Solo: A Star Wars Story got hit with some pretty harsh reviews from critics and fans alike. But is it that bad of a film? After tirelessly defending this movie following its theatrical release, watching it at home really brought another perspective to my own opinion of ‘Solo’ and how it ranks within the Star Wars franchise.
Rotten Tomatoes calls ’Solo’ “a flawed yet fun and fast-paced space adventure,” and in the theaters it really was a good time. Ron Howard did a great job taking over the project, visualizing the script, and guiding the cast through the minimal story that some wonder how it made it to the big screen.
You have to remember Solo: A Star Wars Story wasn’t meant to be an epic SW film, it’s more of a side note to the larger Star Wars universe just like many of the spin-off novels, comic books and its cinematic predecessor “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Here are some comments on the movie itself, followed by a review of the 4k Blu-ray and Blu-ray Discs. Ultimately, we ask, “Is 4k Blu-ray worth the extra few bucks?” [Warning, spoilers ahead.]
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a simple tale. We find a young Han plotting his escape from an oppressive society and discover the origins of his street wisdom learned at an early age. We’re also provided some insight as to where his apparent edge comes from (more of which we see in an older Solo), after the love of his life Qi’ra is dragged away from him at a futuristic customs checkpoint.
To avoid being caught himself, the quick thinking Han joins the Imperial Academy to become a pilot, and thus begins his life off the planet Corellia.
There isn’t much to the overall story after that. Han hooks up with a group of swashbucklers while serving in the military, meets his future sidekick Chewbacca in a holding cell, gets involved in a heist for a crime syndicate, and eventually crosses paths with the rebellion.
Of course, he gets reunited with Qi’ra and there is some confusion about who her allegiances are with, but there is nothing too shocking about this plot twist. And we learn how Han comes to meet one of the more interesting characters in SW history, Lando Calrissian, and consequently wins the Millennium Falcon. Solo: A Star Wars Story is predictable yet amusing, simple yet visually entertaining.
Through it all though, and even the pain of losing Qi’ra, Solo retains a sense of humor that was one of the most memorable aspects of the original Star Wars films. Luke and Leia were always so serious, but you could count on Han to break the ice with some sarcastic comment. Han is also optimistic, confident, arrogant at times, and certainly not afraid of failing. Those characteristics take him a long way, in fact marrying into royalty in future Star Wars tales.
‘Solo’ relies on many of the old cliches of the Star Wars film franchise and in sci-fi action films in general. Han fearlessly pilots a ship through an impossible pass by turning almost 90-degrees (although in ‘Solo’ the ship humorously gets stuck). On the planet Kessel, Qi’ra and Beckett try an old trick by offering Han and Chewie as prisoners to gain entry to the mine (remember Princess Leia disguised as Boushh in ROTJ to rescue Han?). Beckett is even wearing a similar outfit to Lando’s disguise in the ROTJ “escape from Jabba” scene.
The origin of the name of Han Solo turns out to be sort of lame. When applying to the Imperial Academy Han is asked who his “people” are. He replies, “I don’t have any people. I’m alone.” The response, your last name will be “Solo.” OK, well, that was ingenious. Did the name Solo really need an origin? Maybe Hodor did because it was the only word the Game of Thrones character knew how to say, and so a bit of mystery was built upon that name. But Solo? Not so much.
There is also some really bad dialogue writing in this film. When Han asks his new Wookie friend’s name for the first time he responds: “Chewbacca? You’re gonna need a nickname cause I’m not saying that every time.” I mean, who doesn’t like saying “Chewbacca”?
What’s more, the home media presentation of Solo: A Star Wars Story was disappointing compared to the theater experience. For example, on a TV screen Lady Proxima didn’t look a fraction as good as she looked on the big screen, and seeing her again in a home theater reminded me of the muppet-like characters of Return of the Jedi and Jar Jar generation.
There is plenty more to talk about and critique, but really, we’re here to discuss video and audio quality. Let’s dive into it.
Solo: A Star Wars Story was viewed on a 65” Samsung SUHD 4k/HDR TV sourced from a Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player. Dynamic contrast was set to medium, colors natural, and Picture Mode on “Film” as we always suggest. Audio system is Dolby Atmos-supporting Samsung HW-K850 3.1.2 sound bar with 11 speakers (2 upward-firing) and wireless subwoofer.
