After a solid week of reliving the trials and tribulations of Ukrainians, Iranians, Italians, Egyptians, Russians, Poles, Tunisians, Chinese, Japanese, French and countless other countries depicted in wrist-slashing ways on the screen (not to mention the latest from the likes of Lars Von Trier and Gaspar Noe!), it was a pleasure to see some good old-fashioned Hollywood showmanship return to the Croisette in the form of Han Solo, Chewy and Lando all shooting up Cannes with the international premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
With the Stormtroopers hitting the red carpet along with Chewbacca and cast, and the soaring music of John Williams (as arranged by composer John Powell) welcoming guests, tonight’s Millennium Falcon arrival at the Palais was just what the doctor ordered for a 71st Cannes Film Festival desperately in need of some real excitement.
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Disney and Lucasfilm did just that with a Grand Lumiere Theatre screening of Ron Howard’s first take on the Star Wars saga, an origin story of the character Harrison Ford immortalized and now Alden Ehrenreich has been entrusted with, thankfully to good results. It’s just pure fun, and it seemed like the rain stopped here just in time to serve it up, not only on screen but at the Carlton Beach party afterward. Howard has done a fine job focusing on the young version of the guy we came to love starting with the original 1977 Star Wars and of keeping all the character beats intact but also delivering what might be the most action-packed Star Wars of them all. There are some spectacular set pieces in the film’s fast-moving 135 minutes. Bet Ron Howard never dreamed when he was making 1973’s American Graffiti with co-star Harrison Ford for director George Lucas that he would be making this film on Han Solo’s youth 45 years later.
The French, used to all the auteurism usually on display here, were polite in their response, giving Howard a five-minute standing ovation afterward but stopping short in the unadulterated enthusiasm reportedly exhibited by fans at last week’s Hollywood world premiere. I guess if you are used to three-hour-and-eight-minute Turkish films in which the most exciting thing that happens is watching tree leaves blowing in the wind, then maybe it is too much to see a kickass space Western like this one, which niftily keeps the tradition alive and well. (I’ll have a full video review coming next week in advance of Solo‘s Memorial Day weekend opening.)
And in terms of pure Cannes experiences, meeting the very tall Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who is playing Chewbacca (aka everyone’s favorite Wookiee) now for the third time, was a real trip. The former basketball player told me he is especially thrilled with this one because Chewy gets so much screen time and backstory. We also get to see the unexpected first meeting between Solo and Chewy that is best described as complicated.
Chewbacca was a big hit walking Cannes’ fabled red carpet, but it turns out it was Suotamo’s double doing the honors as the real deal got to be himself without the costume on for a change. The guy who stole all the scenes, however, was Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, fitting the role like a glove. He told me this screening was the first time he could really sit down and comfortably watch the film as the nerves were too much to completely enjoy last week’s world premiere.
The film obviously was troubled during production when Howard was brought in to to replace original directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who left because of “creative differences” but still retain executive producer credits. Whatever the circumstances, Howard clearly got to make his own film, and his decades of experience show how it can be done on such short notice.
Walt Disney Studio Chairman Alan Horn seemed pleased by the whole event (which doesn’t come cheap for a major to stage) and told me he is heading to London on Wednesday to visit the sets of three Disney films currently shooting in England: Maleficent 2 and The One and Only Ivan (both featuring Angelina Jolie), and Artemis Fowl, being directed by Kenneth Branagh, whom Horn noted did a great job for the studio directing Cinderella. Jolly old England must be a good-luck spot for Disney as that is where its big Christmas release, Mary Poppins Returns, also was shot, and Horn is high as the kite they all flew in the 1964 film over this first follow-up in a half-century. “It is no small task to follow Julie Andrews, but Emily Blunt is really wonderful in the role,” he said, while also praising what director Rob Marshall has done with the project. Lin-Manuel Miranda co-stars and there is also a role for 92-year-old Dick Van Dyke, who still gets to dance in this film (a bit), as in the original, Horn told me.
Woody Harrelson, who plays the intriguing criminal Beckett in Solo, also was talking about The Highwaymen, his upcoming Netflix project with Kevin Costner in which they play the police officers who come out of retirement to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde. Harrelson, recently Oscar-nominated for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, had a little reunion with that film’s writer-director Martin McDonagh. He was at the Solo premiere escorting Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who voices the great new droid L3-37 in the movie. Harrelson told me he was a little frustrated that three films he was proud to do last year — LBJ, Wilson and The Glass Castle — all came and went so quickly in theaters. Welcome to the new Hollywood, Woody. He said it was like a miracle that Three Billboards got to play so long and do so well in this environment.
I was also happy to be introduced to Toby Rose, the man who created the Palme Dog award as a kind of answer to the Palme d’Or in Cannes. First given in 2001 to The Anniversary Party for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s pooch, Otis, it has become one of my favorite traditions here ever since — especially in 2011 when Uggie (aka Mike) took the prize for The Artist. I asked him who might be the front-runner for this year’s Palme Dog and he said perhaps the competition film from Italy, Dogman. Of course it would be a movie with that title, even though it doesn’t screen until late Wednesday. The suspense is killing me.
Disney’s marketing chief Ricky Strauss kept promoting the fireworks show that the studio arranged off the Carlton Pier, and when it finally came, it was easily the most spectacular display of its kind I have ever seen in Cannes — enough firepower to send Han Solo right back into space on a beautiful night for movies on the French Riviera.
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