Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (dir. by Ron Howard)


solo-poster-1I feel like the Grinch, standing high on his mountain and looking down at all the Who’s in Whoville. Look at them, enjoying Solo – A Star Wars Story. Look at them, geeking over Chewie, the Millenium Falcon and the Kessel Run. Look at them smile at Lando Calrissian, still cool after these years. From where I stood, I had fun, but not nearly as much as they all did. Did we all watch the same film?

I think I’m a little jealous for not feeling that, and somewhat sad.

Granted, I didn’t outright despise Solo. I adore heist films like Thief and Heat. Perhaps it’s because the cast is fun to watch on-screen. You have the seedy side of the universe, and frankly, I’ve love to see more of it in future installments. This was closer to what I originally hoped to see with the Prequels, or even The Force Awakens. Not every Star Wars tale has to be an Empire vs. Rebellion / Jedi vs. Sith one (though lightsaber battles are always appreciated).

On the other hand, I had the same experience here that I did with Rogue One. The film almost lost me until it started to induce some nostalgia. With the exception of a few key scenes, I had a tough time feeling anything for most of this film. Boredom slapped me in the face for a little while here. Maybe I’ve just reached the age where I can put Star Wars on the shelf and maybe move on from it altogether. Judging by the number of people who chose to check their cell phones rather than watch the movie, I don’t think I’m alone there.

I initially bought a ticket for the 10:15pm Thursday IMAX showing, and then realized I wanted to come home early. I purchased a 7pm 3D showing, which is where this review is coming from. I didn’t feel the need to stay for the IMAX. Maybe that’s the best way to sum it up.

The movie was originally helmed by The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but due to creative differences, they were taken off the project and replaced by Ron Howard. Howard’s familar with Lucasfilm, having worked on Willow back in the late 1980’s. The result of this is that you have a very safe film. Howard dots the I’s, crosses the t’s and make the movie everything the writing duo of Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan need. Since we know where Han & Chewie are going to end up, it’s just a matter of getting from Point A to Point B, without any real worries about the characters. I’m somewhat curious of what we could have had if Lord/Miller stayed on.

2121 Jump Street, perhaps?

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Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra, from Solo: A Star Wars Story.

While we’re on the topic of the writing, the Kasdans manage to drop a few bells and whistles that many fans will enjoy. There’s a line that Emilia Clarke’s Qi’Ra utters about her abilities that left me smiling and slowly nodding like a person who just received a toast. Lucasfilm is learning from The Last Jedi’s mistakes, that much is certain. It’s a tight script that rarely goes off tangent.

The movie finds a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures, Hail Casear) looking to acquire some Hyperfuel, a power source that most smugglers pay a handsome price for. He dreams of becoming a pilot, someday having his own ship so that he can be reunited with an old flame/partner. This leads him to eventually join up with a heist crew and a task that needs to be fulfilled. I won’t give away any more, but it’s a great thing to see all of the pieces fall into place.

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Han and Chewie, not caring about the odds.

The supporting cast in Solo is wonderful. That was something that felt right. Between Donald Glover’s scene stealing Lando Calrissian (which eerily sounds like Billy Dee Williams sometimes), Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 , everyone in Solo gives a good performance. Aldenreich, I’m not sure of. I didn’t expect him to be Harrison Ford, but he seemed a little generic, for want of a better word. You could have plucked him out, dropped in someone else and it might be the same. At least, that’s how I felt. Still, he doesn’t give a bad performance. Han felt like the supporting character in his own film, the cast is that good.

From an effects standpoint, there are a number of creatures and various new ship tech to behold. It all looks and feels great (especially the Millennium Falcon flight sequences), though I should point out that the 3D presentation isn’t really necessarily. In fact, the first 20 minutes of the film are so dimly lit that the sunglass effect of 3D shades feels like you’re just watching silhouettes on-screen. Howard does a good Job of setting up scenes and keeping everything flowing. It’s a pretty tight production, overall and you’ll be suprised at how fast the film seems to move.

