‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Review: Competent prequel, nothing more, nothing less

For an origin story, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ doesn’t add much insight to its main character but this long-awaited, fun visualization should be enough to keep fans and casual moviegoers at bay.

It’s no secret that most of Solo’s weight hangs on Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. Unlike Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) and Felicity Jones (Rogue One) who were given the opportunity to craft new characters for this generation, he is tasked to strike a balance in playing a younger version of the iconic Han Solo while honoring the inexorably linked Harrison Ford.

I’ll get the obvious one out of the way: Alden bears no physical resemblance with a young Ford. Hence, as the film kicks in, it takes a while before we latch on to him.  It would be a lie not to say that I spent most of the first few minutes scrutinizing his smirks, his stance, his speech patterns, his constantly squinted eyes, etc. – this actor does not exactly act like a young Ford either.

But here’s the thing, he does not need to be a duplicate of Ford. Disney would make a big mistake casting an impersonator in place of an actor. Once you accepted that this version is something new, watching Han unfold isn’t bad as it seems. Alden’s performance does not scream of “I’m the only one who can play this role” and his character sometimes blends in the background (which should not happen). Nonetheless, he embodies the Han in A New Hope – his egotism, his tenacity and his arrogance (albeit less charming than Ford). And that’s the goal to begin with, right? For that alone, I am satisfied.

Hans Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca a.k.a. Chewie (Joonas Suotamo)

The reason why he does not get close to Ford’s work will have to do more with the competent but somehow unremarkable script. For an origin story, Solo doesn’t add much insight to its main character. What the film does is present a backstory of everything we have heard from him in the past: how he met Chewbacca, how he won the Millenium Falcon, how he became “the best pilot” in the universe, and so on. Sure, there are plenty of new characters to further explore his lore. We learn that Han is a scoundrel wanting to leave the enslaving planet Corellia, along with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). He affiliates with a team of rogue criminals: Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his partner Val (Thandie Newton), and a four-armed alien Rio Durant (voiced by Jon Favreau) – a character who I think is supposed to be a comic-relief but did not elicit any single laugh from the audience.

Han resorts to his thieving ways in a galaxy where everyone is capable of scheming and double-crossing. Beckett says to him several times, “Do not trust anybody” and we knew from there what makes Han tick. He embarks on this hero/anti-hero journey, constantly throwing himself into danger in search of freedom and wealth. Still, there’s no groundbreaking information here to give us a whole new perspective for Han. My biggest takeaway in this prequel is where he got his odd surname from.

That is not to say that Solo is a disappointing film. It is actually enjoyable to watch. This is a heist film after all featuring thrilling Western-inspired chases, hijacks and space jams. Remarkably, this is the first Star Wars film that does not feature “The Force” or the lightsaber. To compensate with this, we are served with grittier set pieces that we haven’t seen in the universe before. This should be enough to reel in a casual movie-goer.

Inside the Millenium Falcon (L-R): Chewie, Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Qi’Ra (Emilia Clarke) and Han Solo.

What the film does excellently is to capture the relationship of Han and Chewie, an unlikely alliance turned into a lifelong bond. At one point Han says to Chewie, “Chewbacca? That is a long name. Don’t expect me to call you that every time.” That’s the beauty of this film, every time we are presented with a catch phrase, an iconic piece of item, or an initial meeting of the characters, it brings smile to our faces because we all know how it’s going to play out.

The same is true with the stylish Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who steals the spotlight from the moment he enters the picture. If there are any doubts to Alden’s casting, I can say for sure that Glover is perfect for this role. Every angle and nuance of him embodies the character without making it a mere Billy Dee Williams impression. Paired with a sassy woke droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) we finally get the much needed humor.

Lando Calrissian: “Can I get you anything?”   L3-37: “Equal rights?”

Without a doubt, Solo is the lightest film in the franchise and not because of the sporadic humor, but because it lacks a formidable villain to add gravitas to its arc (see: Darth Sidious, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren or Orson Krennic). Paul Bettany does his best as Dryden Vos but with not much characterization to work around apart from having a bunch of unexplained scars, he ends up as an equivalent to General Hux or Captain Phasma. There’s a rousing revelation in the end that sets up a sequel to another Solo film and hopefully this will flesh out a more compelling story in the future.

