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Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot, Chewbacca, and encounters the notorious gambler, Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes. (From Lucasfilm’s official synopsis)

 Solo: A Star Wars Story
Hello everyone, I’m going to keep this short and get to the technical aspects of this disc, because, as seems to happen with all new Star Wars movies, I think most people have already made up their minds on the quality of Ron Howard’s Solo. It seems that a lot of us managed to make up our minds without even seeing the film. I, myself, was never particularly interested in Han Solo or his backstory and lost more interest when Lucasfilm fired Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) writer/directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. Between Cloudy, 21 Jump Street (2012), and The Lego Movie (2014), Lord & Miller had proven that they are very good at turning stupid ideas into funny movies. Then they were replaced several months into filming by King Boring Middleground himself, Ron Howard. Given the utter lack of compatibility between Lord & Miller and Howard’s styles and the fact that Lucasfilm’s late-in-the-game meddling made Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One (2016) feel so awkward, there was no way this movie was going to work. Apparently, some “fans” are claiming that the film’s mediocre box office is the result of a concerted boycotting effort, because Disney and Lucasfilm (checks notes) put women and people of colour in these movies (which is particularly strange, since Solo is the first Disney-branded Star Wars to feature a white male lead), but I suspect that mainstream audiences were either suffering from Star Wars fatigue, had been primed to expect these films to be released around Christmastime, and/or just don’t care about Han Solo.

Anyway, I’ve seen it now and Solo is fine. Arguably considerably better than any movie that went through this many production mishaps. It’s actually less fractured than Rogue One, which I suppose is down to Howard’s reliability, professionalism, and decades of experience. It’s easy to make fun of Howard, because he makes cinematic saltine crackers, but he knows how to stage a shot and direct actors. Quite often, aside from the (mostly) very good cast (who might’ve been hired by Lord & Miller, aside from Paul Bettany), Howard’s steady hand is what keeps this unsteady boat afloat. He, editor Pietro Scalia, and cinematographer Bradford Young take Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan’s predictable script, make it pretty, spit-polish it, and keep it moving. That said, it’s still about 20 minutes too long and the first act is overwhelmed by even more unnecessary references to past movies than Lucas’ maligned prequels. I understand the impulse to tell a story about that time Han met Chewy, or that time Han met Lando, or the first time that Han flew the Millennium Falcon, or that time Han joined/quit the Empire, or that time Han was drawn into his first smuggling job, or that time Han broke physics to do the Kessel Run in record time – but telling all of these stories in one movie, plus the origin of his gun, name, and just about everything else that defines the character, is downright parodiable. At worst, it’s a lot like Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), though it manages to be far less embarrassing.

 Solo: A Star Wars Story

Video


Solo was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras and converted into 3D for theatrical release. This 1080p, 2.39:1 Blu-ray is presented in 2D; however, as Disney seems to have abandoned the 3D home video format (as has most of the industry). This is a very attractive movie, but Young’s photography is super delicate, which creates a number of problems for the Blu-ray format. The key issue is how dimly lit everything is, from interiors, to daylight exteriors and even sequences developed entirely within a computer. This transfer avoids crushing, but there are still some excessively dark sequences that make it awfully hard to tell what’s going on. I missed the film in theaters, so I don’t know if this is a Godzilla ‘14 situation, where an already murky movie is compressed or erroneously re-timed for video, or if this is what Solo is supposed to look like. Assuming nothing is afoot, the transfer does thrive on tight lines and fine highlights, and extremely clean gradations, which is extra important, because Young uses a lot of soft focus. The colours are often dusky and desaturated, but, when it counts, they are quite rich and smoothy blended.

Audio


Disney is saving their Dolby Atmos tracks for their 4K UHD releases, but this disc still comes loaded with a loud and dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 option. As you’d expect there’s a lot going on, between space-age shootouts, grinding, ground-based transportation, rushing trains, booming spaceships, and screeching alien creatures. This mix resembles the one heard on Rogue One, in that it opts for a more ‘earthy,’ hyper realistic sound, instead of the fantasy sounds heard in the numbered Star Wars movies. We still get plenty of laser beams and weird engine noises, but metallic clangs and crunchy booms are emphasized over abstract representation. Workhorse composer John Powell, who semi-recently found a regular niche scoring DreamWorks animated films, does a nice job incorporating John Williams’ original motifs into his new, rowdy, but still relatively Williams-esque compositions. The score drives the film and the soundtrack in general, even when spaceships aren’t exploding.

 Solo: A Star Wars Story

Extras


  • Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable (21:44, HD) – Ron Howard moderates a fun, sweet-natured discussion with Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany. No one really mentions any of the early production difficulties, aside from hints that Howard joined after filming had started.
  • Kasdan on Kasdan (7:50, HD) – Returning Star Wars series screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan share what it was like to co-rewrite the script.
  • Remaking the Millennium Falcon (3:36, HD) – The cast & crew discuss the process of redesigning the iconic ship and Glover gives a tour of the set.
  • Escape from Corellia (9:59, HD) – A breakdown of the design and filming of movie’s first big action scene.
  • The Train Heist (14:30, HD) – An exploration of the logistical challenges behind the failed hijacking sequence, from inspiration, to storyboards/pre-vis, shooting on location, and special effects.
  • Team Chewie (6:41, HD) – Concerning upgrades made to everyone’s favorite Wookie, such as a new set of vocal effects and newly-minted fur suits.
  • Becoming a Droid: L3-37 (5:06, HD) – On the design, construction, FX processes and character of Lando’s spunky robo-girlfriend/pilot. It seems that a lot of the final character was developed by actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
  • Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso (8:02, HD) – More explorations of sets and characters, this time the seedy gambling den where Han and Lando first meet.
  • Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run (8:28, HD) – The filmmakers talk about taking a throwaway line from the original Star Wars that fans have obsessed over for decades and turning it into a central action set-piece.
  • Eight deleted/extended scenes  (15:13, HD)


 Solo: A Star Wars Story

Overall


Solo isn’t the franchise-killer that some claim it is, nor is it the absolutely flavourless, over-produced, corporate product I feared it would become, given its litany of behind-the-scenes troubles. But, even bolstered by a handful of really good sequences, it’s still an ultimately unnecessary, ultra-stuffed, and uneven side-story. I hesitate to play the what-if game any further, but perhaps the television format would’ve given the filmmakers the space to find meaning, character, and pathos in every single bit of backstory they insisted on telling. Disney Blu-ray looks and sounds very nice and they’ve included some pretty substantial supplements, specifically the deleted/extended scenes, which have more to offer than previous Disney/Lucasfilm Star Wars home video releases.

 Solo: A Star Wars Story

 Solo: A Star Wars Story

 Solo: A Star Wars Story
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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