star wars

#763: L’Empire contre-attaque

GETTING MORE TALE #763: L’Empire contre-attaque

We didn’t have a VCR in 1980.  You could rent them; this was usually reserved for special occasions.   That meant, unlike today, we couldn’t just watch the latest Star Wars any time we felt like it.  The best way to re-experience the movie was on your own, with action figures and soundtracks.  The Empire Strikes Back was my favourite album at that time.  I played certain tracks on those records so often with my kid fingers that they started to skip.

I used my parents’ big living room hi-fi.  Giant wooden speakers as heavy as oak doors.  A turntable, an 8-track, and a receiver.  Once I discovered Star Wars, I think I used it more than they did.  The Empire Strikes Back came in a luxurious gatefold, with photos from the film, liner notes, and a generous booklet.  It didn’t take long for the rips and tears to set in; that record was well loved.  Usually, I would plug in the set of headphones and listen quietly while turning the pages of that booklet.  On weekends, my sister and I would probably set up a big battlefield and re-enact the movies, with the soundtrack playing in the background.  The most frequently played tracks were “Yoda’s Theme”, “The Asteroid Field” and of course “The Imperial March”.  Sometimes we would ambitiously re-enact the entire movie in sequence using the whole soundtrack.

We had to improvise.  There were lots of characters and vehicles we didn’t have.  When the Wampa ice monster attacks Luke Skywalker and knocks him off his tawn-tawn, we had to use Chewbacca as a stand-in for the monster.  Before we had a Boba Fett, we used a Micronaut with an actual missile-firing backpack.  We didn’t have an AT-AT, so we used my sister’s cardboard Jawa sandcrawler.  The centrepiece of our play time was usually my huge Millennium Falcon toy.

Before anyone gets too nostalgic for the good old days, I’ll remind you those Kenner toys were actually quite shit.  My two biggest toys, the Falcon and the X-Wing, both broke immediately out of the box.  The wings on the X-Wing never worked right and I had to wedge marker lids in the wings to keep them open.  The hinge for the boarding ramp of the Falcon snapped when my dad put it together.  He tried to glue it, but ultimately the door was held on by an ugly piece of masking tape.  Sturdy toys they were not, and parts were always popping off.  The guns refused to stay on the wings of the X-Wing.  The canopy of the Falcon always popped open mid-flight.  It too eventually got locked down by masking tape.

During these huge play battles, my sister and I would take over the entire living room floor.  There was a coffee table that usually acted as Imperial headquarters.  You could park a TIE fighter on the shelf underneath.  All the while, John Williams and the London Symphony spun behind us.  I’d flip sides and cue up another track, or just play “The Imperial March” again.

When we were done playing Empire, we would do our own original stories.  We usually set these “pre-Empire“, since Han Solo was frozen in carbonite at the end of the movie.   He was a favourite character and we had two Han Solo action figures:  original Han and Hoth Han.  I loved Hoth Han.  Not only did he look cool but he was the only figure you could take his gun and plug into a holster on his hip.  It was hard to really make good coherant “pre-Empire” stories though, because we also wanted to play with other cool figures like Lando, and Yoda.  It didn’t particularly matter because we had tremendous fun without a logical story.

I’ll say it again:  improvisation.  We built a custom multi-level Cloud City out of cardboard boxes.  It had sliding doors and sort of an elevator.  We made our own figure-compatible vehicles out of Lego.  Before I had a figure of Han Solo frozen in carbonite, I took my Solo and put him in a glass of water.  If I put him in the freezer for a few hours, I’d have a frozen Han ready to go for the next adventure.  My dad was bemused to go into the freezer and find Han Solo in there so frequently.

