Bro-Reviews: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lost in space.

It bears reminding that Disney’s quest to take over the world came into great focus after they purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion back in 2012. This purchase came with the promise that not only would there be a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, but also spin-off films of some of our favorite characters. One of the more beloved characters who was announced as getting his own Solo adventure was Han Solo, which was met with a resounding meh. Throw in the casting of Alden Ehrenreich and the firing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller of the “Jump Street” movies fame, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” seemed doom from the start. The opening weekend results haven’t been pretty, as “Solo” had the worst opening of the new “Star Wars” films, but the rumors of pre-production problems and box office competition doesn’t mean the film is a bomb, right?

“Solo” sees a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) attempting to escape orphanage on the planet Corellia with his first love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). After separating during their escape, Han vows to return for Qi’ra but joins the Imperial Navy to escape capture. After being expelled for insubordination and becoming an infantryman for the Empire, Han meets a group of criminals, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who plan to steal the valuable resource known as coaxium for the evil crime syndicate known as Crimson Dawn for their leader,  Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along with the help of a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Solo joins the gang the origin of Han Solo’s legend is revealed.

It needs to be said that perhaps no one could aptly portray a character made so legendary by Hollywood stalwart Harrison Ford, but Alden Ehrenreich is no Han Solo. Ehrenreich doesn’t have much charisma or screen presence, making him a dud as Han Solo. A resounding 90 percent or so of his jokes fall flat, and his sweet talking in negotiations nowhere near matches that of Harrison Ford. And call it nit picking, but the man is barely taller than his female counterpart in Emilia Clarke, so how are we to believe this guy is the legendary space cowboy Han Solo? 

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Aleden Ehrenreich in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.

Speaking of Ehrenreich’s female counterpart, Emilia Clarke barely resonates as Han’s first lover, and her arch is beyond predictable. Donald Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian, seems to be doing a bad impression of Billy Dee Williams, who was the original Lando. Any hype surrounding Glover’s portrayal of the 2nd most sleazy space cowboy next to Solo is unwarranted, as his performance disappointments. Paul Bettany is an afterthought as a villain, and when your best characters are secondary ones such as the always likeable Woody Harrelson and a character who cannot speak English in Chewbacca, your film more than likely has a tremendous problem on its hands.

It doesn’t help the dialogue is bad, and the actors cannot bring it to life or rise above it. Most of it is exposition, and the cracks of preproduction definitely show in the films’ script. The action in “Solo” isn’t inventive or imaginative, a crushing blow to a film that is surprisingly boring throughout, making this “Star Wars” story a slog to get through. 

The only positive in the film revolves around a cameo appearance from one of the most under appreciated villains in “Star Wars” lore. I found myself nerding out at the appearance of this character, but to have to sit through two hours of the film just to get a two minute cameo is torture.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a Solo venture that should have never been greenlit. Its preproduction problems undoubtedly seeped into the script, its action never excites, and the casting falls incredibly flat. If not for the one easter egg towards the end of the film, “Solo” would be a colossal waste of time. As it stands, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the worst “Star Wars” film since “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and gets lost in space. 

Rating: 1 out of 4 Stars. Skip it. 

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” stars Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau, and Paul Bettany. It is in theaters now.

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Bro-Reviews: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Best Jedi.

When news broke that the next installment of the new Star Wars trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was having its release date delayed from May to December of 2017, people began to fear the worst. Coming off the heels of the vastly overrated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the at first warmly received but now popular to mock Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi had its work cut out for it. Throw in new director Rian Johnson replacing Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, and it seemed The Last Jedi was doomed. Does the latest tale in the worldwide phenomenon crumble fans hopes and dreams, or does it deliver another epic entry in the space opera?

The Last Jedi picks up around where Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally finding the last known Jedi in the galaxy, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), living in self imposed hiding. At the same time, the First Order is hot on the Resistances’ trail, and Rey and the Rebels must find assistance before the Rebellion is destroyed once and for all.

