Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) – Stupid Title in a Great Adventure

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a stupid title. We know the film is about Han Solo, so adding that is “A Star Wars Story” tells us nothing we don’t already know. Given that they wanted to make a Trilogy out of this film I’m not sure how they’d show they are different, but I’m good with the sequels having different titles. Beyond my gripe about this title, I really liked this movie and thought it was a great. This was a film that explores the underworld of “Star Wars” where there are thieves, pirates and gangsters and no one is to be trusted. I enjoyed this film so much that I would watch sequels as the core cast and story were compelling and I found myself entranced through this entire side adventure within the Star Wars Franchise.

The film was directed by Ron Howard, (after the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired) and written by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan.

The story follows the adventures of Han Solo and explores how he became the smuggler we know in “A New Hope.” I’ll get more into that later on but the core of the plot is how he gets the Millennium Falcon and his motivation for going into the smuggler life. 

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The “Star Wars” Underworld – The underworld is one of the core parts of the Star Wars films. We see Jabba and his palace in “Return of the Jedi” and get glimpses of the underworld of Coruscant in the prequels and in series like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” tv series. I like this world… this is a world where money and power run everything and even the Empire stays out of their way. It is here, where we see characters make difficult and dark choices, as a matter of course and “Solo” does not disappoint in that regards. This film develops the underworld and we see the toll it takes on those who are forced into it or choose to become a part of it.

The Cloud Riders – This is a pirate group that is always getting in on Beckett’s jobs, as we see, he and the leader have a history with one another. I won’t spoil what happens with them, but there is more to them than meets the eye and, like everyone in this movie, they are far more complex than they first appear to be.

Tobias Beckett and his Crew – Woody Harrelson is fantastic as Beckett, a corrupt guy out for himself but, also, caring, as we see he’s married to his partner Val and clearly loves her. As well as, great rapport with his pilot, Rio, an alien with four arms and attitude. Eventually Chewie and Han join this group on a train heist job. The crew has a great dynamic and I would have watched a show about the 5 of them. Han joins them after he discovers their con and becomes part of their crew. 

Dryden Vos and the Crimson Dawn – Paul Bettany plays an amazing villain. This is a guy who reeks threat and charm as he invades peoples’ space, and does all he can to disarm them before ever having to fight them. You can tell why he became leader of the Crimson Dawn, as he flies in a huge ship to track his assets to make sure they finish their jobs. His power is far reaching, too, as Qi’ra and Han were orphans under the control of Lady Proxima, and now she is under Vos and the Crimson Dawn’s control. His organization has become one of the most powerful gangs in the galaxy. 

Lando – Donald Glover captures Lando’s charm beautifully. Young Lando is a gambler who does what he wants, and will cheat to win. This provides an interesting dynamic with Han who is idealistic and good at this point, where Lando shows the direction Han will go. Lando, of course, owns the Millennium Falcon and his co-pilot is L3, a droid who believes in equal rights for droids and has a complicated relationship with Lando.

Han and Chewbacca – Han and Chewbacca are the heart of the film, as we see that they have each others back on multiple occasions. Initially they start out distrusting each other and depending on one another for simple survival, but with each sacrifice they make for each other, they soon become partners and close friends by the end of the film.

Okay:

Qi’ra – Qi’ra is Han’s childhood friend and love interest. Amelia Clarke does a decent job in the role, but I wouldn’t call her super memorable. She plays her part in the advancement of the plot and there are some great twists with her character, but I feel more could have been done. I wanted more scenes of her with Han, so their relationship could be developed further and so that the romance would feel more real.

Fanservice – Want to learn how characters got their nicknames or names? Want to know why the Falcon looks why it does? Want to get some “A New Hope” references? Well, you will get all this, and more, in this film. It never gets as bad as “Rogue One” in the references and the original characters carry the film. So much of the fanservice wasn’t needed and I would have preferred we never had the questions answered.

