‘Solo’ Review: A Space Western Origin Story

Spoilers ahead. This is not the review you’re looking for.

Let’s get rid of the elephant in the room:

  • The movie is good.
  • Alden nailed a younger version of Han Solo.
  • Yes, it answers many questions.
  • The movie is good, really good to say the truth.

Like Q’ira would say: ‘You look good. A little rough around the edges, but good.’

‘Solo’ is the first character driven movie in the Star Wars franchise. Someone might consider the prequels character driven, but there are many elements at stake besides Anakin’s turn to the dark side. ‘Solo’ is just about the smuggler and his adventures that slowly turned him into the cynical guy we meet at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Even though it is an origin story, it doesn’t take the character as seriously, except when filling some gaps of his background.

While ‘Rogue One’ was focused on a big war event, ‘Solo’ goes the other way. Gone are the Rebellion and the Empire. Prepare to embark on some fun adventures that aren’t really important for the main events of the saga, but they are still tons of fun.

It is very difficult to watch ‘Solo’ without taking into consideration the western genre. Some motifs include people struggling in poverty, gangsters, gambling, train chases, bounty hunters, Indians attacked by cowboys to take their goods, uncommitted love, horses (the Falcon fits this purpose), and life debts. The more you understand these tropes and motifs, the more it makes sense many of the decisions Lawrence and Jon Kasdan did to develop the character.

Young Han, as portrayed by Alden Ehrenreich, is the total opposite of the smuggler from the original trilogy. While Han in the original trilogy ends up as the bad guy in a world of good guys, Han in ‘Solo’ is the good guy in a world of bad guys. He has the heart of gold, filled with innocence and few experiences that have given him a bad feeling about things. He’s struggling, trying to survive, doing his best to become a pilot and save the love of his life, only to be turned down by mostly everything he believes in. This contrast is mirrored with Lando and Q’ira, two characters that have had more experience in this hostile world. As the plot moves forward, we see how Han slowly morphs into the smuggler we know as portrayed by Harrison Ford.

This Star Wars Story doesn’t have the stakes that the saga films or ‘Rogue One’ do, and that’s fine. It has enough adventures to establish the characters, the kinds of adventures we’ve heard from lines of dialogue or the expanded universe. If you compare this movie to any origin story from the MCU, ‘Solo’ has more adventures that the character goes through instead of a single big event. The Kessel Run could be the main event, but there are other action scenes that also have the power that some Marvel origin stories lack. This is the first Marvel-like origin story from Star Wars and it has its own identity.

Because we already know that Han and Chewie are still alive, the film never plays that card too hard. They have some death defying moments, but the movie never takes these moments too seriously. They have enough tension to keep you on your toes. One of my favorite moments of the movie is when they use the coaxium to turn the engines of the Millenium Falcon and it fails the first time; that’s the kind of thing that the Corellian ship always do, but we know that everything will be fine at the end.

This is the movie with the fewest references of the Force, the Jedi, and the Sith except that unexpected Darth Maul appearance. This makes sense for the character because Han doesn’t believe in any of this, but it also allows the movie to be its own thing. In many ways, ‘Rogue One’ shoehorned a but too much the Force with Chirrut as a character. ‘Solo’ doesnt care about the Force; it only cares about smuggling, corruption, gangs, and survival. It is the world in between the Rebellion and the Empire.

Which leads us the the Darth Maul cameo. I can’t hide the fact that my jaw dropped because this appearance made two things clear:

  1. Lucasfilm isn’t scared of talking about the prequels.
  2. Lucasfilm is taking advantage of the animated series.

Some people won’t understand his appearance or how he’s even alive, but it doesn’t matter. People still enjoy the Marvel movies without understanding many of the nods and references of other characters or movies. These moments are for the fans who enjoy when different stories relate to other characters of the universe. Besides that, the scene gives Q’ira the motivations she need to get rid of her past and stay in the game as stated in her dialogue.

With the directorial transition of Lord & Miller to Ron Howard, the film has very few moments when you could see the seems between the original footage and the reshoots. Some bits of comedy seen taken from the original concept, but you can barely see the difference between one shot and the next. This is achieved thanks to Bradford Young, whose great cinematography keeps a consistent visual storytelling that blends in with the plot. The film starts with monochromatic tones, with blue, yellow, and red as the main colors. During the war times of Han, the colors are very grayed out. As the plot moves forward, Han’s reality start to be colored by his experiences, with more eye candy tones that fill the frame.

