Solo: A Star Wars Story

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Written by Chris Gelderd

In 10 films spanning 41 years, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is the first of the franchise that started and ended production under a big black cloud. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, wanting to make a “space comedy” were let go just 6 months into production due to creative differences. Acclaimed director Ron Howard came on weeks later to carry the film forward. Following that, extensive re-shoots were carried out to shape the film into the vision Howard and LucasFilm intended.

But before all this happened, the fans and critics were divided. Do we need or even want a film about a young Han Solo, a character immortalised in three films by Harrison Ford. Does the story of how he became the roguish smuggler and pilot with a bounty on his head and a large walking carpet as a friend need to be told? Who will ever be as talented and physically similar like Ford to pull this off? Will this fit into the wider Star Wars timeline or just be totally unique?

These questions never went away, and coupled with the rumours and hear-say and negative views on the production, it’s safe to say ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ has had a mountain to climb just to get where it is today and win over audiences and critics alike.

Well, you can forget the woes about a trouble production and leave your picky questions at home because this space Western is slick, stylish and shows no sign of trouble at all. It’s a fun and light-hearted space adventure, just the sort George Lucas envisioned back in 1977. There is no dark, brooding conflict and mystical power hanging over the story – not to say there isn’t plenty of menace – and there are no Jedi Knights, Force powers and tedious links to the Skywalker story. This is how Han became Solo.

Think of it as a watered down ‘Casino Royale’ for all generations.

From the outset, Alden Ehrenreich had near impossible shoes to fill. Yet to enjoy his performance, we owe it to this talented actor to see he is portraying not Harrison Ford, but Han Solo. A character we know nothing about at this young age. Yes, it’s hard not to look for Ford in him, but if you look BEYOND the man he becomes, you enjoy him all the more for it. Alden bleeds Ford’s mannerisms in subtly, such as his stance, the way he fires his blaster and that dry sense of humour starting to form. He carries the film and proves that he was the right choice to cast.

Emilia Clarke is a little hard to buy into at first, and she only comes to life more in the second half. She may be a talent on the small screen, but somehow her presence on the big screen never leaps at you and she’s just a little forgetful for most of the time, and you don’t buy her relationship with Han as much as you probably should. Paul Bettany is our merciless villain, and while he also is a little glossed over sadly, he commands much of the threat our heroes face in the film and it’s refreshing to NOT be an Imperial officer or a Sith Lord as the bad guy.

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, equally having a big character to represent like Solo, does a fine job here. He’s smooth, charming and equally proud to look good and fight the good fight. The film could have benefited from more of his friendship with Solo to blossom, because you’re left wondering is this it? Is this the last time they see each other until the frosty reunion of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ a good 15 or so years later? You probably expected more, but you at least get to understand Lando’s ESB greeting of “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler!”

Chewbacca finally comes to life more than ever after six films and he really does what you’d expect from a Wookiee here, in more ways than one. Seeing the beginning and formation of a life-long friendship is wonderful to see, and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing Han and Chewie together doing what they do best. Joonas Suotamo, a more than worthy successor to Peter Mayhew, does a brilliant job.

One of the best performances comes from Woody Harrelson as Beckett; a mentor, gun-slinger, smuggler and outlaw. He’s the one who guides us and Han into the world of crime and also the real dangers that the galaxy throws at you. Harrelson is instantly likeable and really looks the part, spinning those blasters and leading his crew into battle. He’s having a blast, and it shows. It’s clear all the cast are enjoying themselves in these iconic roles and situations, and that makes it easy to invest in to have fun too, but some seem to enter and exit the film quicker than you’d expect.

Characters drive the film, and they are key in making it flow. While the run time is not too hefty, and certainly doesn’t drag, the story stumbles a little in the first act. It tries to find its feet, which may be evidence of the production woes.  Another slight irk is the humour; it’s not silly humour at all but sometimes you get the feeling the script is trying too hard to be funny when it doesn’t need to be. Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3-37 is a highly off-putting and pointless character. When she speaks, the attitude and humour doesn’t seem fit for a Star Wars film. Something about her portrayal and character didn’t sit with me – it certainly wasn’t funny.