Solo: A Star Wars Story, occasionally feels like a generic sci-fi film with the ‘Star Wars’ label stamped into it. In a way, it is still a competent prequel that works as palette cleanser from the franchise’s known heavy themes. It flows like a checklist mythology, with certain marks to hit and the film let you knows that it’s hitting them (like how Solo’s golden dice given by Luke to Leia in The Last Jedi gets a good amount of screentime.) Former directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Disney due to creative differences and since the film went into massive re-shoots, we can only imagine if their version could have been better than Ron Howard’s.

Still, aficionados will flock onto this film whether to enjoy it or to criticize it. This is a long-awaited visualization of Han Solo’s early years. It’s certainly fun to watch, though sometimes even super fans have better ideas than the filmmakers themselves. 


3.5 out of 5 stars


About Solo: A Star Wars Story

Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ an adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy. Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes.

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios starring Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau.

Directed by Ron Howard from a screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. Based on the characters of George Lucas. Runtime: 135 minutes.

‘Inferno’ marks Robert Langdon trilogy for Ron Howard

Ron Howard has been the keeper of the cinematic legacy of Dan Brown’s best selling books for many years now – he made the hugely successful The Da Vinci Code back in 2006 followed, three years later, by Angels & Demons.

Each one, says Howard, has presented its own unique opportunities and the latest in the franchise – Columbia Pictures’ Inferno was, at least in that regard, exactly the same as its illustrious predecessors.

“These films are hard work,” he says. “And you feel a lot of responsibility because they’re books that people love. But you know, they really are thrilling life experiences.”

Inferno finds the famous symbologist (again played by Tom Hanks) on a trail of clues tied to the great Dante himself. When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race across Europe and against the clock to stop a madman from unleashing a global virus that would wipe out half of the world’s population.

Inferno is the most visually stylistic film in the series so far, with a series of cryptic dream sequences that take audiences inside Langdon’s head and lend an entirely different feel than previous installments. That is precisely what draws director Ron Howard to this series – out of 23 feature films made over more than three decades as a director, the only sequels he has chosen to helm are Angels & Demons and now Inferno.

“There have been characters that I love as much as I love Robert Langdon, but I always want to push myself to do something different. It’s more interesting than repeating yourself,” Howard explains. “But that’s what’s so great about the movies based on Dan Brown’s books – each of them is so different, and he explores such different themes in each adventure. Inferno is the most stylistically different yet. With this series, I get to go back and revisit a character I love while continuing to push myself in new directions.”

In the film, Langdon must make sense of clues relating to Dante’s epic poem. Howard explains, “Langdon’s hallucinating mind is tormented by a man obsessed with Dante. He’s forced to pick up the pieces and make sense of this clue path that’s been laid before him.”

Inferno, says Howard, is a movie that will both entertain and provoke discussion. “The Dan Brown stories combine these button-pushing ideas that offer the audience two things; there’s the tempo, the pace, there’s the clue path and there’s this feeling that you’re going to have something to talk about when the movie is over.”

Opening across the Philippines on October 12, 2016, “Inferno” is distributed by Columbia Pictures in the Philippines, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

Tom Hanks, Irrfan Khan, Ron Howard grace ‘Inferno’ red carpet event in Singapore

Hollywood legends Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard led the red carpet event for Columbia Pictures & IMAGINE Entertainment’s new action-thriller “Inferno” in Singapore June 14, taking the film’s promo tour to Asia. Joining them is acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan who also stars in the film. (Watch the video of the red carpet event below.)

“Inferno” is the third film in the studio’s Robert Langdon series (including “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons”), which has taken in more than $1.2 billion worldwide to date.

Academy Award® winner Ron Howard returns to direct the latest bestseller in Dan Brown’s billion-dollar Robert Langdon series, “Inferno,” which finds the famous symbologist (again played by Tom Hanks) on a trail of clues tied to the great Dante himself. When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race across Europe and against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.