Lawrence Kasdan knows a thing or two about Star Wars after writing The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, and The Force Awakens. Besides, he wrote the very first Indiana Jones film, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Teaming up with his son Jon, the plot moves from one action to the next with a clear storyline. Every ten minutes, something happens and the characters go on to the next adventure, just like an Indiana Jones film. As for Jon Kasdan, fans need to thank him for all the deep cut references in the movie, including the mentions of the expanded universe novels as well as the appearance of Darth Maul.

The questions from Han’s past are answered in such a casual way that allows the movie to deliver these moments without feeling like a Han documentary or Wikipedia article. I chuckled at how he got his last name, the Chewie introduction was a pleasant surprise, and had a great time as the Millenium Falcon turns into the piece of junk we all know and love. The movie is smart at doing some nods to the other films with some lines of dialogue, but it will only get the attention from the fanbase. The references don’t alienate the audience, but they wink and nod to fans of the Expanded Universe and the saga films, like that big gangster whose putting together a crew on Tatooine.

Michael Giachino had a tough job with Rogue One’s score; any composer will have a tough job trying to put on the shoes to keep up with John Williams’ masterpiece. But here’s John Powell doing an amazing job at blending his compositions with the arrangements of John Williams. The music at the very beginning got me pumped for the film as I clearly recognized Han’s theme composed by John Williams. John Powell blends his own notes with some better known pieces. During the Kessel Run, you can hear in the background some of the notes of ‘The Asteroid Field’ from The Empire Strikes Back, as well as the Millenium Falcon theme. It bows to the masterpieces of John Williams throughout the films, but John Powell takes his time to pump his own notes. He’s really smart at blending different styles of music. From ‘Chicken In The Pot’ from Dryden Vos’ yacht to Enfys Nest’s theme in ‘Savareen Stand Off’, Powell works with different styles of orchestration to establish these scenes.

The final veredict is that this is a fun movie that anyone, including non Star Wars fans, could watch. It is the first of the new films that could be an entry point for any Star Wars fan, showing the importance of doing these origin stories every once in a while to bring attention from new audiences. If this is part of their strategy, then its a smart move. Marvel has shown how different origin stories can attract new moviegoers that later watch more of these movies for the payoff, like it happened with Infinity War. The next few weeks will dictate if the initial response from ‘Solo’ could bring more people that were on the fence or believed that you had to be a hardcore fan to watch it. Even though is is a joy for galaxy connoisseurs, any moviegoer enjoys a good heist film filled with twists and turns.

Book Review: Star Wars Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

The third book in the Aftermath trilogy, ‘Empire’s End’ had to tie the loose ends from ‘Life Debt’ while bringing closure to the archs of several characters. All of this occurs during an action filled novel, with the battle of Jakku in the background. The book works because it blends what made the last two books interesting from the start.

Even though the book isn’t as satisfactory of an adventure as “Life Debt” (a Han and Chewie adventure is really hard to beat), it gives something that few canon explores: conflict within the Empire. We see some hints of it during ‘Rogue One’, when Tarkin takes over the Death Star under Krennic’s helm, or ‘The Last Jedi’, with Kylo Ren and General Hux head to head. Rae Sloane, who was a really powerful character in the past two books, ends up crushed by her own Empire. This puts the character in a situation to reconsider her options. Sloane decides to attack Gallius Rax, current head of the Empire, who is responsible for putting Sloane in this complex situation.

The blend of politics and warfare was a surprise I didn’t expect. Even though in book 2 of the trilogy Mon Mothma does her good dose of politic shenanigans, she’s now in the midst of an electoral campaign, putting her also in conflict with her own New Republic. Tolwar Wartol, her political nemesis, becomes a compelling character to keep Mon Mothma in her toes.

The efficiency of the conflict in Jakku is defined by these different elements I mentioned. Besides this, it could be a very forgettable war. What ties Norra Wexley, Temmin, Jas Emari, Sinjir and Jim Barrel is the fact that Leia decides to make an attack on Jakku and the fact that Brenton, Norra’s husband and Temmin’s father, is with Rae Sloane after the attempt to kill Mon Mothma in ‘Life Debt’.

There are some unexpected surprises, like the appearance of the Hutt lineage. This was quite fun to read because you could clearly imagine Nima The Hutt roaming around the desert.

Overall, the book stays consistent even though it was jarring to keep up with all the different characters. There’s a moment when characters are in three different planets, each with their own mission and conflict. Still, the characters had really interesting archs that allowed me to keep on reading. Without the character, it would feel like a meaningless adventure.

The book also attempts to do some flashbacks in order to give Gallius Rax more depth. Even though it explained his intentions as well as his links to the Empire, I believe it barely contributes to the plot except in the near end. The book still keeps the interlude stories within chapters just like the past two books, many of them uninteresting compared to the past two books.