Once Howard does establish the story and the tone, it takes off a lot quicker. The story zips to various new planets in a blend of genres – from crime to drama to Western and sci-fi opera – to deliver something that adds nothing new to the timeline, but lets us have some fun out there without the need for Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker or the importance of civil wars being the focus point.

The action is slick and well executed, and the visual effects are spot-on. One bonus is that Howard seems to opt for more practical sets and action over CGI, and that adds to a much more real looking universe. From the slums of Corellia, to the dunes of Savareen and the nightmarish vortex of the Kessel Run, this is Star Wars at its finest, adventure planet-hopping best. It may be hard to adjust to a Star Wars film where Stormtroopers aren’t the main bad guys and the faceless Empire doesn’t do much or you see nothing of the Rebellion, but this is why the film is much braver than it appears.

It takes risks, it forces us to buy into a new idea and wants us to do nothing but enjoy the ride. Han Solo is just warming up and I want to see where he goes from here.

Is this a Star Wars film we needed in the timeline? Not really, but I’m glad we have it because Ron Howard just whetted my appetite for more of this sort of anthology film away from the ‘Episodes’. And on the basis of a certain cameo towards the end, the timeline just got a whole lot spicier!

Chris’ Rating: 

4

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The Adventures Of Luke Starkiller as Taken From The Journal Of The Whills: Saga One: Star Wars

Written by Chris Gelderd

Every great idea comes from your imagination, or rather; your imagination that has been inspired by something or someone else to give you said great idea.

George Walton Lucas Jr, the founder of small production company Lucasfilm since the 1960s, had a great idea for a movie in 1974; a Flash Gordon adventure. This was encouraged by his love of the Flash Gordon serials and the works of visionary director Akira Kurosawa. Before the seed was planted however, George Lucas had successful graduated from the University of Southern California and been turned down by the United States Army due to his diabetes. So, the only course that beckoned was his love for film.

After a few low-budget films under his belt like the panned ‘Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB’ in 1971 the well-received ‘American Graffiti’ in 1973, Lucas set his sights on buying the rights to Flash Gordon to make his own epic adventure film for the big screen. However, even with the help of his friend Francis Ford Coppola, George failed to acquire the rights and his vision was crushed

But this was a man with a dream, and one way or another he was going to achieve it! So, after ‘American Graffiti’ performed well, George began writing his own sci-fi adventure with a synopsis entitled ‘Journal of the Whills’. And so over the course of the next year, a vision started to come together that fused inspiration from world cinema, various genres and even his pet dog Indiana. Multiple drafts were done, and he threw ideas around trying to think what audiences would want to see; visions of a fantastical future, or adventures of a mystical past? Characters started to come together like General Annikin Starkiller, a large green smuggler with gills called Han Solo and mysterious villains known as Sith.

It became a classic story of good v evil, heroes and villains. A fantastical quest across the stars taken by a band of heroes to save the day, and a damsel in distress, held by evil villains as they try to conquer the galaxy. With conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie helping George turn his ideas of spaceships, sprawling planets, huge control rooms, armoured villains and roguish heroes into reality, by the time the fourth and final draft was complete, the story of Luke Starkiller, Jedi Knight, was ready to go. Securing a budget of $8.5m and the backing of 20th Century Fox, George laid the foundations through 1975

Forming his own visual effects company called ‘Industrial Light & Magic’, George began hiring the talent to bring his story to life. Visual effects engineer John Dykstra. Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Producer Gary Kurtz. Composer John Williams. Editor Paul Hirsch. Location scouting took place across America, North Africa and Europe to seek out locations ripe for turning into desert worlds and bustling cities, and Elstree Studios in London was hired for the more focused and controlled shooting.

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Young actor Mark Hamill was cast as Luke Skywalker – formally Starkiller – and with little experience to his name, George felt he was the perfect unknown face to become a young, naïve farm boy thrust into a galactic adventure.

Carrie Fisher, following a debut opposite Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn in ‘Shampoo’, took the role of Princess Leia, a member of the Galactic Senate and royal family, beating off competition from Jodie Foster, Karen Allen and Amy Irving to bag the role.

