Solo

Feels great to talk about a Star Wars movie without having to deal with family legacy, the qualities of The Force, or the great arc of the universe. Solo – or in full, Solo: A Star Wars Story – is just a fun film that does decent enough justice to the franchise. // small spoilers here…

I saw the film on a preview screening Tuesday night for the RobinHood charity. Luckily, a few stars were on hand and young Lando himself, Donald Glover, was on hand to introduce the viewing. Donald Glover

To answer the big questions - Alden Ehrenreich is fine; he’s not Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, but he’s a scruffy rogue and easily allies with scoundrels. By the end of the film, you’re fully engaged with this version of the character. And Glover’s Lando almost steals the show - almost. Like much of the film, the Solo-Calrissian bromance never gets much beyond the simmering stage. Might be interesting to see some of the original director’s more improvisational/comedic takes on the pair.

Chewie is fine too, though not the huggable sidekick of 4-6, here he’s more of an action figure, fighting, screaming, and, yes, arm yanking. He’s a very hard character to write for, given that his howling needs constant interpolation from other characters. It’s a mystery how Peter Mayhew imbued that wookie with so much emotion and character; new actor Joonas Suotamo manages the athleticism well.

Ron Howard’s direction and the script by Kasdan father and son puts most of the emphasis on adventures, chases, and battles, and the slightly long film flies by. I’ve thought that Howard is veering off in to Peter-Jackson type style over substance in some films, like Da Vinci code (which admittedly has almost no substance). This film balances Han, Lando and Chewie’s growth, such as it is, with the frenetic chases pretty well. And most important, the action is honestly thrilling, with the train heist and Kessel Run earning their place in Wookiepedia lore (if not the Jedi Archives). (Good reading about the problems with production here.

The film has a golden, dusty hue to most scenes making for a rather drab viewing, though the CGI is often spectacular. The music is a good remix of familiar themes, including a nice reprise of the Falcon’s asteroid run in TESB. The new Marauders theme is a standout. I’m pretty sure the whole Marauders/Enfys Nest characters are a take on the Mad Max The Road Warrior costumes and train heist; even the twist to the stolen hyperfuel is pretty much the same.

Meanwhile, there are many shout-outs to Star Wars trivia throughout the film, including the famed golden dice. (Wait, they should be still lying about in Luke’s abandoned hut on Ahch’To, right)

The first question I was asked by friends the day after was, Where do I rank it among all the films?, which is not my favored mode of exposition. It’s certainly not a great film, in no way pathbreaking or original, neither of which is necessarily negative. And unlike Rogue One, there’s no real integration with the Star Wars universe (save the characters of course). So to some extent this is the least essential film of the franchise.

There is a tacked on bit near the end that abruptly brings in an recognizable adversary and some connections to the rebellion, but nothing that matters much to the story. Maybe we’ll see more of that if there’s a Solo-2 sequel - like more ‘imperial entanglements’ and Han’s hardening cynicism.

