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Solo: A Star Wars Story (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Some seem to not appreciate it as much, but we are in the midst of some Star War bliss at the multiplex. From The Last Jedi to Solo: A Star War Story, there were just a mere 5 months between brand new live-action Star Wars films, making 4 new Star Wars films in a 3-year period. People can cry “overkill”, but damnit, I’m a happy camper. I love Star Wars, so I’m not complaining about “too much Star Wars”. This series once had a gap of 16 years between entries and then 10 years. I think we’re okay. Anywho, Solo: A Star Wars Story becomes the second of the franchise to hit the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format when it arrives in stores on September 25th. There are various “exclusive” editions abound from store to store, so choose which one suits you and enjoy this latest adventure in a galaxy far, far away!

Film 

Young Han Solo finds adventure when he joins a gang of galactic smugglers, including a 196-year-old Wookie named Chewbacca. Indebted to the gangster Dryden Vos, the crew devises a daring plan to travel to the mining planet Kessel to steal a batch of valuable coaxium. In need of a fast ship, Solo meets Lando Calrissian, the suave owner of the perfect vessel for the dangerous mission — the Millennium Falcon.

A young Han Solo tale was something nobody wanted and reeked of all sorts of bad ideas and wrong direction for Star Wars. The hiring of Lord & Miller brought trust in the idea, but their firing brought the worrying again. After the film finally released, we could rest at ease, as the adventure was a fun jaunt, whether it had been necessary or not. Some of the icky worries do seep through, but they are overshadowed by a game cast, a more throwback sense of cinematic storytelling and good classic sense of adventure that calls back to a time that came before Star Wars (I’m talking about the 1977 film, not the fact that this is a prequel. But, yeah, I do have a double edged sword here unintentionally. Okay, I’m going to jump out of the parenthesis now).

Many were worried about someone trying to play a role so famously landmarked by Harrison Ford. Those are mighty shoes to fill, but the casting of Alden Ehrenreich relaxed me. I’m sure it worried many, but then again, they’d probably never seen him in a movie before. Its not Ehrenreich, but the film needs warming up to the first time, and then you’ll see that he’s just playing Han Solo and not imitating Ford which is ALWAYS the correct move. Once we get to the reuniting with Qi’ra in the yacht bar/lounge, you really see the scruffy looking nerf herder in plain sight and as we’ve always known him. He’ll never be Harrison Ford, one the most unique screen presences of all time, that’s not a fair comparison. But he sure makes a pretty damn good young Han Solo. And he’s surrounded by a terrific cast that really help bring the joy of adventure and fun together, especially once they pick up suave Lando Calrissian and the scene stealing L3.

Funny enough that in the timeline, Solo sits in closest proximity to the Star Wars prequels, because of the Disney movies so far, this one has a little bit more of their feeling to them. And I’m not talking just because of the significant reveal at the end of the film. The prequel shortcomings show through the cracks here, and I’m willing to bet these aren’t Lawrence Kasdan’s contributions to the script, but Jonathan’s. There are many forced tie-ins, name drops, references and universe shrinking additions that are a bit cringe-worthy when watching. After the first act, they lighten up. Most of them are so hollow and empty they almost recite like Big Bang Theory jokes. The biggest culprit of it all in the initial run is Jon Favreau’s CGI character of Rio Durant. All this guy does is obnoxiously name drop Star Wars things as if to just pat the kids on the back who know what he’s talking about. Its all empty, pointless and does nothing add any depth or much of anything to the story or dialogue. He approaches almost Jar Jar Binks levels of squeamish, but luckily isn’t in the film much at all. However, I will admit that some nods actually do work and one got a nice chuckle out of me, after a physical take down Qi’ra is asked where she learned those moves and says “Teras Kasi”. A funny little rib on perhaps the worst Star Wars video game ever made.

Those things aren’t enough to weigh down many of the better stuff going on in the film. Lawrence Kasdan, and perhaps Ron Howard (We may never know), are what really help this film to stand out. They are both from older generations. Solo comes from the same mindset of The Last Jedi in terms of how to tell a successful Star Wars story. It doesn’t borrow and try to do things because Star Wars did things. No. It peels back and finds its foundation on the things that inspired the likes of Star Wars (And in Solo’s case, a lot of Indiana Jones’ adventures). This isn’t “They did this in Empire and it was cool”, its “This is what worked in Treasure Island”. The character work, snappy dialogue and action sequences all come from old Hollywood adventure stories, noir dramas and the like rather than Return of the Jedi.

As I continue to watch the film more and more, these inspirations start coming through and I respect the execution of them so much more. I am particular taken with the exchange between Han and Qi’ra when they reunite on the Dryden Vos yacht. Its fun and really calls back to something that wouldn’t be too far removed from a Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall or Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn film with a little bit of fun role reversal and such going on. Its interesting that in the interviews Lawrence Kasdan says he always equated Han Solo to a Bogart character of the bad guy who always did the right thing, and its kind of amusing that Harrison Ford would play a few of Kasdan’s written roles as Ford really is that next generation kind of Bogart-type.

