Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review

Director: Ron Howard

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 135 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Solo: A Star Wars Story is unnecessary and nobody asked for it. That being said, it’s still quite a lot of fun and, with the exception of a certain cameo, doesn’t do any real damage to Star Wars lore. Set in between Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), this is the backstory of everybody’s favorite smuggler duo, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). It, unfortunately, flopped at the box office, thanks to backlash from Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), lack of excitement over Han Solo (originally played by Harrison Ford in the original Star Wars trilogy) being recast, and news of behind-the-scenes drama. The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, were fired and replaced by Ron Howard…so, yes, Opie from The Andy Griffith Show did helm a Star Wars movie.

With the occasional western and gangster film elements, Solo is a delight to watch. The action sequences, including everything from a “car chase” to a train robbery to a slave revolt (slave revolts are always fun), are exemplary, and the musical score by John Powell (with a little help from John Williams) is energetic. The stakes of the picture aren’t save-the-galaxy high, but it works well enough, and Chewbacca is a real scene-stealer.

The film’s cinematography is a bit too dark and murky for such a light-hearted movie. Sometimes, it’s hard to see what’s going on in the background. There’s also the matter a certain cameo from a character that should be dead towards the end of the runtime. It’s not a big deal, but it sort of throws me off. Solo is also perhaps a tad too long for its own good, with some of the scenes near the end not being quite as thrilling as those that preceded them.

So, a lot of Star Wars fans missed out on Solo in theaters thanks to things like the bad taste left in their mouth from The Last Jedi and the fact that nobody really requested it. They really missed out on a glorious, inoffensive treat. Many found the picture somewhat predictable, but, after the derailment caused by The Last Jedi, maybe something nice and safe was just what the franchise needed.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review

Director: Gareth Edwards

Genres(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 133 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first Star Wars spinoff film of the Disney era. In a story that takes place moments before Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), the Rebel Alliance discovers that the Galactic Empire is secretly building a space station, known as the Death Star, capable of destroying a planet. Can our intrepid band of freedom fighters find a weakness in the new weapon of mass destruction before it’s too late? Upon its release, many a reviewer said that this movie “put the ‘Wars’ in ‘Star Wars.'” They were certainly right.

Rogue One feels closer to being a war picture than any of the previous flicks in the franchise. The grade-A action sequences are simultaneously spectacular and gritty, with lots of vehicles, weapons, and uniforms from everybody’s favorite galaxy far, far away being on display. Some have decried the amount of “fan service” found in the military hardware found here, but, considering that it takes place minutes before the original trilogy, I don’t think it’s an issue. The highlight of the various engagements shown in the film is the extended action finale, which might actually serve up too much combat for viewers who aren’t action-adventure buffs.

Largely reliant on new characters, the movie succeeds here by offering many compelling ones. The special effects are impressive and the musical score by Michael Giacchino has that classic John Williams-style bombast. My first impression of the music was that it seemed a bit restrained, but I’ve warmed up to it since then. Visually, the motion picture is fairly dour at times, but this is appropriate, given the tone. It’s a vivid portrait of life in the Star Wars galaxy when the Galactic Empire was at its strongest.

Rogue One is a stellar Star Wars picture with high stakes and a ballsy ending. Yes, the opening act or so throws a lot at the audience (perhaps too much for people who aren’t fans of the series already), but it really feels like it was crafted by filmmakers who understand Star Wars. It may be set in a galaxy far, far away, but this story of heroic, war-time sacrifice still has plenty of resonance.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 136 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Does Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the seventh entry into the series, do damage to the venerable science-fiction/fantasy franchise, or is it a rollicking, good time at the movies? The answer is both. The last remaining Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), has disappeared, and both the heroic Resistance and the villainous First Order are battling over a map leading to his location. This is the first Star Wars picture to be made by Disney, and it largely plays it safe, trying to reintroduce Earth to the series without offending too many viewers.