No matter the story or setting, the Millennium Falcon was there.  You could fit several figures in it, with two in the cockpit, one in the gunner’s chair, and several tossed into the opening rear compartment.  The cool thing about the gunner’s chair was that it rotated in sync with the top quad-cannons.  The Falcon’s rear compartment was equipped with a space chess table (called Dejarik), a Jedi training area (you know, for that one scene), and a smuggler’s compartment with secret hatch.  This made it more of a playset than a ship, but it did have several features that made it more a ship than a playset as well.  Close up the rear compartment, raise the working landing gear, and you are airborne.  The Falcon also had sound effects and a large battery compartment where the escape pod would have been.  While playing on the living room floor, if the track “The Asteroid Field” was playing, you just had to get the Falcon ready for take off.  Close the ramp, the canopy, and the rear compartment.  Raise the landing gear and you were space-bound!  Then I’d fly the ship around the living room in sync with the swells and crescendos of the theme.  It really felt like Star Wars at that point.

In 1981, the first Indiana Jones soundtrack was released, also composed by John Williams.  It was official then:  Williams was my favourite.  I didn’t have very many records; most of the others were “Story Of” soundtracks with full narration and dialogue.  That was another way to re-live a movie in a pre-VHS household, but I kept coming back to the actual movie scores.  I outgrew the “Story Of” records but not the scores.  Even so, nothing topped the original two-record set of The Empire Strikes Back.  When Return of the Jedi was released in ’83, it was only a single record.  It didn’t have as many memorable cues.  I loved and cherished it, but not as much as Empire.

Besides, in 1983 something else happened besides the end of the Star Wars trilogy.  I was getting older, and there was this new song out.  I heard four words — “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto“, and my world shifted once again!  But that, friends, is another story.

 

Advertisements

#762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

GETTING MORE TALE #762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

 

“Where are the starting points and where are the end points? When’s a song ‘done’? What the fuck does that mean anyway? ‘Done’? When’s a record ‘done’? Where does a record start; where does it end?” — Lars Ulrich, Some Kind of Monster

When Lars Ulrich asked the rhetorical question “When is a song ‘done’?” he wasn’t just yammering meaningless bullshit.  In fact he was colourfully paraphrasing Leonardo Da Vinci, who said “A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.”  Da Vinci might be the best known example today of someone who laboured over his art.  Many of his paintings, including the Mona Lisa, conceal previous unseen versions beneath layers of paint.  Scanning the paintings with modern technology, we have been able to discern Da Vinci’s works in progress.  It is a little like peaking inside the mind of a creator as they create.

Imagine you’re finishing a painting of something completely imagined inside your head.  How much time will it take to be “done”?  Perhaps you have to make that sky a little more blue, or cloudy, to match your vision.  You will never be able to take a photograph of your imagination, so painting something is by its very nature a compromise.  You must decide when you are satisfied that you have accomplished your goal.  Let’s say you added that cloud to your painting.  It looks good to you.  Then you take a step back and look at the whole painting.  The corner where you added that cloud now looks too busy.  Did you overdo it?  Was the painting already “done”?

The same applies to music.  Axl Rose laboured over Chinese Democracy for 15 years.  There are, of course, some major differences between recording a Guns N’ Roses album and working on a painting.  With the rock album, there is far more outside pressure and this can become the dominating influence.  Even if outside forces end up pushing you to do something opposite from what they want, it has now effected your music.  The music will not take the same shape that it would have without that outside pressure.  Is that a good or bad thing?  It can be either!  Axl re-recorded the album at least once, and continually updated it as new members joined the band.  By the time 2008 rolled around and the record was “finished”, dozens of musicians and producers and managers and writers had made some kind of impact, no matter how small.

Let’s not forget George Lucas either.  The Star Wars creator fiddled with his movies continuously.  Do you really think the 1997 special editions were the first Star Wars that were changed?  Not even.  The initial updates happened in 1980, when George re-titled Star Wars as Episode IV: A New Hope.  He fidgeted with them steadily, even beginning a fairly recent conversion to 3D until he sold the rights to Disney in 2012. (Only Phantom Menace was released in 3D, with Disney putting the project on hold in favour of the sequel trilogy.)

