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VIEWS ON FILM -  
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews  
 

______________________________







(No Spoilers Review)
"SOLO" SHOOTS FIRST, ...
AND GIVES GOOD HAN

by CEJ  
(posted 6/2/18)

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)
(Walt Disney / LucasFilm)

 
GullCottage rating
(***** on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by - Ron Howard
Written by - Lawrence Kasdan
& Jonathan Kasdan
Based on characters by - George Lucas

Prod. by - Kathleen Kennedy,
Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel
Executive Prod. - Phil Lord,
Christopher Miller
Dir. Of Photography  - Bradford Young
Edited by - Pietro Scalia
Production Design by - Neil Lamont
Costume Design by - David Crossman,
Glyn Dillon

Music - John Powell
(John Williams - "Han Solo Theme"
and original STAR WARS music)
Running Time: 135 mins.




CAST:

Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Emelia Clarke (Qi'ra), Woody Harrelson (Tobias Beckett), Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Thandie Newton (Val), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37), Paul Bettany (Drydon Vos), Jon Favreau (voice of Rio Durant), Erin Kellyman (Enfys Nest), Linda Hunt (voice of Lady Proxima),
Ian Kenny (Rebolt), John Tui (Korso), Warwick Davis (Weazel), Anthony Daniels (Tak), Lily Newmark (Lexi),
Dave Chapman (Rio Durant & Lady Proxima performances), Katy Kartwheel (Rio Durant performance),
Harley Durst (Moloch performance), Andrew Jack (Moloch)




     In his 2000 film industry tome “Which Lie Did I Tell?” legendary screenwriter William Goldman, the pen behind such award winning classics as ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE PRINCESS BRIDE, refers to sequels as “whores’ movies” - meaning that no sequel (and by extension today also meaning no “remake”, “reboot” or “spin off“) was ever initiated for reasons other than monetary. Yeah, there have been some damned good sequels over the years. In fact many consider such “second time around-ers” as THE GODFATHER PT. II, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE ROAD WARRIOR (aka MAD MAX 2) to be improvements on already damned good originals. And you’re not likely to find much disagreement that 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS and 2006’s CASINO ROYALE were reboots which, while cine-artistic in their own right, added additional (some felt much needed) thematic and character layers to long existing franchises which in some regards had started going a little stale.






     Notwithstanding, Goldman’s now famous quote (mentioned in a book which itself was a sequel, by the way! - one to his earlier “Adventures In The Screen Trade” published in 1983) still holds water in that to get to the basic and ultimate reason as to why any of those aforementioned films was created, all you have to do is listen to Deep Throat’s advice from ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN and “Follow the money”. In some cases however “following the money” doesn’t always necessarily lead to whorish product at the end of the rainbow. But this of course depends upon the person or persons actually creating that product (as opposed to just the financier behind it), as well as their attitude while doing so.  

     Now, this next part may make some “squirm” (haha, you'll get that in a sec!). But bear with us.


 
     As we always felt “whores’ movies” was a bit harsh, some years ago we started thinking of cinematic sequels, spin offs and such as being more akin to a lapdance. Full disclosure, yeah, we’ve had our share of lapdances over the years. But so have many of you too, so don’t even front (as we used to say growing up in Philly). As said, bear with us, for as slightly off-color as this analogy may seem at first, we promise it nonetheless will be the most perfectly described - and maybe even enjoyable - review you read this week, explaining why we (and why we believe you too will) ohhh sooo enjoy Ron Howard’s “standalone” STAR WARS universe film SOLO as much as we. Oh, didn’t we say that to begin with? Well, good Lord, hell yeah! …




     We freakin’ love SOLO! In the same way Greedo gets blasted from his seat in that infamous cantina on Mos Eisley, so does SOLO shoot first and blasts our theater-seated asses across the room and into the stratosphere for one of the most engaging, exciting and downright enjoyable pure action /  adventure movies since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Think of it as the theater-going equivalent of the old commercial where the kid asks “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?“. Y’know, where as much as you devoured and enjoyed it ... there was still more! In the same way so does SOLO rev things up into hyper drive early on, then tosses in kitchen sink upon kitchen sink - funny, exciting, tragic and more - for the sake of a good time and more than your money’s worth.


