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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Solo: A Star Wars Story is a stand-alone adventure about a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) that takes place several years before he teams up with Luke and Leia in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The movie reveals details about the infamous smuggler's past -- like how he became the captain of the Millennium Falcon and how he met legendary characters like Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Expect lots of peril, chases, and action violence, including scenes of large-scale ground warfare as well as executions, shoot-outs, and torture. While there's not much blood overall, characters do die. There's also a bit of language, some drinking in pubs, and innuendo (plus more kissing than is typical for a Star Wars film). Han definitely isn't always first in line to make the morally right choice, but ultimately the movie has messages about equal rights for all creatures and the importance of teamwork, communication, courage, and friendship. And the cast is noticeably diverse, with many female characters, people of color, and creatures who have distinct backgrounds and ideas.
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What's the story?
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY takes place approximately a decade before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and follows a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) as he goes from troublemaking street orphan on his home planet of Corellia to Imperial soldier to intergalactic-smuggler-in-the-making. As an adolescent, Han and his girlfriend, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), are separated as they attempt to escape a crime boss; he's able to leave, but she's captured. He vows to come back for her. Three years later, Han is a soldier in the Imperial Army who chances upon a younger Chewbecca (Joonas Suotamo), as well as a motley crew of smugglers led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his partner, Val (Thandie Newton). Han joins them on a mission for the Crystal Dawn, a powerful crime syndicate managed by the merciless Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). The high-stakes heist also puts Han in touch with legendary gambler Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), who lends his ship in exchange for a cut of the action.
Is it any good?
Director Ron Howard's slick, funny prequel offers a respectable lead performance that captures Harrison Ford's smirky, roguish charisma and fills in several Star Wars gaps. While purists may never be fully satisfied with any prequel that revisits beloved original characters (some Potterheads feel the same way about Fantastic Beasts, for example), Ehrenreich deserves props for rising above pure imitation. He and Glover make their legendary characters their own, even if audiences must suspend disbelief a bit that either man could have changed quite that much in just 10 or so years. Both are amusingly arrogant and self-possessed -- and, in Han's case, also vulnerable. Yes, it's compelling to explore how Han hooked up with Chewie and Lando, but it's even more interesting to uncover the particulars of Han's background, his introduction to smuggling, and his first (ultimately doomed) love story.
Solo, like most spin-offs, isn't strictly necessary, but it's still massively entertaining when it gets things right. A couple of key moments will definitely make fans cheer (mostly having to do with the Millennium Falcon). There are several well-performed supporting roles, especially among the women. Clarke, who's best known as the Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones, is great as Han's often underestimated partner in crime. Newton is extremely effective in her small but pivotal role (with a deadly stare familiar to those who've seen her in Westworld or Line of Duty). And British comedian/TV writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who sounds a lot like Tilda Swinton) is hilarious as outspoken android rights' activist L3-37. Bettany is fantastically creepy as a chilling mob boss who just wants to get paid, and Harrelson adds his signature, laid-back style to the proceedings as Han's roguish mentor. By the end, audiences will feel even more intensely for Han Solo, knowing more about his victories and losses as a younger man.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Do scenes of ground battles affect you differently from those of close-up, one-on-one duels and shoot-outs? Why do you think that is? What makes more of an impact: violence or loss? Why? How does this movie handle both topics?
Do you consider any of the characters role models? If so, which ones? What are their character strengths? How are teamwork, communication, and courage important to the story? How does Han's lack of humility get him in trouble?
Talk about the themes from the other Star Wars movies that repeat themselves here. Why are issues of good vs. evil, mentorship, and friendship so important to this series? How do they play out on-screen?
Han doesn't consider himself a good guy. Why does he rebuff the notion that he's heroic? What does the movie reveal about him, Chewbacca, and Lando?
How is diversity -- and a lack thereof -- used to indicate the values of the opposing sides of conflict in the Star Wars series?
- In theaters: May 25, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: September 25, 2018
- Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson
- Director: Ron Howard
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of sci-fi action/violence
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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