You can obsess over and overthink art.  You can also rush it, and end up with something “unfinished” that might actually be better.  This often happens out of necessity.  Black Sabbath famously recorded their first album in two days.  They had been playing the songs live for months and were tight as hell (pun intended) but also had a very limited amount of time in the studio.  Maybe they would have loved to stay in there, experiment with different amps and guitars, get different sounds, but there was no time.  And so the debut album Black Sabbath pukes overloaded guitar, and you can hear amps hum.  You couldn’t have made it better if you tried.  (Zakk Wylde will try and will not succeed.)  Whatever they did on that album, they did out of necessity and it just happened to work.

Though my “art” is usually the written word (and occasionally video), I also love recording song introductions.  This is for our annual “Sausagefest” party, and it’s something that allows me to really get creative with sound.  In recent years, in addition to introducing the songs, I also create an introduction for myself.  It’s sort of an audio collage of things I found funny.  This started out of necessity — it was the only way I could get my comedic bits into the evening!  Now it’s something I work and obsess over.  And this is the question I’m currently struggling with:  When is it “done”?  I started recording bits for it almost a year ago, and I began piecing the whole thing together on May 11.  Now we’re at the tail end of June and I’m still making changes!

Without giving it all away, I like to begin my intro with a certain, recognizable musical theme.  You’d know it.  This year, a certain unnamed rock band recorded their own version of that classic theme.  I happened to be playing that album in the car when I realized, I had to use it!  As soon as I got home, I started editing the audio track that I thought was “finished”.  In a couple minutes, I removed the original theme and replaced it with the 2019 rock version.  It was a few seconds longer than the original so I also had to extend the space it fit into, but that’s pretty easy to do.  Now I’m even happier with the intro.

When will it be “done”?  It will be “finished” when time is up and I’m forced to turn it in.  Until then, I continue to listen for room to improve.

I’m no Leonardo, or a Lucas, and I’m not even a Lars Ulrich (although we have shared the same hair style on numerous occasions).  I do, however, have a keen understanding that art is never done in the eyes of the creator.

 

 

R.I.P. Peter Mayhew (1944-2019)

Rrrrrhh Rrrhhh Rrrrrrhhhhhh.  That’s Wookiee for “We will miss you, Peter Mayhew”.

The 7′ 3″ British actor is best loved as the original Chewbacca in five of the Star Wars films.  In his final film, The Force Awakens, he shared the Chewbacca role with his successor Joonas Suotamo.  Mayhew mastered the art of performing in a massive costume and mask, imbuing the character with life.  His expertise was called on twice more, as a consultant on The Last Jedi and Solo.

Chewbacca would make my “top 10 sidekicks” list any day.  As kids we all loved Chewie for his raw strength and loveable personality.  Peter gave him that personality.  Rest in peace.

STAR WARS: The Rise of Skywalker – Teaser

Of all the titles available, The Rise of Skywalker was the last thing I expected Episode IX to be called.

The end of a saga. Over 40 years of movies. We never thought there would be a sequel trilogy. Now we’re winding it up, and the whole damn saga too!

Which Skywalker will rise? What’s with the Death Star? The Emperor’s laugh? LANDO! Set course for December.

Sunday Chuckle: I bought a lightsaber

And I don’t care who knows it!

#705: Extra Hands

GETTING MORE TALE #705 Extra Hands

Today we discuss perhaps the most controversial subject ever broached on mikeladano.com.  In the past we have fearlessly tackled bands without original members, whiny fanboys, the far right, and the plight of natives.  Now we go where no one has dared.

Readers here may think that my sister Dr. Kathryn and I have lots in common.  We both love music, schnauzers, and Star Wars.  That’s everything, right?  You’d certainly think so.  We disagree more often than we agree.

Some spans are simply too far to bridge.  This is one of them.

Here is the controversy.  Don’t judge until you’ve heard us out.