The world of Solo: A Star Wars Story is one I didn’t imagine going in I’d want more entries for, but I’m slightly bummed we likely won’t see another run with this crew. One could hope that Lando: A Star Wars Story could happen and features Han and Chewie as side players in that story. Or, that Bounty Hunter movie they always talk about could take place during this time and have Boba Fett, Bossk, Dengar and others running a mission for Crimson Dawn feature Qi’ra and her former Sith Lord with horns and double-edged lightsaber at his side supervisor (C’mon spoiler folks, it was your choice not to see it in theaters). There are cinematic ways to not be a Star Wars movie with an odd duck open ended-ness that isn’t just “CHECK OUT THE COMICS!” that could happen. We’ll have to see, but these young Han Solo adventures are surely on hold for now.

Solo: A Star Wars Story doesn’t break any new ground in terms of Star War storytelling or filmmaking, but hangs back and just tells a classic tale. No harm, no foul. In the sea of the four Disney movies we’ve received its pretty pedestrian, but also very entertaining and a sort of relaxing bit of escapist science fiction fantasy. The combination of Lawrence Kasdan and Ron Howard help to keep the picture more on track and better than it probably had any right of being, and gives a better, more classical Hollywood appreciation to the character and storywork being done in the smaller moments of the film. But, overall, its just a low stakes, easy-going, fun time in one of the best Universes in fiction.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Solo arrives on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray being a native 4K title (Mastered with a 4K DI, reportedly shot in 3.4K and 6.5K). Before I proceed, this IS a noticeable step up from the standard Blu-ray picture. However, in relation to other 4K titles, the film is lacking some of the wow and wonder we can get with the format. Maybe its by the nature of the film’s look that this happens. Overall its a very dark, murky and a lot of the times cloudy feeling aesthetic. Even the brighter scenes on the yacht feel a little soft and fluffy where one might be expecting a more polished look. The image does have some good sharpness and improved black levels as well as a more crisp feeling in filtered scenes. Its image is darker in comparison, but the HDR does help to make some colors really stand out and saturate more. And the glow of ship lights, fire, blaster bolts and more really jump of the screen a lot more due to how dark it can get. I think this is a satisfactory image, but seeing where other images with Disney and other studios’ tentpole films have been, including Star Wars itself with The Last Jedi, this one sadly sits behind them in comparison.

Depth:  Solo surprisingly has a flatter picture than I was expecting, which may just be the traditional nature of the film itself. I’ll also note that while the film was released in 3D, it wasn’t shot that way. The film is decent enough over the average rating hump, but really doesn’t feel the wide open spacing as some of the more top tier 4K movies have shown us. Movements and rapid ones are fine and don’t suffer from any jitter distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are quite deep, well-saturated and consuming. Its a very dark movie and this image handles it the best it can but it isn’t without its faults in losing some detail at one time or another or not having good clarity in some seedier sequences.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid and pronounced here when there are some to take over. Lando and Qi’ra help out with that. HDR is applied very well and really glows in a darkened image. Lights on the falcon, fires and blasters really pop and have a life of their own in this image. Whites come on pretty nicely in the snow covered scenes as well.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent throughout (Not accounting for heavily filtered moments). Facial features like makeu-up texture, dried dirt/blood, wrinkles, stubble, facial scarring and more come through clear as day.

Noise/Artifacts: No real pressing issues aside from what has been mentioned already.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Korean, Thai, Cantonese, Mandarin

Dynamics: Okay, hesitant 4K Ultra-HD lovers, you’re probably sitting back waiting to scream “AtMOUSE!” at this one. Yes, I’ll confirm for you right away, that AGAIN, there is a lowered volume default set here. However, once you turn it up to the appropriate levels, it sounds just fine. Not amazing, but on its way there. Comparable to Last Jedi, Infinity War and Black Panther. No worries of them Ragnarok’ing Solo. That said, this is an engaging track that fully realizes its settings, doing a decent job of utilizing every channel. Effects are pretty distinct, loud and with some good layering. There’s a terrific balance of the film’s score, effects and vocals that never lets any one of them overshadow the other yet they all get there time to shine. Its a nice blend. So, just turn it up (For me, 10 notches) and sit back and enjoy it. You’ll be just fine.

Height: The ceiling channel gets recognized quite a bit in this mix. Falling debris, blaster fire, ship beeps/clicks and all around room filling are excellent even down to individual contributions with things like intercom voices coming up top.

Low Frequency Extension: This features some rock solid thumping from the subwoofer with stomping, afterburners rocketing, the train roaring, explosions, you name it. Some of the good stuff comes when Chewie and Han are battling and they decide to keep banging on the support beam til it falls out.