The Aftermath trilogy has its flaws, but what I found in reading is that it is no less flawed than any Star Wars movie or TV show. Chuck Wendig has been able to create a storyline that stands on itself. From the very first book, it doesn’t want to make a bridge between the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy. I find this a smart move, as there’s so much more to explore. With the Star Wars Resistance series and Jon Favreau’s upcoming live TV show, this 20 to 30 year period will be expanded in other ways.

If you like a blend of action packed stuff and fun characters, this is your trilogy. It is rough at times, but definitely worth a try if you can be patient enough.

Book Review: Star Wars Life Debt by Chuck Wendig

Even though the Aftermath trilogy wasn’t well received by fans, I wanted to give it a chance and see what all the fuss was about. Taking into account that, yes, the trilogy has some flaws (as with any Star Wars movie), I loved Life Debt. Filled with action packed chapters, characters that are way far from the main storyline, and pacing that gives the sense of urgency, it grabbed me by the hand to show me a different style of Star Wars novel. Book 2 of the trilogy, Life Debt, takes everything a step further, adding more layers to the narrative, bringing beloved characters in a way that makes sense, starting in a smart way were the last book left us.

Chuck Wendig has a love for Star Wars that it breathes in the pages. I find that the interludes he includes between some characters are his most personal writings, thinking about how the galaxy perceives the bigger narrative shown in the movies and the book itself. Now, Wendig brings Han, Chewie, and Leia in his story without shoehorning; the characters belong to this story as the original Aftermath crew has gained some recognition among the New Republic due to the task achieved by Norra, Jas, Sinjir and Temmin.

The story starts with Leia asking a personal request to Norra: to find Han Solo. Leia’s husband has been gone with Chewie, trying to liberate the Wookie planet of Kashyyk. The plot moves forward with Jas Emari, Temmin, Mister Bones, Sinjir and Wedge Antilles as they attempt a secret plan to find Han. In the middle of this situation, they eventually find Han and end up in the smuggler’s plan to save the Wookie planet.

The Aftermath crew has a bad feeling about this plan as problems arise due to the Kashyyk liberation plan, affecting the Imperial plans of Rae Sloane and Mon Mothma´s relationship with Leia. With Gallius Max as an enemy for Sloane, a great dynamic of power develops, reminiscent of the confrontation between Kylo Ren and General Hux in The Last Jedi. This tension pays off later in the book, with a satisfying resolution that leads straight to the next book.

I was reading this book while reading Last Shot and it became a great complimentary read for the upcoming Solo movie. The book handles Han Solo characterization very well while bringing more internal conflicts within him. These conflicts resurface later in Last Shot. Another great thing about this trilogy is the fact that there isn’t much of a time jump in between books, making it more immediately to start reading one book after the next.

As a person that was curious about the Aftermath trilogy, this is definitely a fun read that is unjustly maligned by many fans. Wendig achieves the daunting task of explaining how the Empire slowly turns into the First Order, presenting new characters, and taking into account what happens within Episodes 6 and 7. The author juggles all of these elements while not making the story itself conscious of all this juggling. With the release of ‘Solo’, this book is a great Han and Chewie story you can get into without even reading the first book of the trilogy. You could be lost in some places with the characters, but the book will fill you in with the needed information.

Book Review: Star Wars Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Set in between Episodes 6 and 7 of the Star Wars saga, Aftermath by Chuck Wendig was one of the first books to give us a glimpse into how the Empire started to shape up after the death of the Emperor.

In an attempt to save Wedge Antilles, known Rebel pilot, from the hand of whats left of the Empire, we meet Norra Wexley, a known pilot from Rebel Alliance. In Norra’s pursuit, her son Temmin gets involved in the mission by accident, as well as bounty hunter Jas Emari and ex Imperial officer Sinjir Rath Velus. Wedge Antilles is in the hands of Rae Sloane, a high rank Imperial officer, while the Empire tries to tie some loose ends from planets that don’t have the news of the Battle of Endor.

The novel revolves around action sequences filled with chases, investigations and space flight. It could be a bit jarring for those looking for a character driven story, but the glimpses that shine on the intentions of each character keeps you involved. This flaw turned into a major criticism during its initial reception, but it misses the fact that this is part of a trilogy. There are many characters involved, as it happens with many Star Wars novels. Chuck Wendig is smart at giving you the details of each characters, making you care about them.

The novel has many chapters in between called Interlude, that act as short stories that describe different situations around the galaxy. The balance between narrowing down with a set of character for the main plot and diversifying in these interludes is welcomed by me. Sometimes there are so many characters in Star Wars that we don’t have the time to care about all of them. These chapter give a broader view, explaining how different planets react to the fall of the Empire and how that affects them as a whole.