Forget what you think you know about the Star Wars universe, as The Last Jedi boldly goes where no other Star Wars has gone before. The story elements we have become accustomed to are shattered in the beginnings of The Last Jedi, and delivers unexpected character arcs that breathes new life into the heroes we’ve come to know and love and further develops the newest additions to the space set saga.

While he was not much of an actor in the original three films, Mark Hamill delivers his finest performance as Jedi master Luke Skywalker. His evolution from legendary hero to now disillusioned hermit is a compelling story that anchors the film. This evolution also includes his interactions with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, who continues to grow as a strong character, and she owns her star making role even more in The Last Jedi than she did in The Force Awakens. While many still question the believability of Adam Driver as the next master Sith, Kylo Ren, Driver’s youthful goofy look and perceived conflict lends itself in a positive fashion even more this time around, as he’s still just a scared little child with enough power to destroy all in his path, making for a tenacious performance.

Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

These unfamiliar themes also spill into the action sequences of the film. While much of the suspense can be attributed to the fact that it is a Star Wars movie and we don’t know what is going to happen next, these scenes of battle and peril are not only some of the most exciting unpredictable sequences in a film in quite some time, but have you on the edge of your seat more than any other Star Wars film that has come before.

The rest of the cast acquits themselves well, with Oscar Isaac once again showing he’s a fiery fly-boy as Poe, Andy Serkis as good as ever as in motion capture acting as the leader of The First Order Snoke, and Denzel-in the making John Boyega showing off his movie star qualities as a more heroic rendition of Finn. Of course, one would be remiss if they failed to mention Carrie Fisher’s final screen appearance as the legendary General Organa, or otherwise known as Leia. She saves her best performance for last in The Last Jedi, as her calming presence and hopeful demeanor brings absence of balance to the film.

While The Last Jedi does forgo many of the familiar story elements we’ve known for over four decades, there are obviously still moments akin to previous Star Wars lore. One can’t help but notice parallels to The Empire Strikes Back as it pertains to certain characters, and of course it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie if there wasn’t one flight sequence in tight corridors. And while new creatures such as the Porgs are at first endearing in their interactions with Chewbacca, they become shameless toy commercials screaming BUY ME towards the latter parts of the film. One of the new human additions to the film is Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose in the film. She eventually finds her footing, but for a majority of the film seems out of place due to her limited acting progress.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has minor flaws within it that may bother some, but they are not enough to derail the entire film. The Last Jedi is filled with tension and delivers stellar blockbuster thrills at a whole new level. The story takes everything you think you know about a Star Wars film and flips it upside down, making it the best Star Wars entry to date. The Last Jedi is a near flawless blockbuster film, and will stand the tests of time in this galaxy far far away.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi stars Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro. It is in theaters December 15th. 

 

 

 

Bro-Reviews: In Defense of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The hype was too big to live up to.

The early buzz for the latest entry in the world famous space opera saga Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been very positive, with many saying it is one of the best the series has to offer. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening in theaters this week, many television networks are of course opting to show the previous entries in marathon fashion throughout the week. This of course always re-opens the conversation Star Wars junkies and casual fans almost universally agree upon: the prequels are awful.

After the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi, fans had to wait nearly 16 years for another Star Wars film. It came in the form of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance, the first film in a planned trilogy that would act as a precursor to the original three films from the man who helmed the 1976 film that started a worldwide phenomenon, George Lucas. With the promise of state of the art special effects, a talented ensemble cast including the likes of Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, and an ominous new threat, the film had sky-high expectations, especially considering the positive reception the first three films earned.

Fans waiting outside of a movie theater to be the first to see “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

While the film earned over $431 million and was a smash hit at the box office, many left the theater disappointed. Most of the complaints centered around the terrible acting, over-complicated plot, lack of action, and Jar-Jar Binks. One might say the film is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of cinema, and the release of two more not well received prequel films only solidifies this status, as it was the one that started the disappointing cycle. I, however, invite you to reconsider, as while The Phantom Menace is far from a perfect film, it is a fine entry in the Star Wars saga.

