- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The scruffiest smuggler in a galaxy far, far away could not strike mega box office gold earlier this year but looks for a new bounty from ultra-high definition home theater owners in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 135 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $39.99).

With a shaky production requiring a change in directors, some negative leaks from the set about the lead actor’s skills and the film requiring a massive amount of reshoots, I was getting ready to ride a train wreck.

Fortunately, that was not the case with seasoned veteran Ron Howard at the helm. Fans got a fun and chaotic adventure that finds a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) escaping from his Imperial-infested, corrupt home world of Corellia and getting mixed up with a gang of thieves and smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson).

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He and his new best friends get into an immediate pickle after an attempted heist of the precious fuel coaxium from the Empire goes badly, and they must answer to Crimson Dawn’s crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and his second in command, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s former girlfriend who he left on Corellia.

The gang, now including his gal pal and a wookiee, must go on an even more dangerous mission to steal more coaxium from the spice mines of Kessel. They get some help from a veteran gambler named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his ship, the immaculate Millennium Falcon.

“Star Wars” devotees should be satisfied with the often action-packed adventure while learning about Han Solo’s pivotal life moments such as meeting his future best friend and co-pilot Chewbacca (during a muddy encounter), winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando and his record-setting piloting of the Kessel Run.

Mr. Ehrenreich does a fine job as Solo offering a steady dose of charm and swagger but, considering he needed to match the charisma and iconic performance of Harrison Ford, he got stuck in an almost impossible task.

More impressive was Mr. Glover’s take as a younger Lando, nearly perfectly capturing his acting counterpart’s Billy Dee Williams vocal inflections and suave bravado.

(Spoiler alert:) Now for this hard-core “Star Wars fan,” my savor moment in the entire film was the appearance of the broken Sith Lord Darth Maul, complete with his metallic legs.

Portrayed by the original actor Ray Park and, even better, voiced by Sam Witwer (who delivered his vocals in the animated “Star Wars Rebels” and “The Clone Wars”), his brief appearance made for a definitive pop culture, geek moment.

Although “Solo: A Star Wars Story” never reaches the emotional or consequential heights of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” or “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it still delivers an entertaining origin of George Lucas’ most reluctant hero.

I’m selfishly hoping for a sequel, just so I can get another dose of Qi’ra, Han and Maul in action.

4K in action: Despite getting a native 4K transfer from the original source material with high dynamic range enhancements, life got very difficult for my eyes.

It’s not the transfer, but the challenge lies with cinematographer Bradford Young’s too realistically lit environments leading to a rather murky and drab presentation throughout.

Moments such as watching Han in a firefight on the planet Mimbac, Han and Chewie fighting in the mud, the collapse of a mountain after an explosion of refined coaxium and a pivotal sabacc game between Han and Lando (observed by some great-looking aliens) should have looked way better on a home theater screen.

Alas, all of this great stuff was happening at dusk or night amid smoky or cloudy locations. Even some oddly soft focus moments and smothering amber yellow lighting had me scratching my 4K appreciating noggin.

The only time I felt color stimulate my peepers was on the beach at Savareen or while admiring Lando’s garb and his closet of capes on the Millennium Falcon.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack fared slightly better, allowing John Williams and John Powell’s orchestral score to explode from speakers and also offering passages to hear all of the various alien chatter; the rumbling growls of a space monster; and the variations of Tobias, Chewbacca, Han and Lando flicking knobs and controls to keep the Falcon running.

Best extras: Contained on a separate, bonus Blu-ray disc, viewers get a collection of nine featurettes offering almost 90 minutes of production details.

By far, the best of the bunch is a 21-minute, breezy roundtable discussion moderated by Mr. Howard with most all of the key cast members, including Mr. Ehrenreich, Mr. Glover, Mr. Harrelson, Mr. Bettany, Miss Clarke and Joonas Suotamo (the big guy in the Chewbacca suit) sitting around a cluttered sabacc table.

The director asks benign questions such as “Who did you tell first when you were cast in a ‘Star Wars’ movie?” but that quickly branches off in more substantial insight-offering set anecdotes, auditions, character chemistry and reactions to meeting Mr. Lucas on the set.

Worth watching next is a brief profile of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan as they reminisce about Mr. Kasdan working on multiple “Star Wars” films for almost 40 years.

The remaining featurettes cover making an early version on Millennium Falcon (with a walkthrough from Mr. Glover); the origins, effects and design components for the escape from Corellia and a harrowing train heist; creating Chewbacca; the origins and tech behind the sassy droid L3-37; the impressive collection of creatures in the seedy bar Fort Ypso; and visualizing the famed Kessel Run.

During those segments, viewers hear from the designers, technicians and actors all the way down to the model makers, fight coordinator and production managers.

Each also includes a steady diet of observations with Mr. Kasdan and Mr. Howard, the later seen on the set in action and offering explanations on his “Star Wars” sensibilities and the filmmaking process.

Finally, a collection of eight deleted scenes will be most remembered for seeing Han as an Imperial cadet destroying a TIE Fighter and a Han and Chewie snowball fight as well their mud battle extended.

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