The Bock’s Office: ‘Solo’ shoots first, shoots big
“Solo: A Star Wars Story,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 135 minutes
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Donald Glover
Now playing at Steamboat Springs’ Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
If there’s one character in the entire fictional galaxy whose backstory you wanted — no, needed — to know, there’s no reason they shouldn’t get their own full movie. Sadly, R2-D2 fans will have to wait for the full details of his manufacturing, so in the meantime, we have “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
Like most of the lost youth of Corellia, a boy named Han (Alden Ehrenreich) has only ever known a life of crime and corruption, one in which he gives as good as he gets.
With dreams of finally getting away from his oppressive home world and taking to the stars as a pilot alongside his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), the escape plan doesn’t work out quite as it should.
With few options, Han enrolls in the Imperial Navy for the possibility of at least getting somewhere, yet his distaste for taking orders only results in disaster.
But, he may have found a way to make a living doing something that plays to his strengths when he crosses paths with a master criminal (Woody Harrelson) in need of some extra hands for a big heist.
And, thanks to making a new friend for life in the form of an eight-foot-tall Wookiee (Joonas Suotamo), Han is finally on his way to the adventures he always wanted.
If he can stay alive.
Ehrenreich isn’t quite a dead ringer physically for Harrison Ford, but you can’t say that his smug smile and tough talk isn’t exactly how you pictured everyone’s favorite space cowboy in his formative years. He’s got the charisma down right, with an added layer of optimism that hasn’t yet been beaten out of him, even when he’s serving as a feisty Oliver Twist to a crime boss named Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt), the answer to the query of what if a giant worm spoke with the voice of an aged Bette Davis.
Plus, after four decades, it’s also curious to find out that the origins of Han’s surname have nothing to do with family.
As for the beast that will eventually become his right-hand man, Finnish basketball player Suotamo continues to fill in for the retired Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, whose only reason for not devouring Han on first sight is a mutual need to free themselves from imprisonment.
Let’s not think too much about how an uneducated kid somehow is somehow fluent in the guttural growls of the people of Kashyyyk and lucks into a conversation with him.
Harrelson is passable as Tobias Beckett — hands down, the dullest name in this franchise — a longtime thief looking to get out of the game with his wife (Thandie Newton) following one last score.
That’s what they all say, right?
At least Jon Favreau is fun in this crew as the voice of Rio Durant, a motor-mouth alien and pilot that’s essentially a four-armed chimpanzee — think “BJ and the Bear” but with laser turrets.
Clarke is likewise serviceable if not spectacular as the woman who walks back into Han’s life, once an innocent scrapper, now a savvy capo for a shady syndicate known as Crimson Dawn, whose leader (Paul Bettany) could give Tony Montana a run for his money with the nickname Scarface.
Still, Donald Glover steals the show with the most brilliant bit of casting as a dashing young scoundrel named Lando Calrissian, carrying all the suaveness of Billy Dee Williams along with a deep love for capes and a knack for always having the best hand in a card game.
Oh, and the keys to a certain hunk of junk that will play a very important part yet to come.
As much as you care about the timeline of ownership of the Millennium Falcon or finally learning what the hell the Kessel Run is and why 12 parsecs actually matters, it’s other elements of the “Star Wars” universe that are more intriguing as the installment that’s closer than ever to the Western and gangster genres.
Seeing a fan favorite like Chewie have to go through his paces to gain some respect as he dons his bandolier is a crucial step, as is the treatment of Lando’s sidekick, a no-nonsense, outspoken droid named L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), whose idea for a quick diversion is to descend her mechanical mates into pure anarchy.
With a script by franchise pro Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan, there are points when it feels like old times, both to the movie’s benefit and detriment.
Direction by Ron Howard also varies from that of “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” and “Rogue One” with a filmmaker of the same generation as George Lucas, making you think this is only a placeholder until the Mos Eisley Cantina.
It is that, ultimately, but we go through some unexpected, unpredictable maneuvers to get there, and a genuinely shocking finale is an indicator that there could be more to come and that ain’t a bad thing.
Though it touches down in summer — when all “Star Wars” flicks should — “Solo” comes only months behind “Last Jedi” at a time when we’re starting to experience fatigue as Disney cuts down on the wait time between movies, which is probably only going to sting them.
Still, the anticipation of Han’s early days is well met in a feature where the Empire isn’t the worst antagonist and social justice is an important theme.
Let’s get some hashtags trending. I’m thinking #WokeLikeaWookiee or #DroidLivesMatter.