Pretty much everyone who followed the development of this production on social media back in the day, knows about the behind the scenes drama that this movie sadly became known for. How Kathleen Kennedy took a huge risk by electing Phil Lord and Chris Miller, mostly known for directing comedy, and animation features like The Lego Movie (2014), to direct this film. How after an exhausting casting process, the role fell on a relatively unknown actor, Alden Ehrenreich, whose biggest role to date had been on Hail, Caeser! (2016), The Cohen Brothers, even though fans had been clamouring for actor Anthony Ingruber, whose resemblance with young Harrison Ford was uncanny, and who had already succesfully portrayed a younger version of Harrison in The Age of Adelaine (2015), to take on the mantle of Han Solo, how Lord and Miller’s vision of how the movie should be made clashed with that of Kennedy’s, how an acting coach had to be brought in for Ehrenreich, who was apparently unable to elicit a satisfying performance, how Lord and Miller were finally fired, and Ron Howard was brought in to finish the movie, but ended up re-shooting 80% of the movie. Any of this sound familiar?. It sure does, because it’s exactly the same thing that happened with Justice League (2017), Zach Snyder. And we all know how that turned out. All in all, and given the huge amount of artistic, and financial obstacles that this movie faced, is a miracle that the movie was made at all. Even more of a miracle is the fact that it turned out as well as it did. It would, however, face an even biggest obstacle come release date.
The Last Jedi backlash
The movie was slotted to be released on May, 2018. In my opinion, too small a turn out time to release another Star Wars movie. Audiences were still reeling from The Last Jedi’s negative reception, and how divisive that movie had been. On top of that, they’d been hearing about the Behind the Scenes disaster that was Solo, and weren’t all that thrilled with the election of Alden Ehrenreich to play the part. The last minute change of directors, and having to practically re-shoot the entirety of the movie, even though Howard, like the efficient and economic director that he is, tried to shoot the movie as fast as he could, to meet the release date, only served to balloon an already out-of-hand budget, even more. All of those elements combined together, resulted on Solo having to fight an uphill battle in the Box Office. A battle it would loose.
That was a first for a Star Wars movie, not only not being a success, but also not being able to turn a profit. All the behind the scenes drama didn’t help, but I truly think that, had the reception of The Last Jedi been more favourable, things would have turned out differently for Solo.
A fun ride
At first glance, you have all the right ingredients to have a recipe for success. You have your world class director. That Ron Howard had never, till now, directed a Star Wars movie, is quite surprising. Apparently he was offered by George Lucas, to direct The Phantom Menace, but he turned it down. He is the right fit for these kind of movies. He’s an efficient storyteller, technically proficient and, having being an actor himself, is great when it comes to directing actors. And that is something that comes through in all of his movies. He definitely got out of Ehrenreich, what Lord and Miller couldn’t.
You’ve got proven screenwriters in Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. Larry Kasdan, especially, has a vast knowledge of the source material, as he was one of the biggest contributors to the success of both, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Han Solo was also Larry Kasdan’s favourite Star Wars character, and had been offered to write the script way before the Disney deal came through, as making a Han Solo stand-alone movie had been in Lucas’s mind for some time.
Couldn’t have also asked for a better cast. Woody Harrelson as Space pirate Tobias Beckett, Thandie Newton as his better half, and partner in crime ,Val, John Favreu voicing Beckett’s four-armed alien pilot, Rio, Paul Bettany as crime boss Dryden Vos, Emilia Clarke as Qui,ra, Dryden’s right hand, and Han’s childhood friend from Corellia, Joonas Suatomo, reprising his role of Chewbacca, Linda Hunt, voicing Lady Proxima, the snake-like creature who controls everything that happens in the Corellian underworld; Danny Glover as Lando Calrissian, first owner of the Millennium Falcon, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, Lando’s droid co-pilot, which contains the best navigational system in the Galaxy.
The best Special and Visual Effects that money can buy: ILM.
They also shot, and made wonderful use of some spectacular locations like Fuerteventura, on the Canary Islands, the Dolomites mountain range, Italy and Fewley Power Station, Buckinghamshire, England and, as always, Pinewood Studios, where most of the sets like Fort Ypso, The Millennium Falcon, and the interior of Dryden’s Space Yacht were recreated.
With all these elements in place, how could they not deliver a visually stunning and entertaining adventure?. It sure is entertaining, but visually stunning?. On to that.