     Stuffing eight weeks worth of nail-chewing serial cliffhanger sequences into a just-over-two-hour package, and crammed to the brim with more colorful pirates, crime lords, smugglers and rebels than the first two original STAR WARS films combined, SOLO is a filmic rollercoaster ride of a movie which only the most jaded of moof milkers can come away from not feeling like a twelve year old who just scored his or her first Hot Wheels race set on Christmas morning. Vroom, vroom!





     A great action film like DIE HARD on the surface kind of pretends to be a drama (with action), as if it’s almost ashamed of what it really is - a straight up actioner. And more recently acclaimed edge-of-your-seaters like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD are very much “socio-political” / action movie hybrids. Hell, even the STAR WARS franchise itself swims mostly in the sea of ancient myth, religion and history. And that’s why the best of those films which take place “A Long Time Ago” in that “Galaxy Far Far Away” work as well as they do. But while SOLO officially has it’s existence in that same universe, as the character of Han Solo himself  (here portrayed by BLUE JASMINE and HAIL, CAESAR!‘s Alden Ehrenreich as the young smuggler a decade before he crosses paths with Luke, Leia and Obi Wan) at this time has no personal experience with the concept of STAR WARS’ all important Force, the film itself has the thematic liberty to be unbeholden to the weight of such subtext either. And as such SOLO emerges as a STAR WARS film quite unlike any other - a balls-to-the-wall action flick which makes no pretense at being anything else.





     While all of the STAR WARS films glean inspiration from classic westerns, SOLO actually more than any other is a western - a transplanted one of course. In fact if you squint the eyes of your imagination and think "Civil War / Post Civil War era" you may even see tonal and thematic vestiges of JOSEY WALES all over the place.  It’s surely the most (for lack of a better term) “naturalistic” film of the STAR WARS cinematic universe, where the ultimate outcome of events is in no way determined, or even influenced, by what Harrison Ford’s cynical Han Solo in the first 1977 film derided as “a mystical energy field” of “simple tricks and nonsense”. Uh, uh! In SOLO the fate of characters living in a Force-less … or at least “Force-agnostic“-like … existence rests completely within each individual’s hands, intellect, talents and resourcefulness alone. And that’s a nice switch-up for a change. Yeah, this one's a nice little “joker in the deck” - which in a way is kind of what the Han Solo character himself has always been anyway, right?



     In our review 3 ½ years ago of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS it was mentioned how part of the reason that film, while enjoyable, never reached the level it perhaps could have and should have was because Disney and the then-new-in-place LucasFilm brass had decided from the git-go to make it more a space adventure rather than a space opera. But when you advertise in the title that your film is going to deal with the most important philosophical cornerstone of the STAR WARS universe, then you only pay a degree of superficial lip service to it, well, you’re kind of asking for trouble, which is what THE FORCE AWAKENS did receive from some fans and critics. And we acknowledge this “fault in our STAR (WAR)S“ in spite of the fact that we enjoyed THE FORCE AWAKENS more than most.


     As such, and for this reason, as much as many of the same complain about THE LAST JEDI, it’s dark and brooding narrative thematics do manage to mine the multi-angled nature of the Force arguably more and better than any other STAR WARS film since THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. SOLO on the other hand doesn’t feature a central character (or many other characters for that matter) who is “Force aware”. So in large part his film doesn’t have to be “Force aware” either. No, we certainly wouldn’t want to see all STAR WARS films go a Force-less route. But because of the cutting of that philosophical umbilical cord this time around SOLO can just be the best of action movie “lapdances” it sets out to be.


     Now, let's be honest - when one enters the back room of your friendly neighborhood gentleman’s club for a lapdance, both dancer and "consumer" know straight up and full well that the only reason she's there is for the money. She may not give a hoot about the guy's broad shoulders or smokey eyes or tight abs or any of the stuff she says she cares about and is turned on about said consumer. And the guy knows this! They both know this! But there is an agreed upon fantasy wherein she will play the part of being sincerely turned on; and the guy will reciprocate the fantasy that she is the only person in the world who turns him on to this degree. And in the end both leave contentedly - one having dived into fantasy-land, and the other having made a decent bit of change in the process. With film franchises (and economics in general for that matter) it can often be the same.





     The average studio isn't out for your love, but out for your ticket dollar. And as such you have on one hand those films and film makers who are obvious in the fact that the only reason they're there is for your money. They make no bones about not giving a damn about you, and they toss out crap that's been recycled ad infinitum, and which THEY KNOW IS RECYCLED CRAP!  It's not intended to get good reviews. It's not intended to be remembered fondly by the audience, or to be something you’ll watch every Thanksgiving with the fam. Be it a big studio or independent film it's produced for a certain amount of money and - like some cheaply made cars - "built-in obsolescence" is a part of the design. That way you‘ll come back for more. It's configured and executed to make more money in it’s opening weekend than it cost to produce and market. And the plan is "If we can make five or so of these per year, we'll stay in the black".  It's that simple, that obvious, and that annoying. It's a bad lapdance. 





   On the other hand you have recent films like say KONG: SKULL ISLAND, JASON BOURNE, Antoine Fuqua’s redo of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, DEADPOOL 2 … and yes, even some of those Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay movies - all of the above some kind of franchise continuation or extension - which will never be confused with high art, and are highly unlikely to ever be chosen by the National Film Registry as cinema of “cultural, historic and/or aesthetic importance to American heritage”. But they are films which love their audience; and the audience feels it. And when people exit such films they not only glance back and forth at one another with smiles on their faces, but they also felt like they got their $14 dollars worth, … or more if it was IMAX 3D. They felt like they got something they couldn't have back home watching TV or streaming Netflix. They received a damn great cinematic equivalent of a lapdance from the best, most tight-abbed Vegas hip and booty shaker who ever threw their all into a set.





     So yeah, on one level SOLO is but the latest in Disney / LucasFilm’s annual drive to separate you from your cash by dangling the words “Star Wars“ in front of you like a hypnotist‘s watch. So, if you’re going to judge it because it is such - because it is a watch, an annual drive, or a non-pretentious “toss your popcorn box in the air at the end of the movie as a sign that you loved it” action flick (which is what we used to do back in the day at the Fox Theater in Willingboro, N.J.), then you’ll have much to complain about. And you should probably click away to another web page so as to not waste your valuable time. But if you’re willing to “adjust your navi-computer as we plot our course for hyperspace” then “buckle up, baby!” and settle in, you’re likely to find that SOLO is one of the best movie lapdances in quite some time.  Okay, off-color analogies all out of the way now. But we told ‘ya it would make sense. And we’re pretty certain you won’t be reading a movie review along these lines anytime soon in The Hollywood Reporter or Variety. Haha! …






SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Trailer 2)






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It is a lawless time.
CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources – food, medicine, and HYPERFUEL.
On the shipbuilding planet of CORELLIA, the foul LADY PROXIMA forces
runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection.
On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, ...
but yearns to fly among the stars ...



SOLO (2018) score - "The Adventures of Han Solo" (J. Williams)


"THE KASDAN EFFECT"

     While Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Donald Glover get top billing along with director Ron Howard, the real star of SOLO is screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. A “young Han Solo film” was conceptualized by George Lucas in 2012 just before he sold the LucasFilm empire to the Walt Disney Company for over $4 billion. And at that time Lucas had hired Kasdan - an integral creative component in the writing of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and RETURN OF THE JEDI - to pen the then nameless Han Solo script. 


     The three earlier Lucas / Kasdan films had highlighted what observant fans (and students of screenwriting) have called various things over the years, but which we’ve always referred to as “The Kasdan Effect”. This is where as writer and / or director of his own projects Kasdan will often set up what the audience expects to be a clichéd scenario, then will pull the rug out from under everyone by taking his plot and characters elsewhere - thus making things less cut and dry, and much more difficult than the characters (or audience) ever saw coming.


     While vividly on display in EMPIRE and JEDI, the “Kasdan Effect” is arguably most famously exemplified in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - where Indy, who for some time has believed his beloved Marion to be dead, finds her tied and gagged in the Nazi tent in the middle of the desert archeological camp. He ungags her and kisses her. Then just when Marion and everyone in the opening night theater audience expects him to untie her and get her the hell outta there, Indy gags her up again and leaves her there so he can continue searching for the Ark of the Covenant. This then forces Marion to use her own wits and resourcefulness in attempting her own escape via the “drinking game” … which she always wins. But in true Kasdan style just as she (and we) think she’s been successful, the rug is pulled out yet again when she's caught then tossed into the Well of the Souls with Indy and the horde of snakes.





