Friday, 29 June 2018

Review: Solo - A Star Wars Story (fourth-pass)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (fourth-pass / IMAX 3D / SPOILERS)
Cert: 12A / 135 mins / Dir. Ron Howard / Trailer

Previous reviews: 1 | 2 | 3

This is your spoiler-break. It's the chunk of text which acts as a buffer so that accidental-clicks or preview-feeders etc don't give away that REDACTED is in this film. Although by the time this review finally goes live (mad few weeks IRL, folks), it'll hardly be a secret, but still. The principle is there.

So in this bit I'll just say that the IMAX screen in which I saw Solo for the fourth time was sorely in want of bums-on-seats, although again, this should come as no surprise to anyone at this point. That was disconcerting enough, but the actual projection itself wasn't top-notch either, which in my admittedly limited experience is unheard of with IMAX. Severe ghosting with the 'green' lens (or digital equivalent) on the right-hand side of the screen. I'm used to shoddy projection with RealD screenings, but this ain't on. Obviously I had a word afterwards, but depending on which level of staff you catch in the foyer, you're never quite sure how much further your observation will travel.

Anyhow, neither of these things ended up spoiling what, for me, is a thoroughly solid entry in the Star Wars canon. Read on to find out why...


Despite having a largely optimistic lead character for most of its run-time, Solo is a movie of foreshadowing.

Some of this is blatant. Tobias Beckett's quiet advice to Han, "...assume everyone will betray you, and you'll never be disappointed", should ring in everyone's ears the next time they watch The Force Awakens, as the Corellian stands on the gantry in Starkiller Base looking at his son for the last time.

Other lines are more broad. The opening caption-card, 'It is a lawless time' is an indicator right off the bat that since the Empire are the ones supposedly running the galaxy now, they're still not going to appear in this film too often. And other than the spaceport scene on Corellia (where the troopers are told to back off by Moloch, anyway) and the furry Rangetroopers guarding the Conveyex train on Vandor, the film stays true to that promise.

Then, thre's a layer of in-movie, retroactive foreshadowing. When we first re-join Qi'Ra onboard Dryden Vos' pleasure yacht, she's wearing a semi-circular amulet as part of her dress, resembling the bottom half of the Crimson Dawn tattoo adorning her wrist. And when we finally meet the head of that organisation in the movie's final minutes, we see he's wearing one too (although Qi'Ra has removed hers by that point). It's a visual link which only really becomes apparent when the film is watched for a second time.

Oh yeah, and Maul. He's back.
Who saw that one coming?

Hmm? You didn't? Well, the clues were there...

+ + +

So I didn't understand, when I read the 2014 comic-series Son Of Dathomir, why the powers-that-be had left the ex-Sith Lord and all-round troublemaker, Maul, surviving. 'Again'. 

The Zabrak's exit in The Phantom Menace had been fairly definitive ('divisive', even), and while his Season Four return in the Clone Wars series had been oddly compelling, the thought remained that you wouldn't bring a character back from the void like that without planning a really great send-off. And the build-up of the Shadow Collective episodes in Season Five seemed to be heading for just that conclusion. Having Maul building a criminal empire with his brother/apprentice, utilising the Mandalorian Death Watch, the Hutt families, the Pyke Syndicate and Black Sun pulled together a lot of threads, and when Darth Sidious finally snapped and went to sort business out himself, that promised the ultimate smackdown. But Maul wasn't destroyed by Sidious, only captured, and with the line "Do not worry, I'm not going to kill you. I have other uses for you…" 

But in 2014 The Clone Wars was cancelled, and the ambiguous thread on which Maul's fate had been left dangling seemed even more ominous. Maybe we'd find out what happened to him, maybe not. Not every question in Star Wars needs to be answered, although most eventually are. But in the Lucasfilm/Disney re-jig - and keeping in mind that The Clone Wars series was to be considered canon in the body of work moving forward, a four-issue comic series, 'Son of Dathomir', was commissioned. It told the story originally intended for the sixth season of the show. In it, Maul is taken to Palpatine's secure prison on Stygeon Prime, where he is used as bait to lure out the Dathomir witch, Mother Talzin, so that Sidious can finally dispose of this matriarchal thorn in his side. But, long-story-short, Maul escapes at the end. 'Again'. 

So a few years down the line in Star Wars Rebels, we eventually learned the obvious reason why: to be a part of future Star Wars stories of course. But all good (or badass) things must come to an end, and everyone's favourite horny assassin finally met his match with his long-time nemesis, Ben Kenobi (hey, I told you up the top there'd be spoilers. They're just spoilers for 'all' of Star Wars, that's all) on Tatooine. So that was that. Arc closed, circle complete, there goes Maul. Bye mate. 

But of course, Solo takes place (for its largest segment), around ten years before that final duel. Maul's still around, still pissed off, it's an expensive place and he's got to get his disposable income from somewhere. And hey, what better job in a lawless galaxy than to be a crime-boss, right? Which brings us directly (again) to our first tip-off… 

1) One of the first things we see, after the familiar 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…' card, the next words to appear on-screen are "It is a lawless time". Season 5, Episode 16 of The Clone Wars sees Maul consolidating his criminal power and eventually facing off against the livid Darth Sidious. This episode is titled 'The Lawless'. Given these words at the beginning of Solo and Maul's appearance at the end, his crime syndicate now including (or being spearheaded by) Crimson Dawn, my brain can't think of this as co-incidence. 

2) Another linguistic nod comes later in the movie on Kessel. Qi'Ra refers to her (ostensibly fictional) boss as "his eminence". Not a particularly obscure term, but a very specific one nonetheless. Eminence isn't a word which occurs often through Star Wars scripting. But 'Eminence' was the title of Season 5, Episode 14 of The Clone Wars. This is the one where Maul assembles his allied criminal factions into The Shadow Collective, including the Pyke Syndicate. Showing one of the Pykes at the same time as this line is uttered is (in my fan-boy mind) a deliberate clue on the trail to Maul's eventual reveal. 

3) Yeah, I wish I could find a direct reference to episode 15 of that season, 'Shades of Reason', the other one covering Maul's rise as a master criminal. But hey - we can't have everything, right? 

It's entirely possible (probable, even) that these lines would have appeared whoever was going to be in the hologram which Qi'Ra fired up (this was only finalised late in the game). But the fact that they did anyway creates a link. Perhaps a retroactive one, but a link all the same. And that's not to say I second-guessed Maul's appearance. I absolutely didn't. But the words 'Lawless' and 'Eminence' rang bells from my second-pass onwards.

On the surface, Solo is a throwaway, star-hopping adventure. Just underneath that, it's a web that links the prequel, original and sequel trilogies, as well as Rogue One, The Clone Wars and Rebels.

This is about as Star Wars as they come…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Star Wars's.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, all.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time will tell.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Well I'd have said no, but I've also read 'mixed reactions' by now so who knows?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
…I thought I heard a cut-off one during the exterior ground-battle on Kessel.
But no, of course I can't be sure.
I mean, I've only seen the film four times

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 0: It is Star Wars.

…but if you wanted to go round the houses with it, Solo stars Donald Glover, who voiced Miles Morales in episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man, which also featured Tom Kenny who performed in 2015's animated Back To The Jurassic, as did Grey DeLisle, who lent her voice to Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, a movie featuring the warblings of one Michael York, who went on to narrate the 2014 Sleeping Beauty which starred Olivia D'Abo, who was in 1994's Clean Slate along with James Earl Jones, who reprises his Mufasa role in the upcoming live-action version of The Lion King, which also features the tones of... Donald Glover.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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