Visually dark Star Wars
The movie has the dubious honour of being, by far, the darkest looking Star Wars movie ever to grace the big screen. On a theater, where not much attention is put into maintaining the Proyectors’ lamps in optimal conditions, you wouldn’t be able to see much. This is all mainly due to the way, Bradford Young, the Cinematographer chosen to bring light into Han’s world, chooses to light his scenes. Apparently, he doesn’t favour the overuse of artificial lighting on his sets. He prefers the light to make its way into his sets, and locations, as naturally as possible. And while this approach gives the sets a more realistic, and life-like quality to them, it also means that detail on the sets are also lost to darkness. This is an overriding problem throughout the whole movie, made all the more problematic due to the lack of primary colours, and overall bleak colour palette, with an abundance of greys and browns. This is not so much a problem during daytime scenes, but in all scenes taking place at night, or in dark or murky locales, like Fort Ypso or Lady Proxima’s lair, it does become a problem. It also means that certain action set pieces, like during the Kessel Run through the Maelstrom, where the Falcon is almost swallowed by an enormous squid-like creature, some of the painstaking detail, and work that the Animators put into these set pieces, can be lost due to an overly dim Cinematography.
ILM work their Magic
The movie is a fun ride that constantly bounces from set to set, and from action set piece to action set piece. That requires a huge amount of practical effects, stunt work and Post-production wizardry. The movie starts with a bang, with a Speeder Chase throughout the Industrial area of Corellia, which was shot mostly with retrofitted vehicles which had the external appearance of Speeders, but that could be driven by the actors and stunt men. The wheels of the vehicles would be eliminated later on in Post-production, and the most difficult shots would be achieved by mounting models of these Speeders on gimbles that would imitate the motion of floating vehicles. The biggest gimble of them all, though, was built in Pinewood Studios. It had a mocap of the Millennium Falcon, that could bounce around in all directions, shake and pitch, if need be. Right across the cockpit’s windshield, a rotating screen was placed, and onto this, moving images of the Maelstrom, the Hyperspace tunnel and so on, would be projected from different projectors strategically placed around the set, to give the actors a real life footing on which to base their performance. Models of the rotating train wagons for the Train Heist sequence were also built on set, and placed on gimbles that would then move in any direction required during shooting. Even though the bleak Cinematography obscured most of the sets, Neil Lamont did an amazing job building some of them. His work on the Fort Ypso set, where Han and Lando meet for the first time and play Sabacc, is astounding. So is the level of detail inside the Millennium Falcon. The design of the iconic ship is slightly different, brand new, and more in keeping with Lando’s extravagant style.
The movie is a very entertaining and well made film. It doesn’t reach the heights that Rogue One did, but it comes pretty close. Almost everything we ever wanted to find out about Han Solo’s previous life and adventures is there. His difficult upbringing in Corellia, his first meeting with Chewie, his first encounter with the pompously stylish Lando Calrissian, and their first game of Sabacc, which doesn’t go the way we thought it would, the first time he sees the Falcon and flies it, the Kessel Run. Everything is there. And very well put together. Ehrenreich does a decent turn as Solo, giving him his own spin, but unfortunately, never managing to make us forget Harrison Ford’s fun and unique portrayal of the character. To give him his dues, though, he at least doesn’t try to make an impersonation of Ford. The rest of the cast are solid, but who really are the stand-outs to me are Danny Glover’s Lando, and his faithful companion and co-pilot, the Droid L3-37, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The dynamic between those two is fantastic, and they play off each other so well. Danny Glover’s Lando is perfect, and I can honestly see him as a younger version of Billy Dee Williams, with all that swagger and cockiness. The scene when he’s recording the Lando Calrissian’s chronicles is hilarious. Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 continues in the Disney tradition of getting the Droids’ portrayals exactly right. She’s bitchy, foul-mouthed, and has a weird, but cute relationship with Lando. And apparently, she has surprisingly long life in the Star Wars Universe after this. Didn’t see that one coming. Neither did I see the last twist. And yes, on this one, Han shoots first. Like he was always supposed to. The movie ends in a cliffhanger, which is a pity, given the poor Box Office results obtained from this one. I guess we’ll never get to see what comes out of that last twist at the end, as Lucasfilm has stopped production of all upcoming and planned spin-off movies.
If you did not see Solo in theaters, out of resentment for what you saw in The Last Jedi, do so. It’s well worth your time.
Thanks for reading.