Lawrence Kasdan (top) and his "effect" on (bottom L to R)
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), CONTINENTAL DIVIDE (1981), SILVERADO (1985)


     To greater or lesser degree (and for more comedic, romantic or dramatic effect) Kasdan enacts similar “rug pullings” in many of his other non LucasFilm scripts and directorial efforts - among them the western fave SILVERADO, the John Belushi / Blair Brown rom com CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, and even the social allegory GRAND CANYON. But to date the most famous (or infamous) rug is one which was never yanked, … at least not at the time. Kasdan and Harrison Ford had wanted Han Solo to die in RETURN OF THE JEDI. And they both felt that it should happen late in the 2nd Act or early in the 3rd in order to raise the dramatic stakes and make things more dire for the rest of the cast. Lucas nixed the idea. And we’re glad he did as we always felt that after six years of STAR WARS adventures, including the heartbreaking ending of EMPIRE - where Han is carted off in carbonite by Boba Fett - that JEDI absolutely needed to end on a more upbeat note.





     Kasdan and Ford would finally allow the Solo character to die sacrificially in 2015’s STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - for which Kasdan had to leave work on the SOLO script in order to do considerable rewrites with J.J. Abrams on earlier drafts penned by LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and TOY STORY 3’s Michael Arndt. And until his return he’d leave SOLO in the hands of his son Jon Kasdan - at the time best known as one of the writers of the cult series FREAKS AND GEEKS, and the writer / director of the 2007 romantic comedy / drama IN THE LAND OF WOMEN starring Adam Brody and Kristen Stewart.


    
Suffice to say, SOLO's narrative existence gleefully romps, slides, swings and dangles from the jungle gym in a playground built upon the "rug pulling" nature of the "Kasdan Effect".






     This is a “no spoilers” review. And normally even as such we’d at least be able to give a quick and / or vague plot synopsis-blurb giving away no more details than that seen in theatrical trailers and TV spots. But as the SOLO trailers and spots really don’t give one an idea of the film’s narrative - only it’s tone and vibe - we really can’t unveil anything either. Or at least we won’t. Though it's no surprise to say that in any action / adventure movie, even the lighter ones, one or two people are going to bite the bullet. And SOLO is no exception. How the deaths in this film are carried off however is in a very “Kasdan Effect” manner wherein a) they happen unexpectedly, and b) the relative surprise serves the original “RETURN OF THE JEDI Han Solo death” notion of upping the ante for the rest of the characters, and by extension making the film’s cliffhanger suspense sequences much more suspenseful, the action much more pertinent and gripping, and the desire to see everyone else come out on top in the end that much more desirable.


     Kudos also to those Kasdans, to Ron Howard and especially the cast - those portraying both flesh and blood as well as motion capture droids and alien lifeform characters - for giving every character creation enough three-dimensionality that the audience really REALLY gives a genuine damn about every one of them, … even some of the bad guys, … and one of them in particular come the film’s end. SOLO has a handful of unexpected surprises before it’s final credit roll. And it’s to the credit of a well structured script - which obviously wasn’t banged out in six weeks - that these surprises and twists don’t feel like shoe-horned-in “Hey, we got ’ya!” gimmicks, but rather flow and feel entirely organic and inevitable.
   




THAT "BIG WALKING CARPET"

    


     When it comes to their favorite series, fans of film franchises such as STAR WARS, James Bond, STAR TREK and others can often adhere to a near-religious dogma concerning “canon” with a zeal akin to that of dangerous political extremists. SOLO nicely and neatly sidesteps the kind of still-ongoing jihadist debate surrounding “midichlorians”, Luke’s “rejection” of the Force, and other fireside table STAR WARS subjects by taking place among a group of mostly “Force unaware” characters. There are however more than a few bits of STAR WARS lore (rather than canon) which have grown since the original trilogy and subsequent films, and for which fans have been jonesing for more info since the early 1980s










"190 years old? You look great!"
 
- Han Solo


     Perhaps chief among that lore, rabid fans (among whom we count ourselves) have always wanted to know the details behind a) Han Solo's original acquisition of his trusted vessel the Millennium Falcon - which according to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK he won from the suave pirate / rogue Lando Calrissian in a card game, b) how he originally came to meet his co-pilot, smuggling partner and best friend of years - the towering Wookie warrior Chewbacca; and c) arguably most of all the circumstances surrounding a particular smuggling run which over the years has taken on legendary status within the STAR WARS universe.
 


