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Family Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (PG-13)

Kernel Rating: whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal (3 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 135 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. Mostly the same elements of preceding ‘Star Wars’ films, with a variety of violence (people, other races, and robots are enslaved; the Empire is waging war on other planets, and we see some trench warfare, explosions, and shootouts; dead bodies are shown, characters fight and duel, and we see a character who sacrifices themselves by blowing something up). Also some kissing, some implied romantic tension between characters, and a character nearly curses using the s-word, but the scene cuts away before the word is completed.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is a sometimes exciting, sometimes funny, and sometimes boring addition to the ever-expanding ‘Star Wars’ universe. This is a movie that has all the composite parts for success but isn’t actually successful that often.

By Roxana Hadadi

SoloAStarWarsStory ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewThe “Star Wars” franchise is probably going to continue forever, given the success of new trilogy additions “A Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” and the somewhat cultish fan base for “Rogue One.” But there was inevitably going to be a misstep, and so we have “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which has moments of humor and thrill but doesn’t make the strongest case for its own existence.

Another spinoff like “Rogue One” that considers a narrative that isn’t directly related to the Skywalkers and the Force, “Solo” looks backward by giving us a slice of the roguish Han’s early years. Played in the original films by Harrison Ford, younger Han is here portrayed by Alden Ehrenreich (of “Beautiful Creatures” and “Hail, Caesar!”), who is mostly charming and strikes the right poses but also seems a bit like he’s imitating Ford instead of really doing his own thing.

And the film is often a mixture of too much information (an explanation of Han’s name and Chewbacca’s nickname; triumphant music cues up when meaningful moments occur, like when the two fly together for the first time) and too little (the bad guys are tenuously linked to a main storyline “Star Wars” fans will recognize, but they’re not developed very well), struggling with the fact that we already know nothing truly terrible will happen to Han. We’ve seen all the other stuff he goes on to do. The stakes for his character, Chewie (Joonas Suotamo, of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) are relatively low.

Still, there is meaningful stuff here. The film begins on the planet Corellia, where a young Han and his childhood love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, of “Me Before You”) are slaves yearning to escape from bondage, get a ship, and live on their own together; when a scheme to get them out only partially works, Han gets off the planet and Qi’ra doesn’t. Fast-forward three years, after Han joins the Imperial Navy to learn how to fly and then drops out of the Flight Academy for questioning too often why the Empire keeps invading planets and killing the natives who live there. (Observations like “It’s their planet. We’re the hostiles” aren’t making him friends with the higher-ups.)

Desperate to make some money and go back to Corellia to save Qi’ra, he joins up with a ring of outlaw smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, of “The Glass Castle”), who have been hired by the leader of the powerful criminal organization Crimson Dawn, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, of “Avengers: Infinity War”). Disappointing Dryden Vos is never a good idea, and so Han gets drawn into another job at the crime lord’s behest—one that reunites him with Qi’ra, introduces him to Lando, and shows him corners of the galaxy that are as devastated and ruined as his own childhood as a slave.

The newer “Star Wars” movies have intentionally addressed how the corruption and villainy of the Empire manifest (think of the destroyed Jedi temples in “Rogue One,” or the casino planet frequented by weapons dealers in “The Last Jedi”), and “Solo” does the same thing, tying that combination of capitalism and fascism to Han’s character development. It mostly works, providing an explanation for why someone so initially hopeful and so in love would turn into the more jaded, slightly cynical rogue we meet again in “A New Hope.”

But “Solo” also can’t really decide how many other elements of the primary “Star Wars” narrative it wants to include in its own story, which translates into that uneasy mix of fan service and original thought. There are some great things here, like Lando’s droid L3 (voiced by Phobe Waller-Bridge) arguing for robot rights and a rival team of marauders who turn out to have their own motives, and their arcs speak directly to the revolution we would see in “Rogue One” and “A New Hope.” But there’s also too much of a reliance on showing Han and Lando being cool and one-upping each other, leading to a final scene that moves the film away from that initial direction. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” has a variety of compelling ideas, but an uneasy execution means the film never quite gels.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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