Release Date(s)2018 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a young orphan trapped in a life of crime on Corellia with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), until one day he steals a bit of valuable coaxium fuel to bribe their way off-planet to freedom. But the plan goes wrong; Han escapes while Qi’ra is left behind. Now alone and with criminal enforcers hot on his heals, Han enlists in the Imperial Navy. Years later, he’s an Imperial foot-soldier in battle on the planet Mimban, when he meets a familiar Wookiee and a band of pirates led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Desperate for a way out of servitude to the Empire, Han and his new friend Chewie follow Beckett and his crew back into the criminal underworld. One train heist later, they find themselves indebted to the crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and forced to make the dreaded Kessel Run. But things look up when Qi’ra reenters his life unexpectedly, and Han meets a fellow pirate named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), captain of a ship called the Millennium Falcon.
Even before Solo: A Star Wars Story went into production, word in the industry from those inside Lucasfilm was that the screenplay, by veteran Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, was terrific. But in an effort to find new filmmaking talent, producer Kathleen Kennedy took a risk in hiring directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie). It was a bold move, but one that ultimately failed. Lord and Miller reportedly veered wildly from the script as written, encouraging their actors to ad-lib and go in a very different direction. The production was in such trouble that Lucasfilm fired the pair at the eleventh hour and recruited veteran director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) to take over. Howard is reported to have reshot nearly 70% of Solo and in short order. The result, edited by the equally veteran Pietro Scalia, is an enjoyable experience, with many good parts, but one that never quite manages to become more than the sum of them. Still Ehrenreich is solid and likable as a young and still idealistic Han and Glover absolutely shines as a younger Lando. Fans of Chewie will be pleased to know that he has more to do here than in any previous Star Wars film to date. The supporting cast, including Clark, Harrelson, Bettany, and Thandie Newton, all add nicely to the mix as well. And there are enough little touches and references here to make longtime fans smile. In the end, the fact that this film manages to be as good as it is must surely be a testament to Howard’s talent… and thank the Maker for it.
Solo was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4 and 6.5K) using ARRI Alexa cameras and finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate. It was given a high dynamic range color grade in HDR10 and it’s presented here on Ultra HD at the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image quality is excellent, though it should be noted that the extensive use of on-set atmospherics (smoke, fog, clouds, etc) means you’re not always going to see a ton of abundant detail. When you do see it though, that detail and texturing are nicely refined and pleasing. The HDR grade deepens the blacks a bit and definitely intensifies the brightest areas of the frame; they’re sometimes eye-reactive and always more natural. The blacks are still occasionally a bit grey though, not due to an image defect but the aforementioned atmospherics. Hues are rich and accurate, with added vibrance and nuance thanks to the wider color gamut. There’s a shot of the “magic hour” sky just as the heist scene concludes (and the coaxium explodes) that illustrates this perfectly. Bradford Young’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful, and the 4K certainly presents it in the best possible light.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in English Dolby Atmos, adapted from the theatrical mix. The reference level is set a little bit low, but the good news is that once you turn up the volume a bit, you’ve got a strong full range mix. This isn’t another of Disney’s typically audio-handicapped 4K releases. Bass is solid, with good reinforcement from the low end. It’s not as deep, thunderous, and punchy as some other 4K Atmos mixes, to be sure, but it should be noted that Solo’s theatrical mix wasn’t that way either. None of the new era Star Wars mixes have featured especially thunderous bass, so this is accurate to the theatrical experience. The soundstage is nicely big, wide, and constantly active, with smooth, accurate positioning and movement. The height channels kick in often, especially in set pieces, including the train heist, the battle on Kessel, and especially during the Kessel Run in the Falcon. John Williams’ new Han Solo theme sounds lovely, as does the rest of the score by John Powell. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Korean, and two forms of Chinese.
There are no extras on the 4K disc, but the package does include the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, along with a bonus Blu-ray that adds some nice special features. Sadly, there is no audio commentary available for this film on any disc. One with Howard and the Kasdans would have been very welcome and no doubt interesting. Given the film’s complicated production history though, the lack of commentary is probably not surprising. What you do get includes (all in HD):
- Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable (21:44)
- Kasdan on Kasdan (7:50)
- Remaking the Millennium Falcon (5:36)
- Escape from Corellia (9:59)
- The Train Heist (14:30)
- Team Chewie (6:41)
- Becoming a Droid: L3-37 (5:06)
- Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures, and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso (8:02)
- Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run (8:28)
- Deleted Scenes (8 scenes – 15:13 in all)
The content adds up to a little under two hours, which feels a bit light. Still, what you get is very solid and all of it is enjoyable. The Roundtable is fascinating as Howard asks each of the cast questions about their characters and their experiences. They don’t really get into the circumstances before he took over, but they do hint at it and it’s clear the cast likes and respects him enormously. Escape from Corellia is a fun look at the speeder chase, more of which was shot practically than you might think. For longtime Star Wars fans, Kasdan on Kasdan are Team Chewie are definitely the favorites. The deleted scenes are interesting in that some are sort of good and some are very clearly not. You do get to see Han as a TIE pilot trainee, though, and there’s an extended Han/Chewie fight that has some nice unseen beats. As usual, you also get a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging. The 4K Digital presentation apparently includes Dolby Vision HDR for those who find it indispensable.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is somewhat uneven, but it’s also surprisingly more enjoyable the second time around, without a veteran Star Wars fan’s legacy anxiety getting in the way of appreciating all of its fun little details and nuances. One suspects that it will grow in the estimation of fans with time. The film also makes for a strong, if not quite reference grade, 4K Ultra HD experience and so it’s definitely recommended on the format. Here’s hoping Disney and Lucasfilm get around to releasing Rogue One and The Force Awakens on this format soon as well.
- Bill Hunt