Some well-known characters of the galaxy are mentioned in a way that makes sense. Wedge Antilles taken as hostage jumps to mind, making it instantly interesting to any fan. Admiral Ackbar is involved in the story, but it stays as an ancillary character, making the story believable, blending well-known characters and brand new ones.

What this book doesn’t give fans is information about the new characters from the sequel trilogy, something that affected the initial response. It is more about the state of the galaxy after the fall of the Empire seen in Return Of The Jedi. I wanted to learn more about these new characters, especially Jas Emari and Sinjir. I hope these characters are more developed in the next books of the trilogy. (Update: they do!)

If you like an action packed story that gets you hyped enough to have all those vibes for experiencing a dog fight in space, then this book is a great addition. This is the first book in a trilogy, so it won’t give you the whole depth of the characters. If your’e interested about more characters besides Han, Luke and Leia, then this book will give you new, interesting characters that might give you a pause from the main storyline.

Toy Story Land And The Despise Of Kiddie Rides

On June 30th, Toy Story Land will be open for guests in Disney Hollywood Studios. This addition adds two brand new rides to the park: Alien Swirling Saucers and Slinky Dog Dash Coaster. Toy Story Mania will be refitted into the new land, with a different queue. Kiddie rides have always been look down by many fans, especially in the past decade. Some arguments that Toy Story Land is a cheap expansion could be understood, but it begs the question: why are kid rides unjustly maligned when Disney parks should have activities for everyone?

In many ways, the additions to Toy Story Land will be the first real attractions for smaller audiences in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Besides these attractions, the live shows and The Great Movie Ride (currently being replaced by Minnie and Mickey’s Runaway Railway) were the only experiences they could go into, some of them considered intense for small kids.

Toy Story Land is a needed addition for guests looking for their kids to do something they could enjoy. It still questions why fans were so mad about it. Isn’t Dumbo considered a classic even though is a ride for small kids? The same occurs with many classic attractions.

Even though it makes sense that hardcore fans are mad about sudden budget cuts from the original concept art, this is a common thing that happens with projects. Many elements and buildings from the original concept art were completely removed, including a cowboy area (resurfaced in Shanghai Disneyland’s version) and Al’s Toy Barn. Even though these elements weren’t particularly needed, they would give the special touches of theming that fans wanted.

This could be a case of time budget instead of money budget. Toy Story Land expands an already attraction lacking park, giving more rooms for the upcoming guests of this summer. This major expansion will also be key in dealing with the 2019 crowds expected for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Simultaneously, Imagineers are surely doing the best they can to open Mickey’s Runaway Railway as soon as they can. If this attraction uses the same ride vehicles as The Great Movie Ride, it could have enough hourly capacity (2400 guests per hour) to keep the crowds moving. For an attraction that is right in the entrance of the park, it will help with the bottlenecks expected from Galaxy’s Edge.

In many ways, this is more a case of Disney being smart about opening a major expansion rather than just budget cuts. These things are common in the parks due to the size and scale of the projects, but with the internet we are more conscious of these situations because we can compare between each concept art that Walt Disney Imagineering shows us during D23 or any of the press releases.

The fact that Imagineer are doing kiddie rides doesn’t mean they aren’t focused on theming or other E Ticket attractions. First, the attractions from Disney Hollywood Studios are not off-the-shelf rides, which has been a common practice in other versions of Toy Story Land around the world. Second, they have done a great job at theming, including Wheezy as an Audio-Animatronic at the end of Slinky Dog Dash Coaster and Mr. Potato Head possibly coming back to the queue of Toy Story Mania. They do care. It isn’t easy to keep up with so many projects, dealing with the current expansion of the Parks division that includes merchandising and consumer products.

Kiddie Rides are a necessity for a family oriented theme park, as Walt Disney always wanted it to be. Maybe Toy Story Land will not be a flashy addition compared to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge or the upcoming attractions for Epcot, but it sure will be an addition that brings great moments and emotions for the little kids that love the Toy Story movies, just as those who grew up with Woody and Buzz like me.

John Lasseter: 6 Months Later

A few days before the premiere of Coco, John Lasseter announced his 6 month leave of absence due to sexual misconduct, a shocking move to many Pixar fans but a well known problem in the industry. Pixar, a male dominant studio, had already known of some problems that women had about Lasseter ’s behavior. What was once a friendly approach during the early days of the studio became a problem that John had to face.

Six months later, we haven’t heard a thing about John Lasseter coming back. Will he retire? Should he come back?