My sister and I disagree, strongly, when action figures come packaged with extra hands.

Say what?  I’ll explain.

This issue first arose in 2012 when the Star Wars 6″ Black Series was launched.  This was a series aimed at collectors, packaged to display.  Many increased in value quickly.  Each character was numbered.  The larger size (standard Star Wars figures were 3 1/4″) enabled more detail, better facial sculpting and way more articulation.  Some of these figures look like the actual actors for the first time.  Though quite a few are less than perfect (#03 Luke Skywalker has weirdly bright blue eyes) they were, by and large, exactly what nostalgic fans wanted.  Eventually just about every major character was released (though we are still missing a Padme) with lots of the minor ones too (bounty hunters, Jabba’s minions).  Fans were peeved that it took until now to get an original Lando Calrissian figure, while we already had such dubious characters as “Constable Zuvio”, plus about a dozen Rey variations!  From Star Wars ’77 to Solo, most of your favourites are now available in the Black Series line.

The figure that sparked the controversy is #08, the excellent Han Solo in his 1977 getup:  Black vest, white shirt, cool holster and blaster!  The Black Series also occasionally threw in some bonus accessories.  #08 Han has some of the best.  He comes with his regular gun and holster, plus a Stormtrooper’s gun and belt so you can duplicate the look he had when he was running around the Death Star after escaping the trash compactor.  He also comes with an extra set of gloved hands, so you can have Han as he looked when he was fleeing TIE Fighters aboard the Millenium Falcon.  The hands snap in and out easily with no fear of breakage, still maintaining full wrist articulation.  One of the gloved hands has fingers outstretched, as if Han were hitting buttons on the Falcon’s dashboard.

So what’s the problem?

My sister likes to keep her figures sealed.  She displays them around her desk in her music room at home.  I, on the other hand, put my sealed figures in storage, and sometimes buy a second one to open up and display.  #08 Han is one such figure that I opened.  (My sealed one is in a Cantina two-pack with Greedo!)

I’ve displayed Han in all sorts of ways:  With and without vest, with and without Stormtrooper gear, and sometimes with the gloved hands.  Meanwhile my sister’s boxed figure gets quizzical looks when she has friends over.

“Why does Han have two dismembered hands in the box?”

My sister finds the hands to be an eyesore she’d rather do without.  For me, they are just another display option.  I’ll bag up whatever accessories Han isn’t using right now.  (Currently, my #08 Han is put away, while I have “Old Han” from The Force Awakens on display with Chewie.)

To me, a bigger offender is actually R2-D2.  R2 is loaded with accessories (which is good since he’s half the size of a regular figure but still the same price).  R2 is packed with a sensor scope, an antenna, and a Luke lightsaber that he packs in his dome.  There are also blue dome covers for when you want R2 all closed up looking normal.  But he also comes with jetpacks for his legs.  Many fans consider the “flying R2” scenes to be among the worst in the prequel trilogy.  I’d rather pretend it never happened.

“Those are stupid too,” says my sister of the leg rockets.

Han isn’t the only figure in the series with alternate body parts.  Qui-Gon Jinn has a bonus hand doing a Force movement.  Anakin Skywalker came with two heads so you can do him with two looks:  mopey or angry.  My sister considers all of these to be very poor display pieces.

I guess we will never agree on this issue.  I think the extra hands are a bonus.  If her friends can’t figure out that sometimes action figures come with alternate parts, then maybe she needs new friends.

 

 

#701: Amazon You Bastards

A big shout out to Derek Deke for bein’ around.

GETTING MORE TALE #701: Amazon You Bastards

This is the story of how 18 cents cost me $21.63.

I’m always on the lookout for cheap Star Wars figures.  I collect the 6″Black Series exclusively.  I keep my core collection sealed, but any time I can buy a double for cheap, I go for it.  May as well have an open one for play display.