John Powell (X-Men: The Last Stand, The Bourne Trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon) takes on the musical responsibilities since Michael Giacchino’s doing everything else for Disney these days. It’s a great score, though if there is a particular theme for Han, I can’t say I caught it. I do plan on picking up the soundtrack when it comes out next week.

Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t one you have to run to the theatre for. It’s not a terrible film by any means. It just didn’t hold me the way I wanted it to. I feel that’s more a reflection of myself than of the film overall. Still, if you can wait the three months to catch it digitally, you might be better off doing so.

Of course, as the Dude from the Big Lebowski says “That’s just like, your Opinion, man.” Go out there, see the film and form your own.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

You’ve Watched The Trailer. Now check out this new Last Jedi poster from Lucasfilm!


Along with a trailer, Lucasfilm released a new poster for The Last Jedi earlier today.  It’s half Luke and half Kylo Ren with Rey firmly in the middle, assuming the stance of a warrior.

Should we read into anything about how her light saber starts out as blue before turning red towards the top?  Some say that red is the color of the dark side so what should we make of the entire poster being tinted crimson?  Has Luke gone over to the dark side or are we just reading too much into a poster?

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming Slings In With Two Official Trailers


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It’s been rumored that the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer will appear in front of Rogue One: Star Wars Story. It’s logical considering Sony has let Spider-Man to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sandbox which also happens to share spot in the Walt Disney Empire with Lucasfilm. Yet, we don’t have to wait for next week’s Rogue One to see this trailer. Like all superhero blockbuster films the trailers themselves get their premiere on-line (after a live premiere on Jimmy Kimmel Live) and this is no different with the first official trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

So, without further ado, here’s not one, but two trailers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Domestic: this one definitely focuses more on the high school aspect of Spider-Man’s life.

International: this one a bit more action-packed with a focus on Spider-Man’s heroics and more time showcasing the villains.

Sci-Fi Review: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. by Irvin Kershner)


empire_strikes_back_style_aThe Year was 1980.

Though three years had passed since A New Hope’s release, it was never truly gone. In the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, there was a huge jump in Science Fiction. Films like Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and  The Black Hole jumped on the sci-fi wave and kept audiences busy. If you didn’t want to go to the movies, you could always watch the original Battlestar Galactica.

My father was always a stickler for presentation when it came to movies. It had to be the biggest screen and the best sound available, if possible. My parents took my brother and I on what felt like one of the longest road trips to see the movie. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, some films were presented in a 70MM format. In the early 80’s, saying “Panavision” was like saying “IMAX” today. The only problem with this was that Dad decided we should sit like 3 rows from the screen. It remains one of my favorite Star Wars related experiences.

There was a bit of a scare before the film was made. Sometime before production, Mark Hamill was involved in a car accident that broke his nose and part of his cheek. The reconstructive surgery required part of his ear to fix his nose, and anyone watching the film could tell that he looked pretty different from A New Hope. It was like watching Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and then following that with The Stepford Wives. Still, the accident didn’t get in the way of production and it’s believed that Hamill’s damaged look may have actually helped add some authenticity to the Wampa scene, where he’s attacked by a Yeti-looking creature.

If A New Hope was the feel good movie of the year, with heroes winning the day, then The Empire Strikes Back was a downer of a film. Everyone you rooted for in the first film is made to face a challenge that completely knocks them down a peg. It’s almost a perfect middle part to any trilogy. There’s an improvement in nearly every part of the process in the movie, despite the fact that George Lucas didn’t have the directorial duties. It’s as if most of the money earned from A New Hope was moved to ILM’s R&D department. The sound and visual effects have improved, thanks to better blue screen work and recording equipment and the rotoscoping for the lightsabers is sharper. John Williams was brought back to score the film, which features a new theme both for the Empire, Yoda and Han & Leia’s love story.