For the smuggler Han Solo, George Lucas wanted a new face for the role and so initially rejected young carpenter Harrison Ford, whom had worked with Lucas before on ‘American Graffiti’. It was only when Ford read lines for the auditions that his delivery actually won him the part, beating off competition from Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Steve Martin and Billy Dee Williams to name but a few.

To counter his cast of unknown faces, Gary Kurtz made it clear that George needed some established actors to give the film credibility. For that, veteran actors Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness were cast as Governor Tarkin and Obi-Wan Kenobi respectively to add depth and a gravitas to their roles and importance to the story.

Theatre and radio actor Anthony Daniels was cast as protocol droid C-3PO who would act with his voice and body alone behind a full costume. Kenny Baker, standing at just 3ft 8 was cast as astromech droid R2-D2 to help control and operate the droid from inside. Rounding out the aliens and droids was Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, a 7ft gentle Wookiee with fierce loyalty to the heroes of the piece.

The physically imposing bit-part actor David Prowse was cast as Sith Lord Darth Vader, our villain clad in black. Due to his West Country accent, his physical stance was all that was needed. Orson Welles was wanted to voice Vader, but due to him being too well known, George cast American actor James Earl Jones for his deep and menacing voice as Vader, recorded in post-production to help create a villain full of mystery and danger.

With many more British and American talent filling out the rest of the cast of good guys and bad guys, ranging from farmers to pilots to aliens and soldiers, the shoot commenced in March 1976.

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It initially became more surreal as it went on. Cast and crew injected their passion and professionalism into the shoot for a film that seemed to be nothing but a “children’s film”. The harsh climate of Tunisia hampered external shots and proved difficult for Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker to work in, confined to their robotic suits, let alone the armoured clad Stormtroopers on set. The sets on Elstree were difficult to fit out and light correctly with their dark and brooding black and gray colours. Furthermore, director George was a very quiet and introverted man on set. Focused, serious and adamant to battle on to get his dream to the big screen, he was difficult to work with at times and many of the cast tried to crack his serious shell.

Even the actors, having as much fun as possible, found it one big joke. Harrison Ford lauded the script – “you can type this shit George but you sure can’t say it” – and production design – “there’s a princess with weird buns in her hair”. Kenny Baker felt the film was going to be a flop. Alec Guinness at times felt the film was mindless and had no real direction.

George was diagnosed wish exhaustion and hypertension by the end of shooting. Post-production was also a tough time in getting the visual effects right, working to a tight deadline that pushed a Christmas 1976 release back to summer 1977. Convincing studio execs and peers to have faith in the film was also tricky. It was a tough film from start to finish, and the budget expanded by $3m to a total of $11m taking in re-shoots and added effects. Composer John Williams recorded the soundtrack in March 1977 with the London Symphony Orchestra to help tell the story with music, not just words.

With little faith and marketing from Fox, only 40 theatres ordered the final cut of the film.

On Wednesday May 25th 1977, George Lucas’s dream of a small scale sci-fi space saga was finally released to low expectations.

It was called ‘Star Wars’.

40 years to that day, the rest, as they say, is history…

May The 4th Be With You – More Than Just A Convenient Date

Written by Chris Gelderd

The fourth of May… The day that comes but once a year.

To many, just another day of a season, but to most it’s a day beyond anything this galaxy could prepare us for. It’s a day to celebrate all things Star Wars. Is it official? As in a celebration made official by LucasFilm? No.  But it has transcended boundaries, as Star Wars always does, because it is now recognised by George Lucas himself, and even by Disney, as a day that means so much to fans of the franchise around the world.

The first organised celebration of the day only came later in the years in 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema, where fans gathered for trivia games, cosplay competitions and big-screen presentations of internet based tribute films, spoofs and sketches. And even now, Disney incorporates special Star Wars themed attractions and events at their parks on this day because, while not a national holiday, it has something stronger than a government backing to make it a memorable day – the backing of fans!

But even before then, going back to the late 1970s when ‘A New Hope’ blasted audiences into another galaxy, May the 4th became the day when fans could wear their t-shirts and costumes with pride, play with their toys in the streets and generally do anything related to Star Wars, because it was THEIR day.

