ALONE AGAIN, NATURALLY
Main Cast: Alden Ehenreich, Emilia Clarke
Director: Ron Howard
Casa Maine has been an absolute flurry of activity as I attempt to make all the arrangements for poor Normy’s
memorial. I have decided that the funeral cortege will proceed down Sunset Boulevard from the house to Hollywood and then make its way to the Chinese Theater where he will lie in repose for three days to give plenty of time for family, friends, fans, and the occasional random geologist to pay their final respects. The cortege will proceed at night for proper atmosphere and less traffic disruption. I am renting the Budweiser Clydesdales to pull the hearse and it will be accompanied by members of the corps of the Los Angeles Ballet wielding a variety of flambeaux in attractive patterns. I’m having Mary Gee and Kim Dee, my seamstresses, whip up some stunning creations with trailing black tulle veils for them. I’m thinking we can have the whole procession filmed and edited into a prime time special for one of the more artistic cable networks. Joseph, my manager, is shopping the idea around as I write this.
I am missing Normy terribly. Even though our professional lives often took us apart on separate projects, we always made time for each other and I supported his projects over the years as he supported mine. I had thought my life and career might be over when my darling Norman drowned some years ago and had no idea that Normy would enter my life and reshape it the way he did. I have had acts one and two, but all good troupers know that the very best plays have at least three acts and I am sure my third will take me in new and exciting directions when I am ready for life to do so. In the meantime, I have slowed down my professional commitments to give myself some time to breathe and reflect. I do, however, have a very exciting and apropos project that I’m planning on springing on the world, but I must keep it under wraps at the moment as the contracts are not yet signed. In the meantime, I have begun cleaning out some of the closets in his studio. I am not certain what I am supposed to do with collection of melodicas and hammered dulcimers. Perhaps an estate sale at UCLA’s school of music.
In between planning dance moves that can be done safely and efficiently on downtown city streets (I have learned a lot from James Corden’s Sidewalk Musicals) and supervising costume construction, I did find time to sneak out to the local cineplex to catch the new side quest Star Wars film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Since Disney acquired the franchise from George Lucas a few years back for a few gazillion dollars, they have announced an impressive slate of offerings including the sequel trilogy (two of which have been released) and some separate origin/fill in the gap films of which this is one. This is an origin story for Han Solo (Harrison Ford in both the original and sequel trilogies) – the role that started him on the road from glorified day player to international film star. This film, if the trades are to be believed, had a very troubled history. The screenplay was written by Hollywood veteran Lawrence Kasdan and completed by his son Jonathan when he became attached to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The property was filmed in early 2017 under the direction of the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Their approach to the material was more comedic than the suits or Kasdan senior liked and, after the film was nearly completed, the duo were summarily fired, the footage scrapped, and they returned to square one under the direction of competent journeyman Ron Howard. This filming of the material twice ballooned the budget to the point that this is likely to be the first Star Wars property not to return its budget in its initial release.
The stand-alone Star Wars films appear to be exercises in genre filmmaking. Rogue One was a war drama highly reminiscent of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone: A group of misfits undertakes an impossible mission against great odds and ultimately succeeds. Solo, on the other hand is a western, complete with great train robbery, treacherous dance hall hostess, and high stakes poker games. I almost expected Clint Eastwood to turn up with a poncho and cigar. We first meet young Han (Alden Ehenreich) and his lady love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke without platinum hair and dragons) on a planet named Correlia that seems to be nothing but a collection of run down shipyards. They are young thieves under one of the multitude of thumbs of some sort of giant caterpillar voiced by Linda Hunt. They vow to escape, and Han makes it off-world (don’t worry – Qi’ra turns up again shortly) and takes the name Han Solo as he is alone in the universe. He joins the Imperial Army, meets cute with a familiar Wookie, ends up with a gang of ne’er do wells led by Woody Harrelson and Thandie Newton, and eventually links up with the young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who owns a ship called The Millennium Falcon. Hijinks ensue with betrayals, narrow escapes, sacrifices, and eventually Han, now a full-fledged rogue, is off to work with a certain gangster on the desert planet of Tatooine.
Solo is great fun, works as a stand alone so those who do not follow Star Wars obsessively will have no difficulty following plot or understanding character, and never drags. It also has all sorts of nods to fans with references to characters, events, and objects from the earlier films. We finally learn what the Kessel run is, for instance and Chewbacca gets introduced to Star Wars chess. Ron Howard has always been a very competent film director, no matter the genre, his big issue is no particular unique vision or stamp. You can’t watch a Ron Howard film and know immediately who directed it unlike, say, a film by Tim Burton, Baz Luhrmann, or Martin Scorsese. I would like to be able to see what Lord and Miller were trying to do with the material as some additional comic brio might have lifted the film over the top.
The performances are perfectly adequate. Young Mr. Ehrenreich suffers from not being Harrison Ford (and I have a feeling that the original Han Solo was Harrison playing Harrison) but he is now over 70 and no amount of CGI is going to return him to his youth. I liked his approach to the character enough to accept him as Han, but some part of my medulla oblongata pined for Mr. Ford’s line readings and casual double takes. There are no real standouts in the cast, but Woody Harrelson does his usual whacked out outsider well and Paul Bettany has some great moments as the villain. Much has been made of Donald Glover’s easy charm as young Lando (with some even suggesting an easy bisexuality that I did not pick up on, even in the subtext) but I didn’t find him terribly special. Emilia Clarke, as Qi’ra, is pretty (with her natural dark hair), handles the action sequences well but, again, doesn’t bring it up the notch to make it truly special.
The special effects are first rate. The escape from the mines of Kessel aboard the Millennium Falcon is especially thrilling. I also liked the train robbery sequence where several different groups are vying for the payload. It’s well choreographed and shot with the appropriate building of tension as carefully laid plans go wrong bit by bit. Scenes in the villain’s high fashion lair are a bit less successful as the inhabitants seem to have escaped from outtakes from The Hunger Games capital sequences.
Ultimately, I do recommend Solo as a great escape for a couple of hours. I just wish it weren’t quite so conventional. If the Star Wars franchise is to grow and prosper, Disney is going to have to stop playing it safe and try some new things so that the results are fresh and exciting, not vaguely reminiscent of things we’ve seen before.
Speeder chase. Caterpillar jewelry. Mud battle. Gratuitous sacrifice of secondary love interest. Red glowing double edged blade. Glitzy cocktail party. Gratuitous appearance of The Phantom Menace character. Card cheats.