From a writing standpoint, The Empire Strikes Back serves as the best example of Lucas getting out of the way. Though the story is his, the screenplay was written by both Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Between the two of them and director Irwin Kershner’s input, Empire has the tightest characterization of all the films (in my opinion). We’re given a love story that’s both subtle and believable, a villain worth hating without being overly campy, and a hero who discovers that as good as he believes himself to be, he still has much to learn. There’s also an element of comedy peppered throughout, with James Earl Jones and Harrison Ford getting some of the best lines and/or moments. New characters are introduced in the form of Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Boba Fett (Played by Jeremy Bulloch and voiced by Jason Wingreen. On a trivia side note, Frank Oz and George Lucas would reunite some years later in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, produced by Lucas.

The film opens with the Empire sending out probes to locate the rebel forces. There a focus on the Rebellion, stationed on the icy planet of Hoth. The audience is allowed to catch up on our heroes. Luke Skywalker is slowly learning the ways of the Force and is coming into his own. Han Solo and Chewbacca remain his friends and have stayed behind, rather than choosing to leave. Both gentlemen have an awkward approach towards Princess Leia, who continues to lead the Alliance. When Han and Chewie stumble on one of the Empire’s droids, it’s clear they’re going to have to be ready for battle.

The audience is brought back to the Empire’s viewpoint with a grand introduction to former henchman turned major villian, Lord Darth Vader. Seeing as he survived the attack on the first death star (and no one challenged him) he saw fit to give himself a promotion. With the promotion came some perks, including a super Star Destroyer complete with his own little pod chamber. Vader begins a relentless assault on the rebel troops in his search for Luke, who he’s recognized as having some Force abilities. This turns out to be Vader’s one big mistake. While his attentions are focused on the Millenium Falcon, Luke travels to the planet Dagobah to see out Master Yoda. As this was some time before CGI, the original Yoda was more or less a Muppet. Mind you, this was probably a shock to a many viewers. Obi-Wan was good, but this little green fellow was a Jedi? How did that even happen? Still, he was awesome. Through Yoda, Luke gains more skill with the force, but he leaves before he can finish.

The battle itself is an air to ground one, with giant walking tanks (AT-AT’s) on the Empire’s side and Snowspeeders for the rebels. While it’s a great fight, the Rebels are forced to escape their home, looking more like the Quarian Migrant Fleet in Mass Effect by the end of the film. The scene is a great example of how the technology in the Star Wars universe has grown. New ships such as the Tie Bomber also made an appearance. For each film in the series, you’re introduced to some new vehicle and/or weapon. One can only hope that with The Force Awakens, we’ll see more than just Tie Fighters and X-Wings.

Vader eventually catches up with Solo and the Princess by way of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter working for Jabba the Hutt. Cinema audiences still wouldn’t see Jabba until 1983’s Return of the Jedi, but it was a good foreshadowing. Under the impression they’ve escaped the Empire, Han & Leia head over to the Cloud City at Bespin, where Han is reunited with his old friend Lando Calrissian. Here we gain a bit of backstory on how Solo acquired the Falcon. It all seems a little too perfect and safe until we all discover that the bad guys (yet again) have the drop on our heroes.

Solo is tortured, along with the rest of the friends in an effort to lure Luke to Bespin. The Empire uses the Cloud City’s carbonite system on Solo as a test (considering that the process could kill him) for when Skywalker arrives. This results in one of the best one liners in the original trilogy, as well as one of the saddest scenes. Five year old me cried so much, this film was just depressing at every turn.

With the stage set for the showdown between Luke and Vader, the Lightsaber battle was cut between the escape of Leia, Chewie and Lando, who takes the place of Han as the Millenium Falcon’s pilot. The fight is slow compared to the prequels, but Vader is his best here, easily besting Luke with one hand at the start while trying to seduce him to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a beautifully lit sequence by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky that would end with a revelation that would leave audiences questioning the film for the 3 years leading up to Return of the Jedi. Luke is able to escape Vader, but given the knowledge that he could be his father, everything changes for him from a character standpoint. Why did Obi-Wan lie to him about it? Can he, knowing Vader is his father, kill him? Should he, even?  Granted, as anyone who’s seen Pitch Perfect knows (or anyone who’s studied basic German), Vader means Father in German. How he didn’t see that coming is beyond me. Then again, when I first saw the film it was news to me, too.

