With a new Star Wars installment hitting screens on a yearly basis, it was inevitable Disney would shoot for the stars and miss, and Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story is, for me at least, that movie. Preoccupied with allusions surrounding the myth of Han Solo, the sci-fi western is a fun watch to be sure, but it ultimately feels like an empty, boastful spectacle. The boastful anti-hero barges onto Blu-ray with an excellent audio and video presentation and a small but decently entertaining set of supplements, making the overall package Worth a Look.
(We've also reviewed the movie on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray HERE.)
In their attempt to pump out a new Star Wars movie every year, Walt Disney was bound to make one bad entry to the galaxy far, far away. It was inevitable. And Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story is, arguably, that movie. The second spin-off prequel after the far superior Rogue One, this episode focuses on the ruggedly brazen, cheeky and overconfident Han Solo, who apparently lived his childhood without a last name until a pivotal moment early in the film. The dearly-beloved character was made famous by Harrison Ford in George Lucas's original trilogy, but here, Alden Ehrenreich steps into the massively-huge shoes and does decently well as a younger, slightly cockier version of the western anti-hero in space. Rather than simply imitate Ford, his mannerisms and speech style, Ehrenreich evokes Han's signature swagger and makes it his own with a charm and charisma that brightens the screen. He carries Han's hard-bitten hubris with an assured familiarity while also exposing a wounded fragility to the personality.
From a script Lawrence Kasdan co-wrote with his son Jonathan, the plot, which is set between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One (or sometime around 13 – 10 BBY for the more hardened fans), follows Solo on his most infamous and celebrated adventures while also introducing some lesser known details. In the early part of his life, turns out, an orphaned Han survived on the planet Corellia as a petty thief for a local gang, and this is also where he met childhood sweetheart Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke). The story uses a failed escape from the gang and the planet as the catalyst to Han's criminal exploits, turning the movie into a long-drawn-out rescue mission. For anyone who's seen the previews and possesses some familiarity with the original New Hope, it's not a spoiler to mention that not only do these lovebirds eventually reunite, but their romance also doesn't result in a happy ending. It doesn't help there is little to almost no chemistry shared between Clarke and Ehrenreich, or that Howard never really has us rooting for these two to run away together.
More importantly, this is where the dilemma with the tenth installment to the franchise starts to become apparent. It's our awareness and knowledge of the character and the history of the series in general. The issue is not so much in the audience as it in the filmmakers themselves, more intent on making sure to touch on specific events and as though ticking off a checklist.
Essentially, the problem is nostalgia, making a movie that feels very episodic — at times, near the point of distractingly annoying — as well as purely meant to have fans reminisce. Oh, so that's how Han and Chewbacca met. Their smuggling career is thanks to Woody Harrelson's Tobias Beckett. Got it! And of course, let's shove in a scene with Han winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (a wonderful Donald Glover) and make it an adorable confrontation. And lest we forget, we absolutely must show the legendary Kessel Run.
And so it is, Solo runs its 135-minute course through thick rose-tinted glasses, preoccupied with allusions to specific factoids surrounding the myth of Han Solo rather than an engaging tale about a dearly beloved and iconic character. Watching the sci-fi western occasionally feels like sitting next to that friend who knows more about the series and its ever-expanding universe than you do, elbowing you every few minutes when some subtle or obscure reference is made. It's okay and perhaps a little amusing at first, but after a while, it becomes somewhat of a nuisance as it takes away from simply enjoying what should be fun escapism. And Howard does his best at providing just that, working with talented cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, Pariah, Arrival) at designing visually exciting action sequences, elevating Kasdans' plot just beyond humdrum — arguably, falling just above The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. However, much like the character self-aggrandizing, the movie loves boasting about itself but doesn't quite live up to the hype.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings Solo: A Star Wars Story to Blu-ray as a two-disc package with a flyer for a Disney Digital Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a BD25 disc containing all the supplements. Both are housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a lightly-embossed, glossy slipcover. After a couple skippable promos, the screen changes to the usual menu with options along the bottom of the screen, full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Han barges through the Blu-ray doors with his usual presumptuous, boastful swagger and gunspinning an excellent, occasionally stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode.