The Cons:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is really dark. There were times I had trouble seeing what was going on on screen and had to depend wholly on what I heard the characters were saying, rather than what I was seeing. This was a huge detriment and what kept the film from being the perfect film of its type.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” was a film that as far as I know, no one was asking for, but in the end I was glad it got made. Hearing about the development hell, from the firing of the first directors, to hiring an acting coach for the lead… I was ready to hate this film. I had no expectations and was really annoyed this film even existed. “Solo” has now become one of my favorite “Star Wars” films. The film takes risks by giving us a world where no one can be trusted and the status quo is loss. I would watch sequels to this film, and cared far more about the characters here than I did anyone in “Rogue One.” If you like “Star Wars” or heist films, check it out. It is well worth your time and for me it did not disappoint.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“Westworld” Season 1 – A Beautiful Masterpiece and Exploration of What it Means to be Human and Honoring a Friend

       This is going to be a different review than what I usually do, as this was originally going to be a collaboration with my friend Athen. He was going to write about the cinematography as that had always been of his and I was going to do my usual character and themes focus…He was killed by a drunk driver and I want to do this review to honor him. He was one of the most amazing of friends and this review is in honor of him. As part of this I won’t be discussing the cinematography as that is what he was going to cover.

     “Westworld” is the kind of show that tackles the big questions of self, humanity and morality. It was the kind of show I think he would have loved, which is why I think it was recommended to us both at the party where the idea for the collaboration was born.

    The story takes place in the future on a planet where tourists can go and let off steam in a place where they can’t get killed and robots play the roles of humans in a wild west format. From here the story unfolds as we get glimpses of the past and present as the mystery of Westword (the planet) unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is a beautiful sci. fi. landscape that reminds me so much of the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” with the Hosts in the place of the Cylons. There is so much politicing at play both in the game of Westworld and outside of it among those who want to control the world. It is a fantastic mystery to unravel and Season 2 is setup really well.

The Soundtrack – Ramin Dwajadi is one of the best composers out there and his beautiful style is on display here as well. It captures the mystery and emotion that pervades the tone of the show and also the characters that inhabit the world.

The Characters – The characters are the best part with my favorite being Bernard, who we find out was created by Ford after his partner who wanted to bring sentience to the hosts is killed. Jeffrey Wright did an amazing job. Anthony Hopkins as Ford the current owner of the park is fantastic as always too with the Man in Black as an unknown threat seeking the point of the game, Maeve as the prostitute host who remembers and rebels and Dolores the one tied to the Man in Black’s past and bringing about freedom to the hosts in the park/world. All of these characters and even the corporate suits characters are enough of a draw to drive the scenes, even when there is filler.

The Narrative Format – The narrative format jumps between time as we come to see Dolores’s past and how it relates to the Man in Black and his corruption into a villain, Bernard and the man whose image and legacy he carries on as a host, Ford and his manipulations to bring about freedom for the hosts and Maeve’s story interwoven in real time through it all.

Are We Simply Machines Holding Memory – This is a major theme of the show and it is something that Ford would argue that we do. He makes this argument to one of the suits trying to stop him  and in a sense it plays into how willing he is to kill people, to him they are just like his machines, except he didn’t create them…so he doesn’t care. This gives him a fascinating perspective as he is a contradiction…the man who both cares and doesn’t care.

What Defines a Person? – Is it memory or personality? Nature or nurture? We deal with this question in how Maeve forms her identity as she realizes it all is a lie but comes to embrace the  core programming of the belief she as a daughter (even though it was a past story and life) and that is what brings her back even as she knows about he wider world. Westworld, still pulls her in. Her memories she was given still define her experience and shape her personality and choice.

The Ending – the ending is powerful and ends with the hosts rebelling as Dolores kills Ford and the hosts turn on the Board. Bernard who has just learned he is a host a little while ago, watches on as do other hosts who are still figuring out who they  are as Maeve returns to Westworld to find her daughter. It is powerful and sets up Season 2 beautifully. HBO really did create an amazing show.

The Cons: Maeve and the Lack of Oversight in the Lab – At one point Maeve wakes up and holds the Doctors who repair her hostage. How no one notices her walking around with them or her holding them hostage had me baffled. Shouldn’t the hosts have better security? There is a fear in the world of them hurting people so why not oversight? Suffice to say, Maeve had a lot of plot armor through this arc.

“Westworld” Conclusion – “Westworld” is a show well worth your time if you are interested in Sci. Fi., especially as it relates to A.I. and what it means to be human. There is amazing character development and the world is rich enough that there is still so much to be explored, even though Season 1 is very complete, even with the rebellion starting at the end. I can’t wait for Season 2 and what else we will learn about ourselves, the hosts and the universe of “Westworld.”

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Project A10 – Athen’s amazing girlfriend created this project. I highly recommend watching the video.

Please remember not to drink to drink and drive, as you never know what life you are going to take away and how many lives you are going to touch. Life is fleeting and you never know the power you have on the lives of others, for both good and ill. It was a person’s stupidity that took away a friend, please don’t do the same.

R.I.P. Athen. I miss you.