     SOLO’s course trajectory takes us on a ride through all of these events we’ve long wanted to see, and answers them in turn with a) the younger version of Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian from EMPIRE and JEDI here essayed by ATLANTA and “Childish Gambino”’s Donald Glover b) with 6’ 11” Finnish actor and former Penn State power forward basketball star Joonas Suotamo taking over the role of Chewbacca from Peter Mayhew (he doubled Mayhew in THE FORCE AWAKENS, then took over the role completely in THE LAST JEDI), and finally c) with that aforementioned smuggling run providing one of SOLO’s most relentlessly exciting action set pieces. While it’s perhaps too early to say whether or not that run deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as say RAIDERS’ now legendary desert chase, it certainly will be a topic much discussed by many during inevitable re-viewings of SOLO. 





     Perhaps, however, even more so than Han’s acquisition of the Falcon and that smuggling run, we were most impressed (actually pleasantly surprised and genuinely touched) at the depth of character written into the relationship between Han and Chewie in SOLO. I mean, we’re not the only ones who’ve for years felt that, as much as we’ve loved Chewie in all of the films thus far, he was treated by the writers, directors and even many characters more as a “sidekick” than as a “partner” in his numerous adventures and misadventures with Han. And hey, there’s even a helluva lot of people (us included) still miffed for over forty years because Chewie never received a medal in that throne room with Han and Luke at the end of the original STAR WARS film, 1977’s A NEW HOPE.





     SOLO - opening 41 years to the day of the original STAR WARS - rights these long-standing wrongs by giving us the hands-down best presentation / representation of everyone’s favorite wookie in all of STAR WARS filmdom. From their very first meeting (one of the film’s most enjoyable sequences) it becomes immediately evident that Han and Chewie are destined to become more than “sidekicks” or even “partners”, but that they’ll genuinely become brothers who come to not only rely upon, but truly need, each other over the long haul. For the first time since May 1977 SOLO paints the relationship between Han and Chewie as being to the same degree and of the same blood-brother importance as that of Kirk and Spock. And it’s enough to almost make us forgive that “not receiving a medal” thing.  





SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) - "You look great!"






SOLO (2018) score - "Marauders Arrive" (J. Powell)



"TECHNOLOGICAL TERROR" ... NOT REALLY





"This ain't a quick job, it's a war!"
- Rio Durant
   
     As has come to be expected, whether audiences and / or critics enjoy a particular STAR WARS film or not, most are unanimous in their praise of the series’ technical  achievements, … and in some cases sheer technical bravado. SOLO is no different. While time and space (no pun intended, we swear!) doesn’t allow the acknowledgement of them all … .  And while well deserved accolades are routinely heaped upon the franchise’s visual effects, costume and production design, editing, sound and more, with SOLO particular technical / artistic shout outs must be given for the dazzling work of cinematographer Bradford Young, Second Unit / Stunt Director Brad Allen, and composer John Powell. 


     Best known for his ability to create stunning work with available light, in SOLO the images of young director of photography Bradford Young (whose films include SELMA, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR and ARRIVAL - for which he received 2016 Oscar, BAFTA and ASC nominations) makes the more naturalistic narrative of Han, Chewie and Lando’s inaugural adventure also look and feel more “down to earth” naturalistic than any STAR WARS film thus far.


    
The most remarkable example is surely during the earlier scenes on the planet Mimban when Han as an infantryman in the battle trenches first meets Woody Harrelson as the Long John Silver-esque Tobias Beckett and his crew of various human, droid and alien pirates.  The "murderer's row" of talented rogues is portrayed by Thandie Newton (as Val), Jon Favreau (as the voice of the multi-limbed Rio) and GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBINSON‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge in perhaps the best motion capture performance since Andy Serkis in the recent PLANET OF THE APES films as Lando's willful "right hand man?", ... "droid?", ..."His Girl Friday?" L3-37.  As for Young's photography - we were struck by the smoke and mud filled, hand-held, color desaturated / near black & white look which is an obvious and clever sci fi shout-out to Milestone’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930) and Kubrick’s PATHS OF GLORY (1957).








     As mentioned earlier, SOLO is above all else an action film. And as the cinematic action ante has been considerably upped in recent years with a more hard-edged kineticism evident in films such as the BOURNE series, CASINO ROYALE and others, so must SOLO keep pace if it too wants to run in those tall weeds where the big action movie dogs go. SOLO’s more “naturalistic” vibe doesn’t mean it must be “realistic”. It shouldn’t be. It’s a STAR WARS film, and as such it should (it must) have a fantastical streak. But there is a point where a CGI created action sequence begins to register as such with an audience. And on a certain level, as exhilarating as it may be, it begins to feel as if one is watching a scene in an animated feature rather than in a live action one. 



