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What's Streaming: 'Solo' is a triumphant return

If you have been reluctant to watch the “Star Wars” spin-off film “Solo,” directed by Ron Howard, because you felt let down by the feel and direction of the series since the original three movies, worry no more and give it a try. Thanks to Netflix, you can watch the film from your cozy couch and enjoy it with the family.

For those of us who grew up with the original “Star Wars” movies, it was the beginning of an era. Each release was an event like no other. Science fiction on television was already embedded in our minds. Shows such as “Star Trek,” “Space: 1999” and “Dr. Who” were go-to favorites.

Toys and comics back then were breaking ground as well. The largest toy franchise of 1976, called the Micronauts, was the first to be interchangeable in parts with characters such as Time Traveler, Space Glider, Baron Karza, Force Commander and Biotron, all with a background story of a microverse. Cosmic storytelling featuring Captain Marvel, Fantastic Four, Green Lantern and even Superman was prevalent in the early ‘70s. Our very culture was in tune with space travel and odd characters.

When the first movie came out, our parents wanted to see it just as much as we did. Waiting in large lines for a movie was new and worth every impatient moment. Their love of literature was emboldened on the large screen, and with authors such as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert having laid the groundwork for expansive galaxy storytelling, everyone was “star-struck.”

Capturing that magic has been a tricky process. After the first three films, we waited ever so patiently as rumors spread of six more films. It became near folklore for years. Then it happened and the next three films were released. Despite our initial excitement, we came away perplexed by the bad acting and awkward storytelling. We still defended the movies because they gave us the excuse to share the wonder of “Star Wars” with our children. They loved it because it was new to them, but the force was not as strong.

Then came the announcement that Disney had bought the rights to the “Star Wars” franchise, and folklore became reality with the final three movies being announced. The marketing was obsessive and a turnoff; even tangelos were plastered with stickers of logos and characters. So, when news came of spin-offs, there were more groans and sighs than anticipation.

“Solo” was a production nightmare. The original directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) quit, citing creative differences with the screenwriters (Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan). Suddenly the filming was put on hold to find another director. The big surprise replacement was none other than mega director Ron Howard.

Another dubious distinction for the movie was being one of the most expensive films ever made, racking up $275 million in development. Unfortunately, the film did not perform well at the box office, grossing only $392 million of the $500 million needed to break even.

Despite the troubled production, “Solo” is probably the closest in feel to the original three movies. There is a realism to the sets, the computer-generated imagery is more limited and far more believable, and the photography maintains a grittiness and less plastic ambiance. Replacing Harrison Ford as Han Solo was no easy task, and frankly Alden Ehrenreich is OK as the lovable smuggler. Woody Harrelson is, well, Woody Harrelson. However, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian is a spot-on performance.

The film is one action-packed sequence after another, with the humor we have come to expect between Han and Chewy. But what made this film such a triumph, aside from the outstanding photography, was the origin storytelling. Learning the very beginnings of Han Solo, such as where his name came from, his first use of the iconic laser blaster, his first meeting with Chewbacca, when he won the Millennium Falcon and made the infamous Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. There is even a surprise appearance worth a fist pump at the end of the film.

All in all, “Solo” had its bumps but remains one of the best films in the franchise and deserves the praise for a triumphant return. Let’s just leave the tangelos alone next time ...

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

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