The Force Awakens looks and sounds great. Visually, the decision to have actual costumes for the Stormtroopers (as opposed to the computer-generated Clone Troopers of the prequels) is Heaven-sent, and, sonically, John Williams’ musical score gets a thumbs-up. It also has plenty of successful comic relief. The action’s fabulous, and, generally speaking, the whole thing feels mighty energetic (the sequence revolving around Poe Dameron [Oscar Isaac] giving Finn [John Boyega] his name has more lifeblood to it than just about anything in the somewhat stuffy prequel trilogy). New characters are introduced, and they’re terrific. Old ones reappear and, for the most part, they’re given justice (although I can’t agree with every decision the filmmakers made). This could be the start of an exceptional, new trilogy…

The biggest downside of The Force Awakens is how it undoes the ending of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). This is enough to make it non-canon in my book. The unoriginal plot is basically a rehash of the one in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), although there are a few new elements (like a morally-conflicted Stormtrooper). I also have some criticisms of the movie that are more nit-picky in nature, like the relatively murky political situation the Star Wars galaxy finds itself in at the beginning of the film and general lack of alien species seen in the previous two trilogies.

At the end of the day, The Force Awakens is just fan fiction…but what fan fiction it is! Disregard it as canon and you might have a swell time. The undoing of the conclusion of Return of the Jedi is understandably a sore spot for many fans, but I think that it’s possible to enjoy a film for what it is and not let it affect one’s perception of a superior, related flick.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) Review

Director: George Lucas

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 140 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

One’s opinion of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith will largely depend on how they viewed the previous two Star Wars prequels. It suffers from many of the same problems, but also has many of the same upsides. Here, in the sixth installment into the franchise, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) increasingly finds himself tempted by the Dark Side of the Force as the Clone Wars wind down. Like the rest of the Star Wars films to come along since the end of the original trilogy, it’s not essential viewing, but it’s still miles from boring.

The salient fault of Revenge of the Sith is that the arc of Hayden Christensen’s irredeemable character, Anakin, is badly bungled. I won’t go into spoilers here, but let’s just say that what’s supposed to be tragic instead comes across as just desserts. There’s some cringey romance left over from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), and Padmé (Natalie Portman), a once-strong character, is now a weeping wreck.

On the upside, this picture is an action extravaganza, serving up tons of battles and fights to keep the mind from wandering. John Williams returns to do the musical score, and he hits it out of the park, as one has come to expect. The unafraid world-building is exquisite and it appears that Ian McDiarmid, as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, is having a blast. Pacing is generally fast, and the dark tone is appropriate and welcome.

This epic-scale melodrama is, in my opinion, the best of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, though I can’t really consider it canon in my “headcanon.” It just doesn’t mesh with the original trilogy. Still, don’t think about it too hard, and just let the incessant action and spectacle work their magic. It’s a highly entertaining, big-budget blockbuster. Also, check out the high billing in the end credits that Oliver Ford Davies gets for playing Sio Bibble.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) Review

Director: Richard Marquand

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 131 minutes (original cut), 134 minutes (Special Edition)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

It’s surprisingly hard for me to choose whether Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) or Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi is my favorite of the two. The Empire Strikes Back is the better-made and tighter of the duo, but Return of the Jedi serves as the conclusion to the cinematic trilogy, tying up all of the loose ends. For those living under a rock, Return of the Jedi‘s plot is about the Rebel Alliance preparing for one final battle with the vile Galactic Empire over the Forest Moon of Endor. It’s not a perfect motion picture, but, when things are going right, things are going very, very right.

Return of the Jedi is on solid ground when focusing on the depraved, slimy, sleazy Jabba the Hutt’s (voiced by Larry Ward) Palace and, later, the titanic, three-way battle of wills among Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), and Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The latter scenes are the true source of the film’s greatness. These emotionally-charged sequences are some of the best of the series and might give this movie the edge over The Empire Strikes Back. The most controversial aspect of Return of the Jedi has always been the cuddly, teddy-bear-like Ewoks fighting a pitched battle with the elite troops of the Empire. Of course, kids love this part and it sold many a toy, but I’m more concerned with the flick’s pacing and plot structure issues (the recycled destroy-the-Death-Star aspect of the story and Hamill’s character’s, Luke’s, plan to save Han Solo [Harrison Ford] being unclear are also minor flaws).