Many criticize the acting in the film, placing much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of unrefined child actors Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd as Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker respectively. Here’s a newsflash: most child actors are terrible. I would never advise one to praise their acting prowess in the film, as they deliver mostly wooden performances, but they get the job done. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Won Kenobi respectively, and are able to anchor the film. And lets be honest, the acting in the original three films is awful as well. There’s a reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer (*R.I.P.*) didn’t get much work once the original saga concluded, it was because they weren’t very good. Star Wars isn’t a movie franchise you go to see for the acting, you go for the visuals and the story.

Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, and Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

However, many complain the story in Phantom Menace is poor as well. What they really mean is that the story is complicated. It isn’t as clear as the Cold-War like storyline represented in the original three films, which is the Rebels (*the good guys*) fighting the Empire (*the bad guys*) for space supremacy. In Phantom Menace, there’s many more parties involved, including the Republic, the Trade Federation, the Gugans, the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council, and the Sith. Each of these parties have their own agendas, with some even acting as double agents, thus alluding to the political climate we have grown accustomed to. The film may not have the sharp dialogue required to pull off the story due to George Lucas’s shortcomings as a writer, but the film should be praised for containing such a complex story-line and using it as the set-up to the stories in the 70s and 80s films.

“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

If there’s anything I can agree with most people about, it is Jar-Jar Binks. Actor Ahmed Best will have to live with this burden the rest of his life, as the borderline racist character will forever live in infamy as one of if not the worst character in the Star Wars universe. However, fans and critics are missing the point as to why the character exists: it’s a movie for children. Yes, Star Wars appeals to fans of many ages, but the films target children. Jar-Jar was the major selling point for kids to see the movie, as the fun loving, goofy character represented the lighthearted side of the film, and whose main function was to provide comic relief for the children. After seeing him in the film, children who more than likely loved the character would then bug their parents enough for them to buy them a Jar-Jar toy, thus allowing the Star Wars franchise to obtain even more funds from everyone. The same was and remains true for Chewbacca, the Ewoks, and also continues for new additions like BB-8 and Porg.

Ahmed Best as Jar-Jar Binks in “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

The podracing scene stands out to most as the best sequence in the entire movie. It’s undoubtedly inventive and suspenseful, and clearly took advantage of the advancements in special effects technology to deliver one of the most thrilling scenes in Star Wars canon. But let’s not forget the feeling of dread and awesomeness when one of the baddest Sith lords to ever grace a Star Wars film, Darth Maul, reveals his double sided lightsaber in the best lightsaber battle in all the Star Wars films. Sure, it’s interrupted by a somewhat annoying Anakin Skywalker in an auto piloted starfighter joining the federation in fighting the droid control ship and the Gugans battling the droids with a clumsy Jar-Jar somehow saving the day, but even those scenes are fun as well. The choreography for the lightsaber fight is unprecedented, filmed in such a way you can tell what’s occurring on screen and feel every clash of a lightsaber, and adds one of the biggest gut-punches that would forever shape the Star Wars universe.

Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

It’s elements such as these that makes Phantom Menace much better than its reputation would have you believe. Yes, it’s far from perfect and maybe has its sights set too high in regards to its story for a Star Wars film, but Phantom Menace delivers blockbuster thrills and tremendous state of the art visuals on a grand scale. The hype machine set the expectations for the film so high there was no way it could live up to it. People had been craving another Star Wars movie for over a decade, and wanted it to be the way it was when they were a child. There’s no doubt “this wasn’t my childhood” sentiment also hindered the film, but it’s been long enough now that hopefully everyone has grown up and realized these movies, while they can be enjoyed by all ages, are targeted towards children, which they obviously no longer were by the time Phantom Menace landed in theaters nearly 20 years ago. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace should be given another viewing, and one should leave with a greater appreciation for the film than they did a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Liam Neeson, Ray Park, and Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

Rating: 2.5/ 4 Stars. Pay Matinée price.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiamird, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Frank Oz, and Samuel L. Jackson.