(L to R) Dir. of Photography Bradford Young, Composer John Powell, 2nd Unit Dir. Brad Allen




     On the other hand there is action performed by actual flesh-and-blood stunt personnel … who may be in front of a green screen and wired for safety, and who may then later be placed into the middle of a CGI created otherworldy environment. But because of the way the body naturally moves and reacts to impacts, gravity, inertia and physics in general, the fights, leaps and more subconsciously register as more real … because they are. As examples of the two think of the CGI-heavy battle-in-the-rain between Obi Wan and Jango Fett in ATTACK OF THE CLONES as opposed to the actual-stuntmen-on-a-stage climactic duel between Qui Gon Jinn and Darth Maul in THE PHANTOM MENACE. Which is the to-this-day much more impressive and memorable? Kind of a no brainer, isn't it?


  Dir. Ron Howard plots the cinematic trajectory


     SOLO more often than not opts for the later. And as such second unit director / stunt coordinator Brad Allen emerges as one of the film’s biggest stars. Beginning his career as a boxer, gymnast and martial artist, Australian born Allen went on to become the first non-Asian member of Jackie Chan's legendary Stunt Team - working with Chan on films such as MR. NICE GUY, SHANGHAI NOON, RUSH HOUR 2 and THE TUXEDO before going on to become stunt coordinator on RUSH HOUR 3, HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY, KICK ASS, PACIFIC RIM, WONDER WOMAN, the mind-boggling KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE and many others. 


     Since the first STAR WARS film in 1977, … a long time before Tarantino made it cinema hip, every entry in the SW universe has partially operated on a “movie geek’s wet dream” level as a pastiche (a “greatest hits collection” if you will) of peripheral references from cinema history. From the artistry and thematics of Kurosawa to the grandeur of World War 2 “impossible mission” films. From the mythic western to chessily enjoyable 50s era sci-fiers. From the bad-ass-ed-ness of James Bond to the exploitive genre opera of Hammer Studios and American International Pictures and beyond. And SOLO enjoyably continues this "greatest hits collection" trend - this time in the realm of action movie history. 





     As such there’s a prize of bragging rights to any filmgoer who can identify the sci fi version action movie shout-outs in SOLO from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, BREAKHEART PASS, OCTOPUSSY and THE CASSANDRA CROSSING. There are a few others too, … and even a non-action movie shout-out to the Vitto Corleone / Ellis Island scene in THE GODFATHER PT. II. Yeah, there's a "Boston Market" smorgasbord of kick-butt film references goin' on here; and appropriately so. An action movie has to be exciting. And as "exciting" requires a degree of flesh and blood realism in the midst of the fantasy, enough can’t be said for the aggressive kineticism infused into SOLO by Allen and his stunt team par excellence. 


                             





"If you come with us, you're in this life for good"
- Tobias Beckett


     Lastly, since the first burst of composer John Williams’ opening fanfare at the beginning of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE back on May 25. 1977 (though we oldsters still refer to it as just “STAR WARS”), music has played an integral part in the franchise’s overall impact. Maestro Williams - the 40 + year sacred keeper of STAR WARS’ musical soul - recently turned 86 years old. And while he still prodigiously engages in both film scoring and live orchestral concert performances, the grand Yoda of the STAR WARS-verse has wisely chosen to slow down just a little in recent years, at least to the point of not scoring every single STAR WARS film - which, with the recent trilogy and standalone films, now amounts to one per year, … though SOLO actually appears a mere five months after THE LAST JEDI.


     Williams scored the more recent EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI, and is slated to score the upcoming EPISODE IX. This while UP, THE INCREDIBLES and DOCTOR STRANGE’s Michael Giacchino scored the first standalone film ROGUE ONE - wherein he effectively integrated a couple of Williams‘ more famous SW themes into the mix. In a creative move of solidarity (and because of a love of the Han Solo character), Williams graciously composed and conducted a theme for the new film (in actuality a concert piece comprised of two “smaller” pieces) entitled “The Adventures of Han” - a swirlingly exciting melodic rollercoaster which is appropriately tonally reminiscent of one of the still-most-popular pieces in the STAR WARS musical canon, “The Asteroid Field” from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
 




     
     Signed last summer to write original score material for SOLO, and to adapt Williams’ new piece into his mix, was English born composer John Powell. Best known for a slew of complex “world music”-influenced scores to animated films such as ANTZ, CHICKEN RUN, SHREK, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and KUNG FU PANDA, and live action thriller dillers like FACE / OFF, the BOURNE series, BE COOL, MR. & MRS. SMITH, JUMPER, HANCOCK and more, Powell brings not only a wide tonal palate based upon experience in every genre (a plus when scoring a STAR WARS project which dips into every genre), but a love, and as he himself calls it an "awe", of John Williams. 






