Solo: A Star Wars Story never had a chance, with the original directors being fired just weeks from wrapping production, massive reshoots by the new director Ron Howard, backlash from outraged fans over The Last Jedi, and being released less than six months from The Last Jedi and competing with Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2.
The Production: 4/5
A young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) is a street smart thief and orphan working for Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt), a giant white worm and one of the crime lords on the planet Corellia. When a heist for Proxima goes wrong, Han and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) attempt to escape from the planet, with Qi’ra captured and Han enlisting as a pilot for the Empire as a way to escape. Three years later, he finds himself in the thick of a tough battle, finding himself under the command of Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who is impersonating an Imperial officer in order to steal a ship. Beckett double-crosses Han by denouncing him as a deserter, placing him into a cell with a wookie by the name of Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Han and Chewie escape, impressing Beckett to make them part of his crew for a heist of coaxium (a highly volatile hyperfuel) on the planet Vandor. Rounding out Beckett’s crew are Val (Thandie Newton) and Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau). As a running theme in the film, the heist does not go as planned, lives are lost, and Beckett finds himself empty-handed and having to face Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), leader of the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn. But Han and Beckett have a plan to make it up to Vos, steal some unrefined coaxium on the mining planet Kessel. Vos likes the idea, and sends his assistant, Qi’ra (surprise!) with them to oversee the mission and help them charter a ship, the Millenium Falcon, from gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his first mate, android L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).
Solo: A Star Wars Story should probably have been called Solo: A Series of Star Wars Adventures, because the film often feels like a collection of short stories told in consecutive order. That’s not a bad thing, though, as the stories do tend to flow into one another, it’s just that the script by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan is structured without a solid storyline carrying the film from beginning to end, and instead tells three main stories (Han’s life on Corellia, the heist on Vandor, and the infamous Kessel run). The Kasdan’s know the Star Wars universe very well, especially Han Solo (Lawrence wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens). It is fairly well-known that veteran director Ron Howard was brought in when original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired just weeks before principal photography was scheduled to wrap, and that Howard then reportedly reshot close to 80 percent of what appears on screen in the finished film. Howard’s career has been somewhat uneven, with some very good films but lately his films have suffered, but here in Solo Howard makes the best out of what was most likely a bad situation, working with a cast and crew he did not choose and trying to “fix” a film the studio felt was broken. Solo is not necessarily a bad movie, I found it very entertaining, and my long-time friend George, with whom my wife and I saw this film with theatrically in Orlando while on vacation last summer, felt the same way, despite the fact that the two of us were in major disagreements over Star Wars: The Last Jedi (he hated it, I was much more forgiving). Yes, Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t quite have the charisma or charm that Harrison Ford embodied into his portrayal of Han, but this is a younger version of the character, who has yet to meet Jabba the Hut. Character-wise, the real standouts are Glover as Lando who has that character down pat, his sidekick and first mate L3-37 allowing Waller-Bridge to have some of the funniest lines in the film, and Suotamo taking over the role of Chewbacca from Peter Mayhew. And John Powell’s score is reminiscent of the classic Star Wars films, often incorporating cues from John Williams’ compositions.
3D Rating: NA
Solo: A Star Wars Story was captured at 3.4k and 6.5k resolutions on Arri Alexa Mini, Alexa XT Plus, and Alexa 65 cameras, completed as a 4K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision high dynamic range in selected venues. Disney’s 4K UHD Blu-ray presents the film in a nice 2160p HEVC encode in the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio and HDR10 high dynamic range. The UHD version, first of all, does appear to be slightly darker than the Blu-ray, with deeper blacks that often appear dark grey on Blu-ray. Shadow detail is improved, particularly on the dark streets of Corellia and the mines of Kessel. Whites are often bright without clipping, and details are much stronger thanks to the improved contrast provided by HDR10, particularly on the snow-covered planet of Vandor. Colors may seem a bit more subdued on the UHD version, but I found that the colors were perhaps too vibrant, often blooming at times, on the Blu-ray. This is not exactly a transfer to wow the neighbors with on your UHD display, but I believe that may be intentional.
Disney’s UHD release of Solo contains a fairly solid but not spectacular Dolby Atmos mix (the good news is that there are no redundant Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 or 2.0 stereo mixes). It is not the disappointment that previous Disney Atmos mixes have been on titles like Thor: Ragnarok. Yes, audio levels are a bit low, but nowhere near as low as those previous films. Bump the audio up a few notches, and sit back for a fun experience, but don’t expect a lot of overhead activity. Surrounds are very active, though, with terrific panning effects made much more seamless with object-based Atmos. LFE is good, but not great, and dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. Unfortunately, this is how I remember it sounding when I saw it theatrically in a Dolby Cinema last summer, minus the butt-kickers, of course.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Disney has packaged the 4K UHD Blu-ray release as a 3-disc set, with movie-only UHD and Blu-ray discs, and a Special Features only Blu-ray disc. I’m quite surprised at the amount of Special Features included, considering all of the production problems.
Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable (1080p; 21:44): Key cast members Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are interviewed by director Ron Howard in an enjoyable discussion of what must have been a tough shoot.
Kasdan on Kasdan (1080p; 7:50): The father and son writing team discuss their roots and legacy with the saga and what it was like to work on a script together.
Remaking the Millennium Falcon (1080p; 5:36): A look at creating Lando’s version of the Falcon.
Escape from Corellia (1080p; 9:59): A look at the production design of Han’s home world.
The Train Heist (1080p; 14:30): A look at creating the heist sequence on Vandor.
Team Chewie (1080p; 6:41): A look at the relationship between Han and Chewie.
Becoming a Droid: L3-37 (1080p; 5:06): A look at the designs of L3-37, and how the character was filmed to incorporate as much of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s performance as possible.
Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso (1080p; 8:02): A look at Lando’s world.
Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run (1080p; 8:28): Believe it or not, much of the sequence was filmed in-camera (at least the portions inside the Falcon’s cockpit) using updated projection techniques.
Deleted Scenes (1080p; 15:13): Proxima’s Den, Corellian Foot Chase, Han Solo: Imperial Cadet, The Battle of Mimban: Extended, Han Versus Chewie: Extended, Snowball Fight!, Meet Dryden: Extended, and Coaxium Double-Cross.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy on Movies Anywhere. I received 4K UHD versions on Vudu, FandangoNow, and Amazon Prime Video, and HD on Google Play Movies. I do not own an Apple TV or an XBOX One so cannot confirm the resolutions provided on iTunes and Microsoft Movies, respectively.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was dealt a bad hand of cards, with its production problems, word of mouth backlash from disgruntled “fans,” and opening in the wake of Infinity War and Deadpool 2. If you give it a chance, you might just like it. Trust me.https://www.amazon.com/Solo-Star-Wars-Story-Blu-ray/dp/B07CQL3455/ref=tmm_frk_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&&qid=&&sr=