MAY 25, 2018 -- Veteran actor Billy Dee Williams made a living by being smooth. From his days hawking Colt 45 Malt Liquor to his role as Louis McKay in "Lady Sings the Blues" to his role as Brian Walker in "Mahogany" to his role in "Dynasty" to his most recognizable role as Star Wars' Lando Calrissian. Billie Dee epitomizes smooth. Effortlessly smooth. So I guess it is probably George Lucas' fault for casting such a smooth guy to play a role that would be referenced at a future date.


That future date is now but Billy Dee is 81 years old... but still smooth. And the movie referencing his character needs a young guy to be like Billy Dee when he was younger. So director Ron Howard cast Donald Glover in the role as a young Lando Calrissian and apparently requested that he be as smooth as Billy Dee. And that is the first and biggest failing of the new "Solo: A Sta Wars Story". Maybe, they should have used Lucas' CGI Hologram technology and created a young Billy Dee with his voice instead of tasking Glover to be what he can't possibly be.


The film chronicles how a younger Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) hooked up with Chewbacca (now played by Joonas Suotamo) and Lando. It also tells how he once had a gal pal named Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) and became an advanced smuggle when he joined forces with a rogue named Beckett (Woody Harrelson).

Without giving away too much it revolves around an effort to steal an unstable fuel mineral and refine it before it blows. So this is where the Millennium Falcon makes the great Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.


But much like "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" the story offers a bunch pf throw away characters that are never fully developed and thus we don't care. It also reveals a strange relationship between Lando and his droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller Bridge) that would definitely not be smooth.


Beckett is interesting, but very, very predictable. Even the eventuality between Qi'ra and Han is predictable. There are very few revelations that you didn't already know from reading earlier lore from years ago. The lovely Thandie Newton comes across well as a rogue smuggler, but she too isn't developed. So we get a bunch of cool special effects, no substance and a guy named Glover trying to be as smooth as Billy Dee.


Ehrenreich is acceptable as a young Han, though he lacks the mannerisms of Harrison Ford - the reason we liked the Han Solo character in the first place. But Howard does, at times, capture glimpses of Ehrenreich as a young Ford. His interaction with Clarke isn't nearly as believable as Harrison Ford's Han with Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia. And then there is Glover as Lando. It would have been more interesting to have a raw Lando, especially with the revelation near the end of the film. Yikes!


As with the entire Star Wars film franchise, the biggest draw are the special effects which are decent - with an old time pre-CGI feel. There are no light saber fights as there are no Jedi Knights. Paul Bettany plays the heavy as Dryden Vos, kind of a pre-Jabba the Hutt crime lord. He's the guy for whom they are getting the fuel. But, once again, as a bad guy he's rather wimpy; and disposable.


It is cool to see the fastest ship in the galaxy in it's infancy and learn how Chewbacca became the co-pilot. The Kessel run is okay, but too short for it to have been a pivotal point in Han Solo's life.


"Solo: A Star wars Story" falls short with poor casting and a blase story. While the special effects and a couple of "peeks" at future episodes are nice, most real fans will walk away disappointed.   -- GRADE C+ --   GEOFF BURTON