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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Solo: A Star Wars Story

“Gotti” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

The roguish scoundrel we all know and love is back with his own movie, appropriately called “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” In it, we take the lore we know about Han Solo before first meeting him in “A New Hope” and build upon it. The Kessel Run, meeting Chewbacca, the card game against Lando Calrissian to win the Millennium Falcon—it’s all there. But so are many other things that we previously didn’t know about this character, things which shaped him into the man we see in the original trilogy—including why it’s smart to shoot first.

When we first see young Han (Alden Ehrenreich), he’s a slave on the ship building planet of Corellia who wants to escape with this girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) and go live happily ever after. Of course it’s not that easy. After a fun chase through the streets of Corellia, the slavers capture her and he swears to become a great pilot by joining up with the Empire so he can one day rescue her.

Flash forward to three years later and Han is in the mud fighting for the Empire. Given the penchant of the “Star Wars” universe to have single themed planets—desert planet, ice planet, swamp planet, etc.—I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the mud planet. Also for the first time, I felt like “Star Wars” was actually tackling war. The battle Han is engaged in is not colorful or bright or playful—it’s grim and gritty, reminding me of something from a World War I movie.

It’s on this planet where Han first meets the three thieves he wants to join with--Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his girlfriend Val (Thandie Newton), and the alien Rio Durant (voice of Jon Favreau). Here is also where he gets on the wrong side of a commanding officer and is ordered to be fed to the beast. Seriously—what is it with feeding folks to beasts in the “Star Wars” movies? Luckily, the “beast” in question is Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), so anyone who’s been paying any attention to these movies for the last forty years knows that he’ll be okay.

The MacGuffin in this movie is hyperspace fuel, called coaxium. Don’t worry about remembering that—you’re not going to care. The point of the coaxium, like any other MacGuffin, is to give everyone in the story something to chase after. It is very much wanted by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), who runs a mercenary army called Crimson Dawn. It’s up to Han and his fellow thieves to rob a cargo train carrying it.

This isn’t any cargo train though. This train is high up in the mountains—on what I will presume is the mountain planet—and as it makes its long, winding journey to its destination, it occasionally turns on its side. I always like a well-done heist in movies (probably why I’m a sucker for the “Ocean’s” franchise) and the death-defying stunts inherent in a train robbery up the stakes to an even higher degree. Want to up them even more? Have the train periodically turn on its side. Just think about the logistics of robbing that.

This is the part of the story that’s not hinted at in the original trilogy. A lost love, joining the Empire, how he got involved with being a thief/smuggler, his first job—this is all new ground. Along with the new journey we get traces of the familiar, like with Chewy, the Millennium Falcon, and how he came to meet Lando (Donald Glover) and what their early encounters were like.

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I like Ehrenreich as Han. He captures the hot-headed brazenness of the character and is a good call back to Harrison Ford’s performance in the early movies without doing too much of an imitation. Ehrenreich makes the character his own, but gives us just enough—especially with certain facial expressions—to make us believe that this is the same Han we all know from decades ago.

If I like Ehrenreich as Han, then I really like Glover as Lando. The look, the mannerisms, the cadence in his voice, the pronouncing of Han’s name so that it rhymes with “man” rather “john”—it’s perfect. His costumes are well chosen too. After all, Lando Calrissian can never have too many capes.

As someone who grew up with the “Star Wars” movies, I’m glad they’re getting a resurgence. I do, however, wish they were more consistent in quality. I also strongly wish the filmmakers didn't so clearly pander to the zeitgeist: Saying things like “The Force is female” is inconsistent with the way the Force has heretofore been presented, and really, why can't they just say the Force is for everyone?

I’m disappointed that “Solo” flopped at the box office, but Lucasfilm has only themselves to blame. It’s a shame too, since the movie ends on a great note that leads not only into another “Solo” movie, but also a potential tie-in to an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie. That may never be, given all of the problems Disney has in getting this franchise off the ground. Too bad. Rent it, and use your own imagination to think about what could have been.

More New Releases: “Gotti,”about crime boss John Gotti and his son, starring John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Stacy Keach, and Pruitt Taylor Vince; “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” writer-director Todd Solondz’s coming of age story about the trials and tribulations of a misfit seventh grader, starring Heather Matarazzo; and “The Swarm,” much maligned (unfairly in my opinion) Irwin Allen disaster movie from 1978 about killer bees invading Texas, starring a who’s-who of famous faces from the time, including Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Henry Fonda.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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