And in the world media, the first official incorporation of the Star Wars-themed date was back in 1979 when Britain elected their first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Author Alan Arnold, who was working on ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at the time, remembers:

“Margaret Thatcher has won the election and become Britain’s first woman prime minister. To celebrate their victory her party took a half page of advertising space in the London Evening News. This message, referring to the day of victory, was ‘May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations,’ further proof of the extent to which Star Wars has influenced us all.”

The date soon spread across the world and it was used by fans to further bring the escapism of Star Wars into their everyday life, almost as if fate allowed it to happen. However, the question is more than just landing on a convenient date, what garners a film franchise the right to be globally celebrated.

It is almost a day specifically created in perfect unison with the most ground-breaking and popular film franchise of all to allow fans to celebrate it, and say thanks to it, how they see fit. This is rather a beautiful thing when you look at it, because this day is something created by fans to share with other fans. Not by the studios or production teams, but by the fans who were given these films who now want to show how much they mean to each individual in any way they see fit. They also want to give something back to the people behind the films, the books, the toys, games, clothing….it’s the ultimate fan love letter.

So what better way to celebrate the franchise? It’s not like you don’t have much to choose from. How will you celebrate your love for Star Wars? How about one of the following;

The classic movie marathon. All current seven episodes and our latest spin-off ‘Rogue One’ in order. But, you have to include the ‘Clone Wars’ animated movie set between Episodes II and III, right? At just over 17 hours, it can be done and will take you right from ‘The Phantom Menace’ to ‘The Force Awakens’, spanning  66 years of galactic history and ready to continue this year in December with ‘The Last Jedi’.

Read a good book or three. With SO much material out there spanning some 25,000 years BEFORE ‘A New Hope’, a wealth of canon and non-canon adventures await you from acclaimed authors including Timothy Zahn, James Luceno,  A.C. Crispin and Troy Denning.

Grab a controller and get online for a day of gaming on a classic or next-gen console with a stack of Star Wars games that span the whole saga. Play as heroes and villains from both sides of the Force in land, sea or air adventures ranging from first person shooters, puzzle games, MMORPG and arcade classics.

As you can see, there is so much to do and it doesn’t stop there. Have a Star Wars themed house party! A trivia game at work! Bake Star Wars cakes for your friends! Spam social media with so much Star Wars knowledge your monitor implodes!

The possibilities are endless, but there is no right way or wrong way to smother yourself in Star Wars goodness and know that millions more are doing the exact same thing.

And let’s not forget the new date creeping into fan’s calendars following May the 4th. It’s the revenge of the 5th! 

So this is just a little glimpse into the formation of a day by the fans and for the fans to celebrate everything that is Star Wars. Let us know what you’re doing to mark the day and show us via our social media outlets on Facebook or Twitter.

Thank you, and remember….

Grab Your Lightsabers! The First Trailer for Stars Wars: The Last Jedi Has Landed!

The trailer for the 8th episode of the ‘Star Wars’ saga was shown during the ‘The Last Jedi’ panel at Star Wars Celebration Orlando. It’s fair to say that this was the main event that many Star Wars fans were waiting for this week, and now it’s finally here!

Rian Johnson enthusiasm really shined during ‘The Last Jedi’ panel this afternoon, so much so that he showed the trailer twice to the audience because he wanted to watch it with them again. He has so much love for the films and the franchise as a whole that I have 100% faith he will deliver a film that Star Wars fans will love. 

From the trailer it looks like we can expect a much darker film, compared to ‘The Force Awakens’. From some of the casts comments over the period of the ‘Star Wars Celebration’ this week, this also leads me to believe the characters are going to face a lot of personal challenges, as well as facing the threat of the First Order, who Rian Johnson says “aren’t  just sitting on their hands” following the destruction of the Starkiller base. 

Like most fans, I’ve had the trailer on repeat since it’s arrival and each shot is stunning and full of mystery. We can see Rey training and Luke watching over her, a brief but amazingly awesome shot of Kylo Ren wielding his lightsaber, Finn looks as though he’s still recovering in some sort of pod, Captain Phasma leading her troops, and the demise of Luke’s Jedi Academy. 

December cannot come quick enough! 

JumpCut Writer’s Reactions: 

Rhys (@RuhBuhJuh): This trailer has me more hyped right now than after I watched the Force Awakens trailer. Incredible time to be a Star Wars fan!