Misc

  • A little surprised at how central Woody Harrelson’s Becket character is - he’s the scoundrel father figure for Han. Not sure that the ultimate scene between the two needed to blatantly repeat the infamous question of the Lucas ANH re-edit, though the scene fits this film’s more “Western”-vibe. (I read that Christian Bale was up for the part which would have made for a more (too?) dramatic relationship.)
  • Paul Bettany is serviceable as the evil honcho; might have been nice to have this be a creature character rather than just another face-painted human. Otherwise, I’m just hoping Bettany is keeping up with his cello lessons for a Master And Commander sequel.
  • Odd decision to open 5 months after SW:TLJ. I always liked the May opening dates, but can’t deny the fun of seeing TFA and TLJ in December. Why wouldn’t Disney just keep with the new tradition of December releases? Some fear about the comparison to Rogue One? And is Episode IX going to get a May release too?
  • Still not happy with Lucasfilm’s inability to figure out how to start these standalone films. George Lucas’s opening sequence, from Fox fanfare, to quiet fairytale, to smashing orchestra, thrilling music and setup crawl, followed by a visual fx set-piece, was unmatched brilliance. Now, the standalones open with just “A long time ago…” and dissolve to a dull sci-fi shot, followed a minute or so later with the films title logo appearing out of nowhere. …Oddly, this one opens with additional setup sentences, but not delivered as a text crawl but just additional blue-on-black lettering. Some sort of change from the ‘true’ Skywalker franchise is fine, but creative types really should have come up with something - new fanfare, new logo, etc. I think it was Clone Wars (or one of the other shows) that did a good job with stentorian voice-over and pics to set up the episode; could have worked.
  • Not that anyone would care, but I met Lawrence Kasdan back at the University of Michigan when he came back to give a presentation on his films. When introduced, I said I was the Arts Editor and film reviewer at The Michigan Daily, at which point I think he lost interest in talking to me. See https://digital.bentley.umich.edu/midaily/mdp.39015071754720/581
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The Last Jedi

Wow. Never heard so much criticism of a Star Wars movie so quickly. It took months for the hate against Episode 1 to surface, and 2 and 3 were (relatively) warmly received as being better. Nevertheless, I also remember the harsh takes against “Return Of The Jedi” for its creaky script (“What I told you was true, from a certain point of view”) and apparent emphasis of marketing over believability (ewoks). The IMDB user reviews will no doubt be updated, but the day after the preview showing, some thirty or more 1 or 2 star reviews (out of 10!) were posted - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527336/reviews

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Eclipse

Besides the genealogical tour of Savannah, we also drove up to Charleston to see the eclipse. A couple days of beautiful – but very hot! – weather, then the clouds started to roll in Monday morning. We were invited to a friend-of-friend’s house on a river a ways north-east of the city, practically on the centerline of the eclipse…

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Ad Blocking Rationale

Seeing a bunch more discussion about the use of ad-blockers for news/content web sites. Here’s a good link with interesting data about why people use ad-blockers

You’ll see that the main criticisms from people is that a lot of ads now are “annoying”. News sites (as I’ll call them for simplicity) are now responding with different kinds of pop-up notices whining about the use of ad-blockers, how it takes away their revenue stream, hence they won’t be able to provide their content, etc.

My reason for using an ad-blocker is simple – without an ad-blocker I can’t read a news sites content, period. There are plenty of sites I would love to read, but when I see a link to an article hosted at that site, I usually don’t click on it, because the user experience is horrific. I happen to have a pretty modern, multi-core CPU, 16GB DRAM, and SSD local disk – yet when I click in to many sites, my machine grinds to a halt, I can see literally hundreds of TCP connections flying in and out, and the CPU cooling fans squeals in to high-gear.

Meanwhile, as you all know, the ads and banners start popping up and I start to play the modern version of a first-person-shooter trying to hit hidden “x”s , stare at blank content spaces while some slow ad content provider is failing to load, and by now have totally forgotten what it is that I was trying to read. This is akin to reading a good book and having someone yank it out of your hands every time you turn the page.

The problem is not with ads but with ads that are so deliberately intrusive that it makes reading the content unbearable. Leaving aside privacy concerns about ad tracking, to some degree I would want some ads to be targeted to my (or at least my demographic). The primary concern (see the data linked above) is just that – to repeat myself – I can’t read the content.

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Grim Visag'd War

Chirstopher’s Nolan’s Dunkirk is a masterpiece, best of the year. Two main points:

Dun-ception

Turn’s out that Nolan’s Inception wasn’t just a movie, but re-introduced a new way to frame story-telling, not with flash-backs, but with multi-track, multi-timescale story lines. That’s sounds bizarre but it enables three different stories, with three different time-spans to be told and intercut in one linear narrative. In Inception, that was just a cute plot gimmick, weird and fun. Here it is the critical form of the movie, driving forward the function of the film’s dramatic tension.

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