So, there you have The Empire Strikes Back, easily the best film in the entire Star Wars saga. It’s proof that a Star Wars film can be made without Lucas controlling every aspect of it – though it should be noted that as Executive Producer, he was on hand in just about every other scene. We’ll around out our Star Wars coverage on the Eve of The Force Awakens’ release with Return of the Jedi.

Sci-Fi Review – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (dir. by George Lucas)


 

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Before I start, a quick apology. This isn’t a great review by any means. One, I rushed it. Two, In writing about a film that everyone knows, I found I had problem figuring out exactly what to say. What you’re getting here is a stream of consciousness. The Empire Strikes Back review will be better.

In anticipation of The Force Awakens, the Shattered Lens are taking on the other films in the Star Wars Saga. It’s next to impossible for anyone to avoid seeing anything related to the new film as the fever grows and we reach the December 18th release date.

There are a few movies where I wish I could’ve been there during their theatrical release. How great would it be to see audiences squirm during Ridley Scott’s Alien, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws or William Friedkin’s The Exorcist? I was a little too young to see the original Star Wars when it premiered in May of 1977, but I can’t imagine it wasn’t amazing. I wouldn’t be familiar with the films until 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. That was the film I saw first. Then Star Wars on VHS and finally Return of the Jedi in the cinema when I was 9.

Still, I grew up knowing what Star Wars was before I could really read. Thanks to an older brother who was enthralled with the film at 7, there were Star Wars curtains in our room and Star Wars bedsheets/blankets. We had action figures and models to play with. Since LED’s in toys weren’t the norm, our lightsabers consisted of whiffle-bat plastic rods with cuts in them. Swing the sword a bit and you’d hear the “hum” of the blade. It was an awesome time.

Years later, when my little brother was born in the mid-1980’s, we kept him occupied with movies. Once he learned what Star Wars was, it was almost always the film he’d pick out to watch. I took him with me to catch all three of the Prequels during late night runs. We’d spend the wait with our own lightsabers, re-enacting Episode I fights or just talking about what we hoped we’d see. Earlier this year, during my last visit to my friends in Oregon, I was able to introduce a new generation to the magic of it all.

All of that is me, gushing over one of my favorite set of films. You have my sympathies.

So, how did a little sci-fi film in the late 70s manage to become such a pop culture beacon today? Was it the special effects, so ground breaking that we still use its techniques (such as the Green Screen)? Was it the sound design? The cast, perhaps, made up of a mix of relative unknowns and seasoned film veterans?

I’d argue that the film’s biggest success is the overall impact in the Motion Picture industry. Lucas and the production team were forced to make some innovations to get the vision they wanted. To that end, Industrial Light & Magic was created, and the effects studio pioneered special effects for years to come. Pixar wouldn’t have happened without Star Wars and ILM, since they were just a branch of the company that Lucas couldn’t quite find a use for, supposedly. The best comparison I can make for anyone unfamiliar with ILM is Weta Digital and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You know when you watched those three films, you were seeing effects that everyone would want to use down the road. That’s just my view. The ties to classic myths were also strong, as Lucas was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s Hero Journey is basically the template used for A New Hope (and for The Matrix by the Wachowski’s, if you watch them side by side). Ben Burtt would go on to win a special award for Sound Effects in the film. His work would eventually end up being the backbone of Skywalker Sound.

From a casting standpoint, most of the principals were relative unknowns at the time. Lucas worked with Harrison Ford on American Graffiti some years before. Mark Hamill was brought on board after auditioning at the behest of his friend, Robert Englund (which I found out during writing this). Carrie Fisher loved the script and was also cast as Princess Leia. For some added weight, Lucas managed to cast both Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. I’m still not entirely certain of how he pulled that off.