The other night I was bored and browsing Amazon, as you do.  I noticed they had a couple Black Series figs for under $20 — usually a guaranteed threshold for buying a double.  I picked up Lando (Billy Dee Williams version) for $12.46 for my sister last week.   This week I noticed Liam Neeson, err, Qui-Gon Jinn, for $12.08.  After consulting my sister I decided to pull the trigger.  Qui-Gon isn’t the best character and for a Jedi he is pretty bland, but I like the little toy lightsabers.  He also comes with an extra hand that you can swap out to give him a Force-push kind of pose.

(I like the ability to easily swap out hands.  Dr. Kathryn does not.  Look for a future story on this called “Extra Hands”.)

“Go for it!” advised Dr. Kathryn and so I looked for something else to qualify for free shipping.  I went to my wishlist and remembered Tommy Shaw’s Girls With Guns album.  I’ve loved the title track for eons, but the CD was always somewhat rare.  In fact it ended up on a very primitive version of the old Holy Grail list.  It turns out that the quality label Beat Goes On Records has done a reissue along with the album What If in a single package.  I recently picked up BGO’s reissue of Styx’s Caught In The Act – Live and I was very happy with the audio and packaging.  I added Girls With Guns / What If to my cart at the price of $22.74, a solid buy.

Total:  $34.82.  A measly 18 cents short of free shipping.

Well, fuck!

There was only one copy of Tommy Shaw left in stock.  I wanted to keep it in the cart.  Only one thing to do.  Add another item to the cart to get free shipping.

I browsed and browsed a bit more.  Lots of Black Series figures under $20 (mostly from Rogue One), but I had doubles already.  There were a few just over $20 and ultimately I decided to buy a second Imperial Range Trooper at $21.63, far exceeding the cost of the original Qui-Gon figure that set me off on this particular shopping quest.  And here’s the kicker!  At first I decided I didn’t want to get any figures from Solo.  There are so many Black Series characters now that I had to draw a line somewhere.  But I broke when some of the new figures turned out so good, and Range Trooper is one of them.  He’ll be joining the rest of my opened Imperial troopers soon.

But:  Fuck you, Amazon!  I bet you have banks of computers spitting out algorithms to keep me just under the $35 minimum for free shipping!  Weird prices like $12.08…you think you’re getting a deal but then you buy three fuckin’ things!

I’m on to you, Amazon….

REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story soundtrack (2018)

SOLO: A Star Wars Story original motion picture soundtrack (2018 Lucasfilm/Disney)

The second Star Wars spinoff movie, based on that ol’ scoundrel Han Solo, is also the second Star Wars movie with a soundtrack by someone other than John Williams.  He still helms the main “Saga” films, but this time out John Powell had the difficult task of writing new Star Wars music.  Powell’s career has mostly centred on kids’ movies like Antz and Shrek.  He had an Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon.  He’s also known for action scores, like the Bourne movies and and X-Men: The Last Stand.  Though Solo has plenty of action, Powell doesn’t go for tired action cliches in his score.  And of course, there are plenty of callbacks and reprises of old Williams themes that you’ll never forget.

The opening cue “The Adventures of Han” begins sounding like an old film reel, before settling into something Marvel-like and heroic.  This track was actually composed and conducted by Williams himself, providing the essence of a new theme for Han.

Solo is a different kind of Star Wars movie, even from Rogue One (conducted by Michael Giacchino).  Likewise, its score is different too though still living in the same universe.  Modern percussion and instrumentation can be found alongside the traditional.  Han comes from a dark corner of the galaxy, and the score is fraught with tension over oceans of calm (“Flying with Chewbacca”).  The characters of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are loaded with panache, and so are parts of the score.  Some of the best tracks are the dark “Spaceport”, which is contrasted by the rhythmic action of “Train Heist”.