As one has come to expect, John Williams really delivers the goods in this one when it comes to the musical score. Yes, he’s still cranking out great new themes, while still playing the classics from 1977 and 1980. The special effects are nothing short of phenomenal and there’s a wondrous display of costumes and puppets. The explosive, swashbuckling action scenes are fantastic, too. The characters inhabiting the Star Wars galaxy are also as charming as they’ve ever been.

Return of the Jedi may have more problems than The Empire Strikes Back, but its high points may be higher. It’s the spine-tingling grand finale to the trilogy that largely does justice to the movies that preceded it. It ended the saga on a near-perfect note, in my opinion, while continuing to expand the lore of the universe that it’s set in. If you’re in the mood to view it, make sure to watch the original 1983 cut, and not the Special Edition.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Review

Director: Irvin Kershner

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 124 minutes (original cut), 127 minutes (Special Edition)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The second installment in the Star Wars series, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, goes above and beyond the call of duty for movie sequels. This is no retread of the story found in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). The heroic Rebel Alliance is thrown into disarray after their secret base on the snow planet of Hoth is discovered by the tyrannical Galactic Empire. This is a film that expands and deepens the lore of its franchise.

For many fans, The Empire Strikes Back is the gold standard that all other Star Wars pictures are measured against. This may be a shocker, but it may actually be my least favorite of the original Star Wars trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Hell out of it, but, in terms of storytelling, it’s the middle child of the first three. It doesn’t really do anything wrong, it’s just not the immersive introduction or the cathartic conclusion. It is perhaps the one most reliant on the other two for its story. All of this being said, I readily admit that it’s the most well-made of the series.

The Empire Strikes Back is perhaps most famous for having a moodier tone than the other two films in the original trilogy. Its sense of danger is more palpable than the other entries. The musical score by John Williams is, of course, mind-meltingly effective here, being known for introducing “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” to Earth. The special effects and action sequences will floor you, but it’s the characters that keep the flick together. Also, who could forget about that twist ending, the very best of its kind?

It does have some very minor faults (like the mighty convenient location of Yoda [Frank Oz] on the swamp planet of Dagobah and the fact that it’s unclear how much time passes in the second act), but The Empire Strikes Back is still one of my very favorite motion pictures. It’s no lazy cash-grab made to piggyback on the success of the original. It’s the real deal. If you want to watch it, make sure to view the unaltered, original cut of the movie, instead of the Special Edition.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) Review

Director: George Lucas

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 121 minutes (original cut), 125 minutes (Special Edition)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, originally just titled “Star Wars” when unleashed in theaters (despite the “Episode IV” in the title, this is the first Star Wars flick), is perhaps the most famous movie of all time. A moisture farmer on the desert planet of Tatooine named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is recruited by a wizard-like Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to help him aid Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in her rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire. Yes, this is one of the best motion pictures ever released, and the best in the Star Wars series.

This flick was dismissed by many critics back in the day who simply believed that audiences had fallen under the spell of its action and special effects. However, there is so much more to the appeal of the first Star Wars film than just its mind-blowing visuals and thunderous action sequences. It has countless lovable characters that have become fan favorites, insanely well-done sound effects, and what just might be the best musical score for any movie ever (done by John Williams, of course). Its story is timeless, playing out like a pulpy fairy tale. An unlikely hero is called upon to rescue a princess from an evil king’s castle. In other words, it has the same plot as your typical Mario video game.

This refreshingly sincere and ridiculously fast-paced motion picture also taps into the universal desire to break free from one’s boring world and escape on an adventure of great consequence. Look at the scene of Mark Hamill’s character, Luke Skywalker, gazing off at the two setting suns of his homeworld as he thirsts for something more. It’s only a matter of time before he’s “taken [his] first step into a larger world,” to quote Alec Guinness’ character, Obi-Wan Kenobi…and what a world! The imagination behind the world-building in this movie (look at the Mos Eisley Cantina scene for example) is overwhelming.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, or just “Star Wars,” is still a pleasure to watch after all these decades. It works perfectly well as either a standalone treat or as a member of a larger franchise. This is just about as good as movies get, and is my favorite non-Indiana Jones picture of all time. You definitely should watch this one, and make sure you watch the original 1977 cut of the film, rather than one of the various Special Editions that tinker with the special effects/visuals and add new, unnecessary sequences.

My rating is 10 outta 10.