Star Wars (or A New Hope as I’ll refer to it) takes place 30 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The Galactic Empire is in control over everything, the Jedi are no more. It’s a near complete victory, save for the fact that the plans for the Empire’s greatest weapon were stolen. When a Star Destroyer intercepts a Rebel Cruiser with Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) on board, she’s captured for interrogation. This is, of course, after she sneaks the plans for the Death Star in her trust R2 Unit, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). R2, along with his companion C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) manage to escape the Star Destroyer and land on the desert planet of Tatooine.

The Droids are discovered by Jawas and are then sold to Owen Lars, his wife Beru and their nephew, Luke Skywalker. Luke wants to join up with the Alliance and become a starfighter, but the family needs him on the farm. After stumbling on to the message the Princess hid in R2-D2, he looks for his old friend, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), who turns out to be more than what he seems.

In order to get to the Princess, they need someone to get them there. This is where the coolest character in the entire series appears. For a price, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) take Ben and Luke in their spaceship, the Millenium Falcon to search for her. They get captured by the Empire, practically stumble upon the princess and she rescues them by way of a garbage chute. They get the plans, escape the Death Star and collaborate on a rebel assault to destroy it before it can do more harm. That’s the bulk of it, though admittedly, I’m leaving a lot out. It’s a simple tale, but an effective one as well.

Overall, A New Hope is still the template for a lot of Sci-Fi films. Battles in space, a little bit of swashbuckling, and some humor here and there are all elements borrowed by many films and games since it was released. Some handle Sci-Fi better (Mass Effect, Dune) and others fail in comparison (Jupiter Ascending, anyone?), but most modern works pay some homage to Star Wars in a way.

Tomorrow, we take a look at The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best story in the Star Wars saga.

 

Scenes I Love: Star Wars – A New Hope (Part 2)


Binary Sunset

It is Star Wars month as we move closer and closer to the release of the latest film in the Star Wars franchise. I chose a few weeks back a favorite scene from the very first Star Wars which came out in 1977. This favorite scene is the first of three that make up the three specific scenes I love from Star Wars: A New Hope.

This second favorite scene also shows up in the early part of the film. The first scene I chose showed the wow factor of the space battle and capture of the Rebel Alliance frigate and the introduction of one of filmdom’s greatest and most iconic villains in Darth Vader. This latest chosen scene introduces us to his polar opposite in the young Luke Skywalker on the planet Tatooine.

It’s a scene that focuses on the hope and dreams of a young man stuck in a place he knows he doesn’t belong. He believes that he’s meant to be doing something more important and we find out later on in the film that his feeling is correct. It helps that the scene was helped by the score of one John Williams whose musical track playing in the background — aptly titled “Binary Sunset” — gives it a sense of longing and a promise of a better future.

Scenes I Love: Star Wars – A New Hope (Part 1)


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Today marks 30 more days before the release of the next chapter in the Star Wars saga. It’s been almost a dozen years since the prequels finally ended and the fandom was split between those who railed against it and those of the younger generation whose first entry into the Star Wars universe were the prequels instead of the original trilogy.

For those who grew up watching the original trilogy over and over throughout the years, the prospect of the franchise returning to it’s adventure roots instead of delving into the soap operatic backstory that made up the prequels was enough to create the massive swell of hype and anticipation for a film unheard of even in these current era of superhero tentpole blockbusters and massive sequels.

Star Wars: A New Hope was my gateway to the fandom and no scene helped usher me into becoming a devoted fan than the very first few minutes of the film as we see the message crawl to start then the massive bulk of the Imperial Star Destroyer chasing down a fleeing ship of much smaller size. Yet, the scene doesn’t end there. No, it continues inside where we finally get our first introduction to one of film’s most iconic villains to ever grace the silver screen.

The Imperial Star Destroyer opening was the hook and Darth Vader pulled one in.