Featuring arguably the most and the most impressive design work of the new Star Wars films, it was shame to see Solo: A Star Wars Story dismissed almost completely upon its disappointing box office returns. Fortunately, fans have already begun reassessing the film; and Solo: A Star Wars Story – The Ultimate Guide serves as a helpful aid for examining its technical merits.
These ultimate guides have often served first and foremost as revisionist propaganda for its film, and this one is no different. It should be acknowledged right off the bat that this guide makes not even a passing mention of former Solo directors Lord and Miller, so those looking for the inside scoop on that fascinating part of Star Wars history will be disappointed.
This PR angle is certainly grating, as it was in The Last Jedi: The Ultimate Guide too, but is offset this time around by a focus on transcripts of interviews. Whereas that previous guide would intersperse quotes from interviews with stars and crew members throughout longer editorialised writing on the subjects, here we are provided with their answers in full. It is a nice change that not only lets some of their personalities through, but also means that what the guide is providing cannot be found anywhere else.
Their inability to discuss the drama on set means that the interviews from actors, writers, and director Ron Howard are sadly lacking in substance beyond how excited they were to work on the film, but hearing from the below-the-line people is truly great. Designers walk through their creature work and planet design, of which there was a massive amount. Much like the Canto Bight sequence in The Last Jedi, much of their work is then unfortunately given short shrift due to editing in the picture, but guides like this finally allow them the chance to shine with descriptions paired with photos of the final product.
A focus on cinematographer Bradford Young’s work is also welcome. His discussion of the film’s aesthetic and the particulars of having sets designed to facilitate natural-looking light is particularly interesting, and something you would not expect from one of these guides. That they took to time to ask the film’s stars about Young’s contribution adds even more credence to the claim that his shooting of Solo is truly in contention for the best cinematography of the series.
Given that Solo is a one-off film, it hardly had the time to give us the backstory of each newly introduced character. That is where these guides can truly shine or bore, with The Last Jedi: The Ultimate Guide suffering from repetition due to the relatively few new creatures it introduced. Solo: A Star Wars Story – The Ultimate Guide is blessed with plenty of new information on not only our lead characters, but on the supporting ones as well. Reading more about Han and Qi’ra’s life growing up on Corellia and about Lady Proxima and her gang helps add more context to the film’s opening scenes and contributes to the gravity of Qi’ra’s betrayal during the climax.
Perhaps most appreciated is the description of the state of the galaxy at the time of the film. Upon its release, LucasFilm would not say the exact timing of Solo within the universe, making it difficult for fans to understand exactly how developed the Empire was at that point. This guide does not provide a date, but does explain a bit more about the Empire’s push into the Outer Rim and the effects these moves had on the syndicates which play such an important role in Han’s life.
All of this information is tied together by strong and visually appealing art direction, with page layouts never feeling like stale collage of movie stills. Its length is also perfect, covering everything you care about without getting bogged down in things too niche.
Solo: A Star Wars Story – The Ultimate Guide is an almost perfect example of how to do this genre of book correctly. Its inability to discuss the most interesting aspect of Solo‘s production is a true shame, but one cannot be too surprised that Disney did not wish to further air our its dirty laundry. What is included, however, is not only enlightening on its own, but also deepens your appreciation for the film and all of the quality work that went into it. You really cannot ask for more than that.