“Marauders Arrive” features a children’s choir and a clue.  At this point in the film, the masked pirate Enfys Nest enter the scene to pilfer the score that Solo’s crew was in the process of stealing.  Later on, [SPOILER] we discover that Enfys Nest is actually a young girl.  A Rebel, in fact.  Some of her crew were first seen with Saw Gerrera’s rebels in Rogue One.  The quite awesome sound of the children’s choir in this scene is a clue to Enfys’ true nature — a child herself.  [END SPOILER]

Much of this score just sounds like a heist film.  “Is This Seat Taken?” has that kind of quiet tension (with some peaks of themes in the background).  It’s all very appropriate for sneaking around and trying to steal stuff like a scoundrel.  There there are some more familiar sounds, like when the Falcon shows up.  When it does, expect more hi-jinks, excitement and drama from this soundtrack.  It rarely gets dull, but strap yourself in for “Reminiscence Therapy”.  It’s a virtual greatest hits of themes, including the ones from Solo.

To be charitable, two tracks don’t work as well as others.  Star Wars movies tend to have a lounge or bar scene with a band.  “Chicken in the Pot” has annoyingly modern R&B beats, just not right for Star Wars, weird languages aside.  “Dice & Roll” is also a bit too close to home for a galaxy far, far away.

Solo turns out to be one of the pleasant surprises of 2018.  It’s a soundtrack far better than expected.

4/5 stars

Blu-ray REVIEW: Family Guy – “It’s a Trap!” (2010)

FAMILY GUY – “It’s a Trap!” (2010 20th Century Fox)

First, they did Star Wars. Due to popular demand, they did Empire next.  And just as Jedi was the weakest of the original trilogy, so is Family Guy’s version.

The full 57 minute episode “It’s A Trap!”, available on its own for those who only like the Star Wars spoofs, follows the same concept as the first two.  Favourite Family Guy characters portray the legendary characters from Star Wars.  After two, though, the well seems rather dry.  Presumably running out of original characters, they peppered the cast with characters from both American Dad and The Cleveland Show.  Rollo Brown, Klaus the Fish and Roger the Alien are some of the characters making a Family Guy appearance in the Star Wars universe.

Still, it must have been awful dry in that well when they were writing this.

“It’s A Trap!” had moments that were as funny as any previous Family Guy Star Wars.  Then there were stretches that that were as dull and uninspired as Seth MacFarlane’s worst. It was very much a rocky ride, but luckily the good outweighed the bad in this episode.

Likes:

  • As always, the surprise of what characters are playing who (which I won’t spoil, google it if you must know).
  • Many celebrity cameos (again I won’t give you spoilers).
  • The Emperor rocked.
  • Looked awesome in 1080p.
  • Ample bonus features (similar to previous instalments). Even the Trivial Pursuit challenge was fun for one viewing.

Dislikes:

  • Boring Yoda.
  • One scene where Peter/Han snaps and torments three Imperial officers…just took it too far.
  • MacFarlane likes jokes that go on too long, but they didn’t work this time.

Pick it up and complete your trilogy.

Or, you know, just watch it on Netflix.

3/5 stars

And, no — there is next to a 0% chance that Disney will let Seth do any more Star Wars.

MOVIE REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story [MINOR SPOILERS]

It is a lawless time.

CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources – food, medicine, and HYPERFUEL.

On the shipbuilding planet of CORELLIA, the foul LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of crime in exchange for shelter and protection.

On these mean streets, a young man fights for survival, but yearns to fly among the stars….

SOLO: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed by Ron Howard

We are dangerously close to Star Wars overkill.  With the announcement of:

  1. A new trilogy helmed by so-so director Rian Johnson.
  2. A new trilogy brought to you by the folks who gave us Game of Thrones.
  3. A live action TV series from Jon Favreau.
  4. And not to mention more Star Wars Story spinoffs (Obi-Wan? Boba?) and the only movie that really matters: the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga, Episode IX.

We are very close to oversaturation indeed.  Remember when you had to wait three years between movies and much longer between trilogies?