We still don’t know much of the details behind the management of the studio, but what could be an opportunity to change leadership or a moment to highlight females in the studio has been more of a silent calm. Have women at Pixar being heard? These two problems, leadership and gender equality, need to be balanced if the studio wants to move forward. Lasseter ’s leave of absence could have been more catastrophic, but Disney appears to have had a plan to deal with the collateral damage. A complete shake up isn’t expected if the problem is only one person, but it will be interesting how Lasseter fits within Pixar after the allegations.

If Lasseter understood the consequences of his behavior and he is willing to fix the culture within the studio, then his return could be welcomed as long as he understands that it is time for new leadership to take over after cleaning up the mess. Moving the chess pieces to a different direction before his return would show outsiders a good sign. Even though John Lasseter is the main person, this doesnt mean there couldn’t be other misconducts from other people of the studio. Lets hope it isn’t the case.

The Disney-Pixar brand hasn’t been affected by this situation. The move of leaving right before being caught and being clear about his actions allowed for the press to talk for some weeks as some other personalities told their side of the story. Two weeks after the press release, most critics and insiders went silent. They were too occupied giving critical acclaim to Coco. Audiences acknowledged the problem, but they didn’t attack Pixar or other talent from the studio. Yes, Pixar is aligned to Lasseter ’s DNA, but it has proven that their projects are done with a massive group of talented individuals.

People still expect the Incredibles 2. Coco still became a highly acclaimed film. The shadow of Lasseter wasn’t enough to tarnish decades of storytelling excellence.

Will John come after or before Incredibles 2? We don’t know. Pete Docter is mentioned as a posible replacement, but no confirmation has shown. With Lasseter leaving the directorial helm for Toy Story 4, many have expected a complete retirement. It still begs the question of who will handle his leadership. Whether it is by adding more women to the Brain Trust, choosing a new Chief Creative Officer or with a return from Lasseter, Pixar has to show that it learns from its mistakes because the main problem is how management accepted this behavior for so long.

Negativity in Star Wars Fandom

Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, they had to deal with the raising eyebrows of long time fans of the famous galaxy from far, far away. It happened first when they cancelled The Clone Wars TV series in favor of Star Wars. Then, fans had to deal about their favorite Star Wars novels being stripped out of canon, adding them to what is now known as Star Wars Legends. This community also raged when the company didn’t consider any story ideas from George Lucas for Episodes 7 to 9 (later to be found false, as many elements have appeared). But the single biggest rage appeared in the form of “The Last Jedi” haters, blaming Rian Johnson to have ruined their childhood, boycotting the review metrics from Rotten Tomatoes, striking against Luke Skywalker’s portrayal.

It is hard for me to know if this kind of negativity skyrocketed with the Lucasfilm acquisition, as many fans also raged during the prequel era, but it has slowly caught fire in such a way that it feels toxic.

The next target for these haters is “Solo”, opening in theaters May 25. Even though the film hasn’t even been widely released, with a premiere in May 10, individuals have already found their way to express their irrational opinions.

“Solo” has already a rough start, with a complete directorial turnover and rumors about Alden Ehrenreich’s difficulty to perform the smuggler we all know(which aren’t really true). The marketing team has done a great job at changing this perspective with several stories, trailers and teasers. Most recently, Billy Dee Williams (who portrayed Lando Calrissian in the original trilogy) was invited to the premiere and Harrison Ford did a surprise appearance to Alden Ehrenreich in a recen interview. Donald Glover has already become a main influencer in attracting people to the theatre seats, as well as the enthusiasm from director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lawrence and Jon Kasdan.

These efforts don’t seem enough for the already negative fans. Groups in social media have been vocal about boycotting “Solo”. These people, who had a love for the franchise, have decided to bury it instead of understanding that maybe they might not like the movie, but they still enjoy other areas of fandom. As a recent Star Wars convert, one of the things I love the most about Star Wars is that you can be interested in very niche topics or specific merchandise, giving room to many fans with different ways to express their fandom. But the hater seem to forget this aspect altogether.

The reactions from the unhappy fans reflect a world were we just moan about stuff we don’t like, even though there will always be things we don’t enjoy in the world. Lucasfilm has done the difficult job of refueling the franchise with new series coming up, the sequel trilogy, a theme park area, new books, and more. They are doing the best to move forward while many fans are holding them back.

Maybe this negativity is a very loud minority, but it is affecting the landscape of the franchise. Let’s just hope they consider the potential of a brighter future, just like Marvel fans have experienced a Renaissance they never thought of in their wildest dreams. “Solo” promises to reunite the fandom as a palate cleanser from “The Last Jedi”, but it will be a difficult remedy to swallow if the fans are already hesitant to give it a try.