Chris (@GelNerd): Light. Darkness. A balance. The Last Jedi has ruined me and I literally can’t comprehend what I’m seeing or what it means.

Noah (@movieswhynotm8): The word orgasmic comes to mind. 

Fiona (@FionaUnderhill)I’m SO excited about seeing Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo-Ren again.

and I’ll finish this piece with Sarah’s reaction, which I think we can all relate to right now… 

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ comes to a cinema not so far, far away December 15th 2017

Written by Tom Sheffield
 

Lucasfilm Release Official Statement Addressing Rumours Of Plans To Use CGI Carrie Fisher In Future Films

Lucasfilm have posted a statement on their website to address rumours that have spread across the internet over the past couple of weeks. These rumours suggested that Lucasfilm was in talks with Carrie Fisher’s family to get the rights to her likeness so they could use a CGI’d Fisher in future Star Wars films. Lucasfilm have responded to the rumours saying  that they have “no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa”.

After Carrie heartbreakingly passed away last December, fans expressed their worry that Lucasfilm would use CGI to continue to using her character, General Leia Organa, in future Star Wars films  – just like they did with Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin in ‘Rogue One’. Peter Cushing died in 1994 and with consent from his family, he returned to our screens in the first Star Wars spin-off last year in CGI form. Digitally bringing the late actor back to life has divided opinions of fans as some don’t agree with the notion of bringing back characters who are played by actors who have passed away,. 

Carrie is said to have a much larger role in Episodes VIII, which wrapped filming last year, and was intended to heavily feature in Episode IV too which is why these rumours started circulating. As we know nothing about Episode IV, we don’t know what General Organa’s involvement would of lead to – but we hope that, now digitally recreating her is out of the question, she receives a fitting explanation for her absence. 

The official statement from Lucasfilm is as follows:

“We don’t normally respond to fan or press speculation, but there is a rumor circulating that we would like to address. We want to assure our fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa.

Carrie Fisher was, is, and always will be a part of the Lucasfilm family. She was our princess, our general, and more importantly, our friend. We are still hurting from her loss. We cherish her memory and legacy as Princess Leia, and will always strive to honor everything she gave to Star Wars.”

Written by Tom Sheffield

First Rogue One Reactions Hit The Web

We are just days away from one of the most anticipated films of the year being released, and after the premiere in Hollywood last night celebrities, critics and bloggers alike took to social media to share their reactions to ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.

If their tweets are anything to go by then Star Wars fans will not be disappointed with this spin-off, with some reactions even going as far as placing ‘Rogue One’ in the top 3 best Star Wars films. Gareth Edwards is receiving high praise , as are the entire cast for their performances, with Donnie Yen and Felicity Jones getting some special mentions.

The embargo for ‘Rogue One’ lifts on Tuesday, meaning reviews hit the web 2 days before the film is released here in the UK. Some of the lucky people who attended the premiere have recommended avoiding reviews and tweets until you’ve seen the film for yourself as there are lots of incredible scenes that could easily be ruined or spoiled for you, so browse social media at your own risk.  

I have my ticket booked for the IMAX midnight showing and so have no intention of reading these reviews until after I’ve seen it, but hearing the film get such an overwhelming reception at it’s premiere is incredibly exciting! With ‘Rogue One’ looking like a strong start to the future of Star Wars spin-offs, we can soon start getting even more excited about the untitled ‘Han Solo’ movie which will star Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, and Emilia Clarke, which is slated for a 2018 release. 

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Rogue One Teaser Trailer

Hold on to your lightsabers people, the first trailer for ‘Rogue One’ has dropped and it’s pretty epic! Without giving too much away, this teaser trailer perfectly sets us up for this exciting Star Wars story.

We are introduced to the self-proclaimed rebel Gin Ursa (we think that’s how you spell it), played by Felicity Jones, who will be at the centre of this spin-off. We also get a glimpse of the iconic Death Star, AT-ATs and Stormtroopers. Perhaps the most scintillating sneak-peak though, is the sight of Ben Mendelsohn donning Imperial white robes and looking rather menacing. 

What do you think of this trailer? Let us know in the comments or get involved in the discussion on Twitter.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits cinemas in December 2016