I started with very low expectations so that probably helped, but on the whole I think it’s a good film.

Starting with the good points, Solo is a good stand alone film without have any prior knowledge of the Star Wars universe. I think that’s why it’s unfair for people to criticise it- on it’s own, as a film there’s not much wrong with it and it’s a fun family adventure. Obviously it’s no The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s not part of the central Star Wars saga so it’s not fair to compare it. Alden Ehrenreich is fine as Han Solo- at some moments I could see that he was going for some of the classic Harrison Ford mannerisms, and although he slightly misses the mark, I can justify that in my head as because he’s a younger Han Solo he’s no going to be exactly the same as the fully developed Han Solo of the original trilogy. I really liked the story of how Han and Chewie meet, and their friendship has enough screen time so that you can properly see it develop. There were lots of great little references to the original films- but not so much as to make it not work as a standalone film- such as the Kessel run (settling once and for all the Great Parsec Debate), Han’s lucky dice, his legendary blaster and of course the classic issue of Han shooting first.

As I mentioned, most of the references to the originals are subtle enough for it not to matter to new viewers but long-time Star Wars fans will appreciate them. However, without wanting to give away any spoilers, the final scene with Qi’ra (Han’s love interest) and the big reveal of who she works for may not make a lot of sense to those new to the franchise and might seem a bit random. It definitely needs expanding on and I think that’s why there are rumours circulating that Solo will be trilogy.

Solo is an enjoyable yarn, and I’d probably place it mid-table in the list of all the Star Wars films. For people who aren’t into Star Wars it’s a good entry into the franchise, and is fun and light-hearted but with well-developed characters and a storyline that makes sense. Don’t let the bad reviews put you off and miss out on seeing it at the cinema!

4 stars

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Following the events of The Force Awakens, the resistance are still fighting against the First Order. Rey has been sent to find Luke Skywalker, while the others try to hold on as they wait for Luke to come to help them out.

As with The Force Awakens, I went to the 12.01am showing on the day of release in my Star Wars t-shirt, like the massive saddo I am. Compared to last time, however, it wasn’t all great and for every fantastic scene there was a bad scene of equal proportions.

Starting with the positives, Luke was awesome in this movie and single-handedly makes up for the bad bits. I’ve pretty much completely forgiven him for being a whiney teenager in A New Hope, and his story arc in this was convincing and added a lot of depth and grit to Luke’s character. Luke and Rey’s relationship was interesting to watch and had a lot of to-and-fro, making it unpredictable, and it added a lot to the general plot to explore a bit more of what happened between Luke and Kylo Ren. The final scenes of the movie are essentially centred around Luke and it really brings the whole thing in at the end. I’m not sure what Mark Hamill has been doing in the years since Star Wars acting-wise, but he has seriously stepped his game up and he was brilliant in this.

Rey was good in this and I liked seeing her interact more with Kylo Ren and the conflict between bad and good that all Jedis face. Poe Dameron was in this film way more than the last one, and since he’s a fan fave I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate that. It was good to see Carrie Fisher, apart from one totally ridiculous scene (probably the worst in the movie) that you’ll definitely agree with me on when you see it.

My main gripe with the film is that it’s quite bitty and feels disjointed a lot of the time. There are several storylines going on at the same time and it jumps around a fair bit. The worst part is that Finn’s storyline pretty much has no outcome on the conclusion of the film, so he’s basically irrelevant and I think his character is wasted. I would have liked to see him more with Poe Dameron, as The Force Awakens kind of sets up their friendship but then doesn’t build on it here. There are a lot of new characters introduced, most of which are kind of pointless and I’m not really sure what their purpose is.

Finally, without wanting to give too much away, there were several scenes in which I thought they could have brought back some old faces here and there, which totally would have satisfied the Star Wars nostalgia in me. There were actually two separate lines of plot in which it would have completely made sense to bring back Lando- but alas, we’ll just have to be satisfied with a young Lando in next year’s Han Solo spin-off.

So, would I recommend this? Yes, of course, because it’s Star Wars and I have a very biased view of the whole thing as a fan since early childhood. However, it’s certainly not the best Star Wars film as some reviews have stated and I would probably rank it fifth overall, after the original three and The Force Awakens. As I’ve said, there are good and bad moments but the good scenes are really really good so the stupid bits can just about be balanced out (if I’m feeling in a generous mood). I’ll certainly go back in a couple of weeks to watch it again as I really do think you pick up a lot more second time around, and there are already a couple of scenes to which I’m now wishing I had paid more attention. Hardcore fans will enjoy it but casual fans probably won’t do so as much.

