SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. Every addition to the Star Wars canon has shouldered massive expectations in terms of earnings and the continuation of a mythic narrative that more than one generation feels ownership of. A single stroke of casting, a line of dialogue, might ruin fanboy childhoods, serve up resistance metaphors for our real-world struggles or make belated strides in inclusive casting. Each movie has to succeed as a story while offering the right kinds of heroes and villains for the kids who'll sweep up its toys. I say this not as a cynical observer but as a person with action figures of the Tico sisters at the foot of her computer monitor.
But what's at stake with Solo beyond building toward late-'70s Harrison Ford's space scoundrel and staying grounded in the look and feel of the Star Wars oeuvre? Expectations dropped lower with all the scuttlebutt over Ron Howard taking over the helm and reshooting much of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's work on the spinoff. And real talk: We came to see young Lando and the Wookie. And the Falcon straight off the lot. All of which Solo delivers with nods to the future we've already seen and a tour of Lando's cape collection. Unlike its predecessors, Solo enjoys its youthful lack of responsibility and so do we. It's predictable in places, corny in others and therefore not so different from the original Star Wars, with its cast of wobbly newbies and veterans. We know from the outset the characters we've invested in are all going to make it — looking at you, Rogue One — and yet the action sequences are so deftly shot and edited that it's still exciting.
Young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) cons and hustles his way through the alleys of grimy industrial planet Corellia. He and his girl Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to escape their servitude to a crime boss but only Han makes it out, signing up for a tour with the Empire in the hope of becoming a pilot and returning to rescue her. His stint in Imperial uniform is muddier than planned and he deserts — along with his new pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suotama) — by joining up with a trio of bandits comprised of Beckett (Woody Harrelson, who's lately leaning into the role of survivalist sci-fi mentor), the no-nonsense Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio (an overly folksy Jon Favreau). Together they attempt to boost a massive shipment of fuel in a Star Wars version of a classic moving train robbery but fail at great cost. To make up for the payload meant for murderously mood-swinging Crimson Dawn gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the crew must take on another heist, assisted by Vos' right-hand woman — surprise! — Qi'ra, who no longer seems to require rescuing. They'll need a fast ship (wink, wink), which takes us to a seedy card game to meet dapper smuggler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), owner of the still unscathed Millennium Falcon and L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a droid wired for revolution and quick barbs. Team assembled and ride secured, we're off for mining colonies, fuel theft and the temptation to choose people over profit.
Ehrenreich's Han sports his lopsided grin with a wavering confidence that feels appropriate as he echoes Ford's gestures and tics. He's best in comic moments (anyone who's had to use their junior high French/Spanish skills will relate to his first conversation with Chewbacca) but thankfully he isn't tasked with carrying the whole picture. The romantic plotline is weak but it's not like we're Team Qi'ra anyway. After all, how could Clarke win us over completely with Princess/General Organa just beyond the horizon? Glover's channeling of Billy D. Williams is smooth as his side part — one gets the feeling he may have spent time as an adolescent working on Lando's brow arch and is finally getting the chance to put it to use — and he adds humor, playing up his Cloud City-player vanity. Woody Harrelson brings his usual charisma and what I can only assume was intense preparation involving putting on a duster, getting super high and binge-watching Firefly.
There are musical cues to ensure we don't miss iconic moments, like Han and Chewie flying the Falcon together for the first time, and callbacks (or calls forward, really) for the casual viewer and the devotee alike, and the movie holds the line on the franchise's recent improvements. The action and special effects are the top-tier stuff we've come to take for granted along with orchestral scores and more diverse casting. Looking at how seamlessly people of color and people with different bodies fit into this galaxy makes one wonder at the overwhelming whiteness mainstream filmmakers once settled for — that anyone would have hesitated to cast a black woman with natural hair alongside a guy with four arms is nuts. By now we expect a Star Wars cast to looks like us, the audience (though reports of a pansexual Lando turn out to be exaggerated), and for female heroes (human or otherwise) to drive the action. And since Disney is intent on cranking out a steady stream of these sequels and prequels, maybe we can relax our expectations that they all be landmarks and enjoy what they offer: a little adventure, a few laughs and an occasion to try the Wookie roar. PG13. 135m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
—Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Due to the Memorial Day holiday, updated schedules for Broadway, Mill Creek and the Miniplex were not available at press time. See listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ACTION POINT. Johnny Knoxville endures and inflicts catapult launches, collisions and junk punches as the founder of a horrendously unsafe amusement park in a Jackass-esque comedy. R. 85m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ADRIFT. A couple (Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin) sailing across the ocean get caught in a massive hurricane and I don't think fitting on a door together is going to save them. PG13. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987). Have fun storming the castle. PG. 98m. BROADWAY.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Seriousness suffocates the best of this parade of characters in this massive supermovie. PG13. 149m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
BOOK CLUB. Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen are consummate pros in a light, all-too-rare comedy about dating later in life. PG13. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
DEADPOOL 2. Ryan Reynolds in his destined role with a better story, action and jokes. It's almost fun, kind and rough enough to make you forget it's spawn of the Marvel juggernaut. R. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
THE GUARDIANS. French film about women working a family farm while the men fight in the Great War. Starring Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet and Iris Bry. MINOR.
LIFE OF THE PARTY. Melissa McCarthy plays a middle-aged mom going back to college with her daughter in this funny movie that's still too conventional for her talents. PG13. 105m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
OVERBOARD. Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez in a gender-swapped 1980s comedy remake about revenge-conning a wealthy jackass into fake marriage. PG13. 112m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
A QUIET PLACE. This effective horror about a family surviving amid creatures that hunt by sound achieves emotional authenticity about trauma and isolation. BROADWAY.
RBG. Documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice in the fly collar. PG. 97m. MINIPLEX.
REVENGE. A woman (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) turns the tables on her rapey would-be murderers in a bloody exploitation action horror movie. R. 108m. MINOR.
SHOW DOGS. Ludacris voices a police Rottweiler undercover at a dog show. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill