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'Solo: A Star Wars Story' is an exhilarating cinematic experience

The mark of a truly great film is one you walk into unsure about or completely blind, and getting blown away. This isn't just a quality cinematic experience. Solo: A Star Wars Story may be the most fun I've had at the movies in 2018.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) aspires to be a pilot like his dad, but he just can't stay away from the world of crime. Madly in love with the beautiful yet seductive Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), Solo dreams of being the best in the galaxy, but getting out of a wasteful dump like Corellia may cost him more than he knows.

It's only when this daring scoundrel meets veteran thief Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and meets his legendary ally Chewbecca (Joonas Suotamo) that his future starts to glint in the viewer's eye, setting up a flurry of adventures including daring escapes, vicious gun battles, and a few delightful twists and turns.

I'll let you in on a little secret: Solo: A Star Wars Story is hands down better than Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A lot better.

Ron Howard's latest flick is quite simply an exhilarating experience. I didn't want it to end. There are great movies and bad movies-and then there are movies that excite you from beginning to end. From the minute we see this young rebel fly out of a door, jump into a speedster, and blast down an alley from the owners of said vehicle, we are strapped into the passenger seat of a race car without brakes.

Howard's relentless direction matches well with the writing of Joey and Lawrence Kasdan, because this movie takes no breaks in telling the origin tale of one of cinema's greatest anti-heroes. The movie starts in one spot and keeps moving, never dwelling on a subplot or taking too much time to fill in the blanks on the supporting characters or background noise. There are moving parts and dizzying action sequences involving jets, ships, and everything in between-but it's never too much. At least for everything but your senses.

When he teams up with Tobias and his crew, featuring Thandie Newton's tough as nails Val and the wise cracking Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau), one may think this is how the movie will play out and start to get comfortable. However, the Kasdans wisely establish the brutal stakes of the world built in a galaxy far, far away early on and stick to them. No one is safe in a world of crime, power, and opportunity.

Set a long time before the events of 1977's A New Hope, Solo's tale establishes the bond that formed between the rebel and his best friend, Chewy as well as his path crossing with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), a man who may know something about making the Kessel Run and fast ships.

When a job goes wrong and sets Han and company on a collision course with the powerful Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), the crew must pull a daring job that won't just put their lives at risk, but may have a domino effect on the future of events that moviegoers know plenty about. The beauty of an origin story told correctly is that it lays enough breadcrumbs to make you want to revisit the older films. Solo pays tribute to the classics while setting its own legend in motion.

There's a lot to love here. Finding out how Han and Chewy meet is a one of a kind treat, but seeing the bittersweet connection form between Solo and Tobias is also well done and not forced down the viewer's throats.

The action is kinetic without overwhelming, including a candidate for scene of the year, which centers around a snowy heist on a moving (and bending) train circling the mountains. You'll curl and extend in your seat as Solo tries escape after escape that no other pilot would even attempt.

Here's the thing that kept me thinking about this flick: there's a true beating heart at the center of the excitement. You cheer for Solo not because you know where he's going (a rebellion, maybe?), but due to the fact that you now understand where he came from. The actors and writing don't just forge a bond between you and the illustrious character; they reload it so it appears brand new.

It helps to have a star-making performance at the helm. I didn't know who Ehreneich was before I sat down for this movie, so all I asked him to do was thrill me in under two hours. The 29-year-old actor responds with a grand performance, the kind that will keep your eye on him in other roles, while licking your chops at his next go-around as this character. Stepping into the shoes that Harrison Ford built and mishandling it can get you cryofreezed in Star Wars fanaticland. Ehrenreich never lets up on the charisma, but also makes a convincing hero in the scenes where he has to carry the action. He's officially arrived!

The supporting cast is aces across the board. Harrelson is a reliable presence in any film. He's become one of cinema's greatest chameleons, slipping into different personas without having to change his look or wear prosthetics. His greatest tool is tweaking his own brand of charm and knowing when to make that charisma break bad. He shares a few moments with Ehrenreich that are some of the best moments I've seen on film this year.

Clarke, known widely as Khalessi on HBO's Game of Thrones, is a talented actress who knows just how much beauty is required to make Qi'ra unpredictable. She loves Han, but does she love power more? The actress has eyes that could melt winter, but she is convincing as a lady playing both sides of the table here.

Glover is a true standout. How do you step into Billy Dee Williams' shoes and make out okay? You throw away the shoes and design your own pair while retaining respect for what once was. From the moment we lay eyes on Glover's smuggler at a poker table, we are hooked. The look, the voice, and the mannerisms all match what we first saw decades ago--or did we? Without mimicking Williams, Glover pays homage to his work while presenting his own flavor. It's a grandiose performance in a role that required 100% of it.

Bettany, firing on all cylinders right now on the big and small screen, makes you fear Dryden while knowing where his weakness lies. He only gets a handful of scenes, but the seasoned actor makes them all count, using a scar-ridden face to punch home the ticket that messing with this guy will result in death. Seeing him go from Ted Kuzinsky to Vision to this role shows a true marvel (slight pun intended) at work.

If you adored Ford's Solo, give this take a chance, because it's great and made with care. If you know nothing about Solo, watch this film and then go watch the other films, because you're mad as hell and I can't take it anymore.

I walked into Solo: A Star Wars Story with little expectations. There was a change in the director's chair midway through the shoot and the trailers produced a mixed feeling, so I had no idea what to expect, if anything. I left feeling like Humphrey Bogart, wanting the projectionist to play it again. I wanted to stay in that world longer. Ehrenreich and company had hooked me.

The mark of a truly great film is one you walk into unsure about or completely blind, and getting blown away. This isn't just a quality cinematic experience. Solo: A Star Wars Story may be the most fun I've had at the movies in 2018.

Surely a lot better than that Last Jedi debacle.

Go see it. Take my word for it. I know a guy with a fast ship.