Fortunately, Solo is a welcome addition to the crowded Star Wars family.

Solo was one of the spinoffs conceived by George Lucas before he abandoned ship.  He’d been trying to do “young Han” since at least Revenge of the Sith, when he was pictured in concept art as an orphan raised by Wookiees.  Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) and son Jon wrote Solo, so you can be assured there is a level of authenticity here.  Who better to write that space scoundrel?  Nobody.

And who better to direct than Ron Howard?  He came in under difficult circumstances after the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, re-shot 70% of the movie, and pretty much nailed it too.  Howard also brought in some of his regulars (brother Clint Howard and Paul Bettany) and threw in a literal ton of Star Wars references and crossovers.  Solo is Easter Egg heaven.

Finally, composer John Powell created a soundtrack that is different yet founded in the Star Wars universe.  Powell hybridized new and old themes together into a memorable score.  He too included Easter Eggs, in his music.  Listen closely when [SPOILER] the marauder Enfys Nest and her gang arrives.  Powell utilised a children’s choir, as a clue foreshadowing Enfys’ young age under the mask.

Everybody was worried about lead actor Alden Ehrenreich as Solo.  Admit it, you were too.  Fear not, for young Ehrenreich (who is signed on for three films) nailed the role.  His higher voice is the only niggle that consistently reminds you that he’s not the Han you remember.  Similarly, Donald Glover fits into Lando Calrissian’s capes comfortably, including the suave talkin’.  Billy Dee Williams should be very happy with the new Lando.

The concept of Han as an orphan is retained, but instead of being raised by Wookiees, his backstory is more aligned with the old Star Wars novels.  He is a thief on planet Corellia, where he and girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to stay under the Empire’s nose.  Corellia is a shipbuilding world with huge, expansive scenes of Star Destroyers under construction.  When Han and Qi’ra are separated, he joins the Empire, as he did in the comics.

Han wanted to be a pilot, but got stationed in the muddy trenches to quell an uprising on planet Mimban.  Han, you see, isn’t the best at taking orders.  While enlisted on Mimban, he meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his best friend to be, Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo).  Solo is swept into the seedy world of organised crime where he is delighted to catch up to Qi’ra, and is introduced to her boss played by Paul Bettany.  They both work for the dark, shadowy crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.

From an exciting pulse-pounding train heist to the Millenium Falcon, Solo keeps things moving.  It’s one big set piece after another, including the Kessel Run.  And yes, they used the novels as the source material.  The Falcon does indeed make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, getting a little beat up in the process.  By the end of the film, she’ll look a little more like the ship you remember.

The plot has its twists but you can foresee that some backs are going to get stabbed.  Han’s backstory is over-explained a bit too much for a single film, but there is still enough left to explore should Solo 2 be somewhere in pipe.  The truth is, the first viewing of Solo is less paying attention to the plot, and more looking for cameos.  Speaking of which, characters tie Solo into movies as diverse as Rogue One and The Phantom Menace.  You’ll see some stirrings of the early Rebellion, and Han’s intrinsic sense of right and wrong.  You might even see a giant “fuck you” to the Star Wars special editions.  [SPOILER] Han is definitely a “shoot first” kind of guy.

Things get a little muddled with a side character (Lando’s droid L3-37 played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with a passion for droid’s rights.  Perhaps a droid-based Star Wars movie would be interesting for the future, but it was extraneous here.  Solo is best when it’s giving you a tour of the Star Wars universe, from crime lords to the trenches on the front lines of the Empire.  Trench warfare on Mimban is directly inspired by the muddy fields of World War 1, and it’s far better than any of the Clone Wars stuff in Revenge of the Sith.

Unlike The Last Jedi, a spinoff movie doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  In many measures, the pressure was off.  Solo aims to be a fun movie that requires no connections to the Force or Skywalker family.  It’s a shame that it has not performed well, but that is not a reflection on its quality.

3.75/5 stars