Opening across the Philippines on October 28, 2016, “Inferno” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

WATCH: Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon in new ‘Inferno’ trailer

Columbia Pictures & IMAGINE Entertainment have just unveiled the worldwide trailer of the new action-thriller “Inferno” starring Tom Hanks, which may be viewed below.

“Inferno” is the third film in the studio’s Robert Langdon series (including “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons”), which has taken in more than $1.2 billion worldwide to date.

Academy Award® winner Ron Howard returns to direct the latest bestseller in Dan Brown’s billion-dollar Robert Langdon series, “Inferno,” which finds the famous symbologist (again played by Tom Hanks) on a trail of clues tied to the great Dante himself. When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race across Europe and against the clock to foil a deadly global plot.

Opening across the Philippines in October 2016, “Inferno” is distributed by Columbia Pictures in the Philippines, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.

Walker, Murphy, Whishaw join ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

Three acclaimed actors lend their talents to making Warner Bros. Pictures’ new action-adventure In the Heart of the Sea a compelling viewing experience: Benjamin Walker (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer”), Cillian Murphy (“Batman Begins”) and Ben Whishaw (“Skyfall,” “Spectre”).

Directed by Ron Howard, the film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s best-selling book about the dramatic true journey of the Essex in the winter of 1820. The New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. “In the Heart of the Sea” reveals the encounter’s harrowing aftermath, as the ship’s surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade.

In the Heart of the Sea movie-BWalker_03
Benjamin Walker

Benjamin Walker, who plays the role of Essex Captain George Pollard, posits that the mortal clash between the whalers and the whale is only one component. “There are three great trials encompassed in this story: man against man, man against nature, man against self. How can you overcome those trials and survive? That’s the question of the movie. But there’s beauty in that; you see the endurance of the human spirit.”

Although Pollard has the power of command, he is plagued by the doubts that come with knowing it was given but not earned. “George Pollard did not get to choose what he wanted to be,” Walker elaborates. “He is the scion of an established whaling family and has grown up with the responsibility of living up to the Pollard legacy…whether he has the aptitude for it or not. There is a lot of pressure on him, and understanding that pressure is understanding George Pollard.”

“Ben Walker is an excellent actor,” states Howard. “He has the intelligence and insight to comprehend the complexity of a character like Pollard, who is driven not by a need to conquer, not to hunt whales, but to measure up to some ideal with which the family name burdens him.”

Walker relates, “He gets the opportunity with his first captaincy, which is all well and good…until he is assigned Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) as a first mate. From then on, there is a struggle between the two men that forces Pollard to figure out who he is as a man as opposed to who he is within the context of his family. And I think that is fascinating…someone discovering themselves in the midst of being tested by the circumstances of nature.”

In the Heart of the Sea movie-CMurphy
Cillian Murphy

The conflict between the captain and first mate leaves Second Mate Matthew Joy to try and smooth the waters between them. Cillian Murphy, who plays the role, shares, “Matthew tries to be a mediator within the tense relationship between Chase and Pollard. What I liked was the sense of history you get about him. He’s obviously close with Chase; they’ve been sailing together since they were about 13. You also see that he’s a reformed alcoholic who has turned over a new leaf. He was quite an interesting character to play.”

Murphy adds that he was equally drawn to the script and the director. “I read the script and it felt like the kind of great, muscular adventure that we don’t see too many of these days. It was one of those scripts you can’t put down, and you’re still thinking about it when you go to bed and when you wake up the next day.

“Then there was the idea of working with Ron, whose films I’ve loved over the years,” Murphy continues. “I’ve always said the director sets the tone for the set and it percolates down to the cast and crew. On a Ron Howard set, there is such positive energy and he’s so involved in every detail of the production and each character. And that enthusiasm and joy of filmmaking is infectious. That’s what you get from him.”

Ben Whishaw
Ben Whishaw

Ben Whishaw plays a young author by the name of Herman Melville. In creating the framework for the screenplay, screenwriter Charles Leavitt says, “I wanted to meld the true story of the Essex with the fictional account of Melville going through the writer’s process of giving birth to his great American novel, Moby-Dick. The narration of the film is from Thomas Nickerson, a surviving character’s point of view, but we can begin to imagine where Melville’s imagination will take off.”