3.5 stars

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Smits

A few years into the Clone Wars and Senator Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) is about to take over the galaxy. His final part of the plan involves luring Anakin to the Dark Side to take on as his new apprentice. Meanwhile, the rest of the Jedi continue to fight the separatists across the galaxy.

Last one of the prequels, and I’d say arguably the best (which by no way means it’s a great film, but it’s all relative). Most of the tedious Anakin whinging is out of the way and he finally gets around to some action- even if it does involve being duplicitous with the Jedi and killing children. By far, by far the best part of this film is the last half hour or so. We finally get around to seeing the ultimate events that lead to the creation of the best villain in movie history (a known fact), Darth Vader. There’s a bit at the end where they show infamous Darth Vader helmet finally being put onto Anakin, and he breathes through it for the first time with that legendary sound effect- absolute gold.

Throughout the prequels Obi-Wan has got increasingly more annoying, with a ton of stupid one-liners and generally not really doing much of note. However his character brings it back at the end as he starts taking things seriously and takes it upon himself to watch over Luke after being saddened not to be able to save Anakin from the Dark Side. The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is a little long, but it’s actually almost moving to see them part ways- far more so than Anakin and Padme. Speaking of which, Padme ends her character arc on a terrible low point, having been a pretty strong female character in The Phantom Menace. She pretty much spends the whole film crying and just “loses the will to live” at the end- that’s her actual cause of death, what an anticlimax… However, the whole Anakin/Padme relationship has been unconvincing right from the start, so to be honest at this point who cares. It’s all about Anakin and Obi-Wan by the end.

Much like with Rogue One, as a Star Wars fan some of the best parts of this film were the nods to the original trilogy and how it sets up the following films in the Star Wars timeline. Towards the end of the film everything falls in the place, and fans will find themselves saying “ahhh, so that’s how that happens”. Although generally speaking the prequel trilogy has a lot of pointless plot points, finally we get to the real substance of what is effectively a Darth Vader (and Darth Sidious, to a lesser extent) origins story.

It’ll never be a cinematic masterpiece and is by no means on a level with the original trilogy, but it contains all the elements you need to nicely lead you into Rogue One/A New Hope and is good for providing context. If you only watch one of the prequels, watch this one for sure (and save yourself from much pain and suffering by skipping the other two).

3 stars

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Director: George Lucas Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz

The films I sit through for the sake of this blog, I tell you. Set 10 years after the events of The Phantom Menace, Anakin is now well into his Jedi training under the guidance of Obi-Wan. After an attempt on Padmé’s life Anakin is tasked with guarding her, while Obi-Wan goes off to find the perpetrators and discovers a clone army in the making. Also the one where Obi-Wan hates flying and Anakin hates sand.

Easily the worst of all the Star Wars films, it’s hard to find any positives. If you thought the acting was bad in The Phantom Menace, think again. To be fair, the actors are again not helped by a poor script and jumpy storyline, but the outstanding characters by a long distance are Mace Windu and Count Dooku- Samuel L Jackson and Christopher Lee respectively (who can basically do no wrong in my eyes). Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber just about saves us from oblivion.

In terms of relevance to the Star Wars story arc, this is the film where we start to see Anakin’s temptation towards the Dark Side. As I mentioned in my review of The Phantom Menace, the Anakin in this film is pretty much a completely different person. I know people can change a lot over 10 years but this is just taking the biscuit. And why does he suddenly have a thing for Padmé? There was no inkling in that in the previous instalment, yet right from the start of Attack of the Clones it’s integral to the storyline. It just doesn’t make any sense I tell you!!

Plot continuity/realism aside, I do appreciate that his love for Padmé is vital to his eventual downfall. However, I can see much more evidence of his move to the Dark Side when his mother is killed by Tuscan Raiders and he slaughters the whole group of them in revenge. His anguish regarding his mother makes far more sense than his out-of-nowhere passion for Padmé, and therefore it’s more convincing in showing and explaining his downfall.

As for the rest of the film, not much else happens to be honest. It’s hard to follow who’s doing what and where and why and working on behalf of whom. Basically, the film takes more than two hours to show that: 1. Anakin is being drawn to the Dark Side (could be done with that one Tusken Raiders scene, 10 minutes tops); and 2. Palpatine is pretty much manipulating everyone to take over the Republic and become Emperor. While The Phantom Menace is quite good at kicking off the storyline that leads to the creation of the Empire, Attack of the Clones doesn’t really advance the process at all. In summary, most of the events of this film are basically irrelevant.

Is this film worth watching? To be honest, no. Even an avid Star Wars fan like myself can skip this one and won’t miss much of the geekery associated with the Star Wars universe. Don’t waste your time by putting yourself through the struggle of watching Anakin describe how much he hates sand.

1.5 stars (that extra half is for you, Mace Windu)