     In an interview shortly before the release of SOLO Powell described his musical approach to the film, saying, “I tried to keep in mind the DNA of how John writes, which is flow and polyphony and melody, and of course an incredibly interesting rhythmic use of the orchestra,”. To that end, in addition to adapting Williams’ new "Adventures of Han" theme and a handful of pre-existing motifs from earlier films, perhaps Powell's most clever new usage of said earlier material is in how echoes of the original “Star Wars Theme” fanfare becomes in SOLO's later reels a “Han’s Destiny” motif. Powell also goes on to create new material in the way of a delicate but strong-willed love theme for Han and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), a theme representing the brotherhood between Han and Chewie, one for Beckett and his gang and, perhaps most stunningly for our money, an otherworldly tribal piece for Enfys Nest and the outlaw gang of marauders known as Cloud Pirates - that piece featuring the ear arrestingly eerie voices of a Bulgarian women’s choir. 




     
     It’s far too easy - not to mention arrogant and inaccurate - to dismiss all “tentpole action films” as non-artistic, empty headed, money grubbing fodder. Some of them very well are. But then again so are some “serious minded” independent films. The only difference is that some of the later can often carry the stench of an overriding sense of self-importance to the same degree to which some of the former can at times feel like one of those "A Nigerian prince wants to give you money" scams. But in the end, be it a studio blockbuster or a small-scaled independent paradigm breaker,  it’s ultimately the individual film itself (and not the type of film) which is either “damned good”, “damned bad”, “merely okay”, and which must sink or swim based upon it's own individual merits or demerits. And if you still disagree then think upon Micheal Curtiz’s THE ADVENTURE OF ROBIN HOOD, Terrence Young’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and JAWS (the first half a horror film, and the second half an action / adventure), and even Lucas’ original STAR WARS, ... then get back to us on how “tentpole action movies” really don't qualify as lasting filmic art.

     For our money you can add SOLO to that distinguished short list of action / adventure classics which not only manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, and will be enjoyed years from now …

     … But which are also just plain old fashioned damned fun. Every now and then it's a-okay to just blast off for such a ride as this. No Force. No subtext. No deep philosophical or historic analogies. Just a good 'ol galaxy hoppin', blaster twirlin', transport robbin', gangster fleecin' helluva ride with everyone's favorite space cowboy.

     Oh, in case it isn't obvious by now, ... yeah, we kinda liked this one!

     “Buckle up, baby!”
.





                                                                                                                                                  CEJ




Based in Philadelphia, PA, screenwriter / director Craig Ellis Jamison is webmaster of the GULLCOTTAGE / SANDLOT online
film magazine / library as well as creator / producer of its "CreaTiV.TV" network, YouTube "TUNEPLAY FILM MUSIC" channel, and THE MOVIE SNEAK PODCAST. He's dir. / writer / co-producer of the documentary feature 
STEVE VERTLIEB: THE MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES. And (to unwind) he recently began penning the 
VAULTED TREASURES FILM BLOG. 

A professed film music and jazz junkie, he's accused of being a workaholic, but more accurately feels he'll take a vacation when
he's "earned" one. These days he's usually found chained to the desk in the wee hours - with a lovable pain-in-the-ass
Lab / Shepered / Pitt mutt named Ripley at his side. - banging out web articles, scripts and a soon-to-be-published tome
on the socio-political history of the science fiction, horror and fantasy film entitled 
"THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE". 

Drop a line and shoot the sh*t with him on Facebook, or connect via info@gullcottageonline.com






Bonus:
WIRED - "SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY" CAST ANSWERS THE WEB'S MOST SEARCHED QUESTIONS
(featuring - Emilia "Qi'ra" Clarke, Joonas "Chewbacca" Suotamo, and Woddy "Beckett" Harrelson)





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