Surround Sound Presentation: As expecting, all speakers are well utilized, filling much of the battle in the room. It runs a little heavier toward the front, but that’s not too noticeable.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, capturing a lot of diction and mouth sounds for added depth to the conversation.

Extras 

Solo: A Star Wars Story 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray is a 3-Disc set that includes 1-4K Ultra-HD disc, 2-Blu-ray discs (One featuring the film and the other has the Special Features) and a digital copy of the film. All bonus material is found on the standard Blu-ray portion of this release.

Solo: The Director & Cast Roundtable (HD, 21:44) – Ron Howard leads questioning of the cast (Ehrenreich, Clarke, Glover, Harrelson, Newton, Bettany, Waller-Bridge, Suotamo) about the shooting the film once he came on. They never DON’T acknowledge that he came in and they reshot a lot, but they skirt around anything to do with Lord & Miller. Much of the talk that revolves around pre-Howard shoots talks about the casting process and what they told their friends and family about their roles and thoughts on their characters’ journey in the film. Its a pretty fun little piece and they all genuinely seem to adore Ron Howard.

Kasdan On Kasdan (HD, 7:50) – The father and son writing duo talk about their relationship with each other and with the Star Wars Universe. Lawrence Kasdan’s portion and words on this regarding his inspirations/passions and ideology behind the film really open things up and give you a better appreciation of what this film sets out to be and why it is fine to exist.

Remaking The Millennium Falcon (HD, 5:36) – A new Millennium Falcon was built for this movie and we get to see what’s different and the idea of going back and making it more pristine and fancy only to show it get tore up throughout the film.

Escape From Corellia (HD, 9:59) – We are given not only insight on the shooting of this chase, but also the creation and world-building of Han Solo’s home planet and bringing to life a place that really help to shape who he was.

The Train Heist (HD, 14:30) – Here is a big featurette on how they pulled off the big train robbery sequence in the film.

Team Chewie (HD, 6:41) – The new Chewbacca gives us his take on the shoot and Kasdan stresses the importance of a Han-Chewie partnership as opposed to him being subservient to Han.

Becoming A Droid: L3-37 (HD, 5:06) – Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s scene stealing character is shown brought to life via the on-set footage, post production footage and her performance. They also illustrate her importance in the larger scheme of things.

Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures And Cards: Welcome To Fort Ypso (HD, 8:02) – Take a glimpse inside the seedy gambling house where we meet up with Lando Calrissian and discuss how these kind of places make up Han Solo’s world and Star Wars in general.

Into The Maelstorm: The Kessel Run (HD, 8:28) – This focuses on bringing a folklore legend to life in terms of setting out the stakes, importance to the universe, getting it right and how they brought it all together in the shoot and post production.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 15:13) – Proxima’s Den, Corellian Foot Chase, Han Solo: Imperial Cadet, The Battle Of Mimban: Extended, Han Versus Chewie: Extended, Snowball Fight!, Meet Dryden: Extended, Coaxium Double-Cross

Digital Only

Solo Cast Reveals Their Must-Have Star Wars Movies (HD, 1:16) – This is barely plural as its filled with Ehrenreich, Glover and Suotamo fawning out Empire Strikes Back and with just seconds left Phoebe Waller-Bridge mentions “A New Hope” (What some refer to the original Star Wars as) being her favorite.

Creating the Escape From Corellia (HD, 1:29) – A more brief look at the film’s opening chase.

Becoming Solo (HD, 2:06) – A little promotional piece with Ron Howard, Lawrence Kasdan and cast talking about how this movie sets up the Han Solo we all know and love.

Tour The Millenium Falcon with Donald Glover (HD, 1:30) – This promo piece was a Cribs-like bit with Donald Glover giving a tour of Lando’s Millenium Falcon.

Summary 

While it may be the weakest entry in the Disney pack, Solo: A Star War Story is just a nice, rock-solid Star Wars film that sorta feels like a relaxing breather after the intensity of Rogue One and The Last Jedi back to back. Its fun and delivers on some core Star Wars values. If this is the least of them, then we are incredibly lucky for that. This 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray has a very nice picture and a solid jump up from the Blu-ray, but is going to leave you wanting more. The audio here is pretty terrific for Disney. Extras are nice, but there sure is an elephant in the room. Like Rogue One, they aren’t giving us the full story and are surely leaving omitting the more challenging and interesting aspects of making this film locked away. Its worth noting that all the deleted scenes on this release are either from the opening of the film or the very end. There isn’t anything provided from the bulk of the middle. Hopefully down the road, we the more honest version with interviews, cut scenes and the like, but I’m not holding my breath. I had to waiting decades just to have Biggs Darklighter appear in my bonus features. Let’s be honest, you’re picking this up anyway and its a more than solid release that I think will please you well enough.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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