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'Solo: A Star Wars Story': The Stuff of Heroes

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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I liked "Solo: A Star Wars Story" about as much as I could possibly like this genre of film, and recommend it as a starter movie for those who have avoided such techno-extravaganzas like the plague, but who now wish to experience one while still compos mentis. 
 
At worst, it is relatively harmless, your understanding of this outer space Western not dependent on a cognizance of the jargon and minutiae of George Lucas' cultural phenomenon. Plus, former Hippies who coordinate the viewing with a flashback might enjoy the light show.
 
At the end of the day, after marveling at its vaunted, $250 million price tag, the immensity of the thing, and trying to wrap your brain around the worship this generator of branded bedsheets, action figures and every other tchotchke imaginable has attained, it's pretty simple. As Shakespeare proved, plot-wise there is nothing new under the sun. So, it's heartening to relate that beneath the cutting-edge, kaleidoscopic attempts to reinvent storytelling, this is just an old-fashioned morality tale, frilled and dabbed with all the modern contrivances.
 
What's more, though there is wisecracking aplenty and allusion to today's politics, we are spared the foul fog of pessimistic surrender recently evidenced in "Avengers: Infinity Wars." While Han Solo, our hero-in-the-making, is a product of the dog-eat-dog underworld he'd like to escape from with his similarly fated true love, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), we instinctively know that he's made of finer stuff. Whereas the villains, for all their super puffery, are just run-of-the mill, lying, moneygrubbing scum.
 
The metaphors are all there for the taking, the satire emulating the sort of muckrake that Twain would applaud. A Dantesque array of otherworldly, Henson-like characters populate the scenario -- you know, the alien café society folk seen at the bar in "Star Wars" (1977) that so wowed us -- each representing a different layer of the sinister power structure. Any sharp kid, PG-13 and older, should recognize the rascals: "Ooh, there's my congressman, but with six eyes."
 
But to avail oneself of the hi-tech civics lesson, non-cult visitors from among the Great Unwashed should be warned. You'll have to endure a bevy of battles. After all, it's in the title: "Star Wars." Unlike "Star Trek," which might include an occasional war if Spock and Kirk can't avoid it, here it's a given. Whether this is just a title that Lucas fancied or a far harsher judgment about the state of things, don't expect "Star Wars: The Peace Treaty" anytime soon.
 
Happily, while we can't help suffer vicarious battle fatigue as spaceships dogfight ad nauseam in a splash of flames and bombardments, Ron Howard, directing a script by father and son scribes, Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, wisely exercises proper restraint. This allows time for
the movie to assure hopeless romantics, through Han and Qi'ra's destiny-challenged affaire de coeur, that love springs eternal, even when authoritarianism threatens to extinguish all other human happiness. There's even a little room left over for dialogue -- some of it with Wookies.
 
However, aside from all the usual dogma, paraphernalia and trademark lore this extravaganza provides, our specific interest here hinges on a basic curiosity: From whence did the title character emanate, and what made him the likeably waggish rogue Harrison Ford so effectively
embodied? It's the education of a pop culture icon. And thanks to a decent performance by Alden Ehrenreich, we have little problem envisioning how He could grow up to become Him.
 
Thrust into a realm of virtually infinite corruption, young Han, who acquires his last name through the same cavalier expedience that gave throngs of immigrants at Ellis Island their conveniently shorter appellations, is a space age Oliver of sorts. We learn that mercantilist matters haven't changed too much since his time in this galaxy far, far away, a long, long time ago. Money, power and a synergistic combination thereof pretty much determine the motivations of humans, androids and just about anything else that thinks.
 
Here, it's the love of Coaxium, aka hyperfuel, that's the root of all evil, a fact that doesn't escape Han in his attempt to secure a better existence for Qi'ra and himself. But alas, in an example of fiction copying reality, a bribe at the border goes awry, and the star-crossed lovers are separated. Swearing he will return for her, Han secures his Fagin in Woody Harrelson's Beckett, an outlaw extraordinaire and the film's dramatic lynchpin. While taking Solo under his wing, the colorful rapscallion repeatedly exhorts, "trust no one."
 
Of course that's not the existence either we or Solo seek. Hence, while our own march from the barbarity of the primordial mud to a just and principled reality has currently hit a speed bump, we take solace in fictions like "Solo: A Star Wars Story" that stoke the fires of freedom.
 
"Solo: A Star Wars Story," rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Ron Howard and stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke. Running time: 135 minutes

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