Enter the flatlands. What was most surprising about seeing Solo: A Star Wars Story at home in 4k/HDR was how dark and flat the picture it was. From the first scenes on the planet Corellia through the scenes on Beckett’s ship and in many other shots the image lacked any “dynamic range” even with HDR enabled. I compared ‘Solo’ to another Disney/Buena Vista 4k/HDR title Black Panther and ‘Solo’ paled in comparison.
Using the default settings of the UHD BD just didn’t display any contrast or wide range of black values. And, not much in the brighter spectrum either. The film just seemed too flat and stuck in mid-key range. We suggest adding some Dynamic Contrast to the picture to help bring it to life, and that should add a bit of color saturation.
When comparing with the Blu-ray, the 1080p disc actually provided more contrast and a more striking image, although slightly lacking in detail compared with the 4k disc. You know what they say about detail though? Sit back a few more feet and you probably won’t see the difference. But with color range and contrast you will. If anyone had a better experience with the 4k/HDR disc please let us know in the comments.
OK, so the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is impressive, and it should be with Disney’s ability to hire essentially whoever they want. The theme song was composed by none other than the master himself, 5-time Oscar winner John Williams, and the film score created by Oscar-nominated John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon). This movie sounds just like a Star Wars film, which may not be such a good thing as there isn’t much that is unique about the movie. Maybe that’s what ‘Solo’ needed — an identity.
And, there are parts when the soundtrack music tends to drag along with the movie. (As a write this I just heard my daughter’s friend say she fell asleep the second time she watched it.) But, the Star Wars hook has so much to draw on and anyone who loves the theme song will have plenty to listen to. There are a couple scenes that stand out in terms of audio effects such as .
The scene at the Conveyex heist is probably the most memorable of the movie, and not because the visuals have so much impact but also because of the sound mix. It’s an almost perfect balance of chaos intertwined with the dialogue between Han, Beckett, and Val. The audio mix in ‘Solo’ does present a wide contrast of volume levels, even in multi-channel Dolby mixes for systems that don’t support Atmos, so if you’ve got a subwoofer hooked up be prepared for some deep bass.
The roundtable, featurettes and deleted scenes are only offered in 1080p on the Blu-ray disc, but that’s pretty much standard for bonus material these days. The longest extra is the Director and Cast Roundtable that’s 21 minutes, but there is also a production featurette titled The Train Heist that lasts 14 minutes. The shortest piece of bonus content is the deleted scene “Coaxium Double-Cross” at only 41 seconds.
There’s an addition to the Corellean foot race that’s pretty good when Han and Qi’ra jump into barrels full of eels and Han finds an unwanted guest in his pants, and the two have an awkward romantic moment. There’s a deleted scene in which Han is on trial for mistakes made at the Imperial Academy and is re-assigned to infantry service which, while nicely shot, was certainly not necessary to keep in the final cut. The bonus you can skip is the extended Han vs. Chewbacca fight which seems to last so long it becomes a movie within itself. Luckily the scene was cut down for the theatrical release.
All of the bonuses are worth checking out if you’ve already made it through the film itself and want to learn more about how it was made.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is worth watching at least once in the theater or at home, but it’s hard to imagine it getting the repeat views other ‘Star Wars’ films have had, and that includes ‘Rogue One.’ This newest side story in the SW universe is hardly memorable, less the great heist scene where Val meets her fate, and feels more like a made-for-TV movie rather than an epic Star Wars blockbuster.
How does it rank among other Star Wars films? Unfortunately as much as one might hate the Jar Jar Banks era of SW films and the muppet show at the end of ROTJ, Solo: A Star Wars Story offers the least in terms of storytelling, originality, and memorability within the Star Wars universe.
So, should you buy the 4k Blu-ray? Sorry Disney, but this transfer to UHD BD is just not impressive. There have been quite films this year that look jaw-droppingly good on 4k Blu-ray (Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther to name a few) and are “must buys” on Ultra HD Blu-ray, but ‘Solo’ is not one of them. Buy the 4k Blu-ray if you really want it, but the regular Blu-ray actually looks better (at least on our setup) and will take less time setting up in your TV, Blu-ray and disc settings.
On the flip side, if you’re a collector of limited editions, Best Buy, Target and Walmart all had their own exclusives in 4k Blu-ray combos only, therefore making the decision easier. And, if you’re an audiophile and want to hear ‘Solo’ in the best possible environment, the 4k Blu-ray does have a Dolby Atmos soundtrack while the Blu-ray’s highest audio setting is 7.1 channel DTS-HD.