Cast as the now-legendary author, Whishaw notes, “The film begins with Herman Melville’s hunger for the truth. He has heard whisperings and believes there’s been a cover-up about what really transpired on the Essex. In a way, my character is the catalyst of the film in that he is ultimately able to get Nickerson to tell his story. What transpires between them is a kind of dark night of the soul—they talk all through the night—and by the end they have to look at themselves in a new light.”

Opening across the Philippines on December 3, 2015 in theaters and IMAX®, In the Heart of the Sea is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

— PRESS STATEMENT FROM WARNER BROS. PICTURES

‘In the Heart of the Sea’ explores true story behind Moby-Dick

It is one of the greatest seafaring tales of all time: the Nantucket whaling ship Essex was attacked by a leviathan—a white whale of singular size and intent—leaving only a few of its crew to overcome near-impossible odds and live to recount their experience. But in the almost 200 years since that harrowing voyage, the truth faded into history, eclipsed by the celebrated novel it inspired, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Now, with acclaimed director Ron Howard at the helm, the legend of the Essex, her courageous crew, and that mythic white whale comes to the big screen for the first time in Warner Bros. Pictures’ epic adventure In the Heart of the Sea.

Moby-Dick is fiction; however “In the Heart of the Sea” brings to life the powerful saga that would fuel Melville’s defining and enduring novel. Howard says, “The true story of the Essex is fantastic. It’s visceral; it’s rich and cinematic at its core, with lots of twists and turns along the way. And though the film is set in the past, it touches on ideas about relationships, survival, humanity and nature that are relatable and thought-provoking, and connect to our own sensibilities about who we are as people.”

In the Heart of the Sea-15

Howard initially received the screenplay from actor Chris Hemsworth when they were working together on “Rush.” Hemsworth, who stars in the film as Essex First Mate Owen Chase, remarks, “I loved the script from the start. ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ is about heroism and people being tested beyond their limits in absolutely every way. I was also captivated by the psychological thriller aspect of the whale turning the tables on them. There is something incredibly mysterious about how this animal is portrayed—why the whale goes on the attack, which was unlike anything the Essex crew had ever encountered. The hunter becomes the hunted.”

Howard acknowledges that when Hemsworth initially approached him about the project, “I didn’t know anything about the Essex and didn’t know the script was based on events that were very real. But when I learned this had actually happened, it was mind-blowing. I instantly began to visualize a movie that would be raw and intense…a movie that I would want to see, which is the crucial litmus test for me.”

The extraordinary journey of the Essex and her crew was chronicled by Nathaniel Philbrick in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. The author and historian, who calls Nantucket home, had a long-held fascination with the industry that had put the small Massachusetts island on the map. “The book grew out of my curiosity about how it was back in the day when Nantucket was the capital of American whaling. This was a story that got under my skin.”

'In the Heart of the Sea' director Ron Howard

Hemsworth believes the film could not have been in better hands than Howard’s. “Ron has the biggest heart of anyone I know and has the best work ethic,” says Hemsworth. “As a filmmaker, he is always pushing the envelope. You look at the movies he’s done in his career and you can’t put them in a box—from huge comedies to compelling dramas to big action, he’s done it all, and done it with integrity and intelligence. ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ was a demanding endeavor for all of us, and when you go through something like that, you need to be arm-in-arm with one another, and supporting each other. He constantly kept us on our toes, but that’s what you want as an actor—to be challenged and inspired.”

Howard reveals that is always his goal, noting, “When I go to the movies I want to be transported, and I saw ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ as an exciting opportunity to transport audiences. I wanted to take them on a ride in a really vivid, cool way. I realized that telling the story the way it should be told was full of challenges, but they were challenges that could now be met. We could put it on the big screen in a way that was convincing, exciting and lived up to the promise of what the film could offer.”

Opening across the Philippines on December 3, 2015 in theaters and IMAX®, In the Heart of the Sea is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

 — PRESS STATEMENT FROM WARNER BROS. PICTURES