Shot exclusively on digital cameras, the freshly-minted transfer is razor sharp throughout, exposing every thread and out of place stitch in many of the costumes. The more ragged and aged clothing worn by our heroic bandits, in particular, looks scruffy and worn-out, but the fancy outfits of Dryden, Qi'ra and Lando seem brand-new and recently tailored. During some of the brightly lit sequences, the smallest feature and imperfection in the architecture of the various locations and buildings are plainly visible while every fine line along Dryden's yacht and sculptures decorating the background is very well-defined. The individual hairs of Chewie's furry body are distinct, the intricate carvings on Enfys Nest's mask are discrete, and we can clearly make out every button and wire inside the Millennium Falcon. The same is true of L3-37's weathered and stressed metallic body. Also, many extreme wide shots of outdoor landscapes are attractive and reveal great clarity in the far distance. However, the overall presentation is not always quite up to snuff and can occasionally look blurry.
By all appearances, this appears to be the result of the filmmakers' creative vision and not an issue with the encode itself. Going for a gritty, rough and unromantic charm of the character's adventures, Bradford Young's heavily-stylized photography displays a considerably low-key and toned-down contrast, making whites appear decidedly lifeless, grayish and drab looking during many interiors but brilliant and vivid in outdoor scenes. This greatly affects brightness levels, which decidedly fall on the lower end of the grayscale, delivering heavily muted, dull and dark-gray blacks. Certain articles of clothing are more accurate, but on the whole, shadows are disconcertingly poor, murky and dreary, which often consume background information and make for a pretty flat and lackluster 2.39:1 image. Young's heavy orange-teal cinematography also comes with a heavily understated but earthy yellow palette, considerably limiting secondary hues in many areas while primaries are nicely saturated. Much of the HD video is animated with a spirited pop, to be sure, but overall, it's not very attractive compared to other Star Wars entries. (Video Rating: 84/100)
The fantasy space western daredevils its way to home theaters with a terrifically fun but also somewhat disappointing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, giving the many action-packed visuals.
What has become a trend over the last couple years with a majority of Disney titles has unfortunately affected Solo's first solo adventure, which may not come as much of a surprise to some audiophiles. Severely altered from the original theatrical presentation for home audio, the movie is noticeably lacking activity in the surrounds for long stretches of time and even during some of the more visually-thrilling moments. In all fairness, action sequences provide the most engaging experience with a variety of effects discretely panning into the sides and rears, either ships soaring through space or laser blasts zooming across the room. Bits of debris and other minor atmospherics also travel all around in a few occasions with the infamous Kessel Run and Maelstrom scene being an immersive highlight, but such moments are far and few in between, making the silence in other areas all the more apparent. Overall, the lossless mix ultimately fails at generating a satisfying soundfield.
Much of the action and attention is spread across the front soundstage, littered with a variety of background activity that flawlessly moves between the three channels and off-screen, creating a wide and spacious setting. A few of those noises, along with John Powell's score, lightly bleed to the sides although they have more an echoing effect than discrete directionality. More surprising is a rather flat and uniform mid-range that never pushes into the higher frequencies, making the louder action sequences feel lackluster and restrained. There is plenty of clarity, to be sure, but in order to better appreciate it, owners will have to raise the volume several decibels. On the plus side, the dialogue is intelligible and precise from beginning to end. The low-end does not stand out in any significant way, but it's adequate and plentiful enough to provide the movie with a palpable presence. The Kessel Run scene and a few explosions nicely reach the 28-30Hz depths, but like the surrounds, such moments are sadly far and few in between (bass chart). (Audio Rating: 80/100)
All supplemental material can be found on the second Blu-ray disc.
With a new Star Wars installment hitting screens on a yearly basis, it was inevitable Disney would shoot for the stars and miss, and Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story is that movie. Preoccupied with allusions surrounding the myth of Han Solo, the sci-fi western is a fun watch to be sure, but it ultimately feels like an empty, boastful spectacle. The boastful anti-hero barges onto Blu-ray with an excellent audio and video presentation and a small but decently entertaining set of supplements, making the overall package Worth a Look.