*** MILD SPOILERS ***
So, I’ve seen Solo: A Star Wars Story and it’s certainly an entertaining expansion of the Star Wars universe to an extent (which I’ll come too later) and the new incarnations of old, familiar characters do a very good job. The new characters are great too even if they’re probably not going to be around for future instalments. It has some great action scenes, genuinely funny dialogue and some well placed nods to other films in the Star Wars franchise. It’s a solidly made, and more importantly, a fun entry to the franchise.
But my main thought after seeing it was, was it really nescessary?
Did it add to the mythology of characters so ingrained in popular culture that it expanded the antecedent history of them? Did it really require characters from other areas of the Star Wars canon to be introduced as plot points? Can you make out which parts were filmed by Lord & Miller and which ones were shot by Ron Howard? There was only one obvious one that I could tell – the inevitable Clint Howard cameo. And the truth about those behind the scenes shenanigans with directors being replaced raises further questions.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 Billion dollars and Kathleen Kennedy was installed as the head of the studio, it made perfect sense. Kennedy had a long history as a very successful producer alongside major players such as Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. She and George Lucas knew each other very well. He was letting go of the empire he’d built for over three and a half decades and handing it to a friend would make the transition easier for him knowing it would be in safe hands. Then came the inevitable announcement that there were to be new Star Wars films, sequels to the original trilogy. This caused the world to stand up and take notice of Star Wars once more after the damage done by Lucas’ own prequel trilogy. The fanboys and girls lost their shit at the prospects ahead and anticipation of new Star Wars films started to grow at an alarming rate.
In December 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (or Episode 7) was released. It made over $2 billion at the box office, it was a critical success, it made stars of its new cast and sold bucketloads of merchandise. The fans liked it a lot.
In December 2016, the first spin-off prequel to the original trilogy, Rouge One: A Star Wars Story was released. It made over $1 billion at the box office. It was also a critical success. The fans liked it a lot too, some more than others but it was still very well received.
In December 2017, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released. It made $1.3 billion at the box office and the critics, in general, loved it. The fans however, were seriously, seriously divided on it. There was genuine outcry by a large portion of the very same fan base that had already paid back the $4 billion that Disney had paid out for new Star Wars films. There are articles within this website expressing the thoughts of its author quite vehemently as well as discussions on the same site’s podcast. It has proven a wildly divisive entry in the Star Wars saga and has been undeniably damaging to the previous harmony shared by fans of this far away galaxy.
In May 2018, Solo: A Star Wars Story was released. It was, for the most part a critical success. Many who’ve seen it seem to have enjoyed it. So far to date it’s made over $300 million worldwide yet has already been proclaimed as a failure. Most films would love to have a box office return like this, but then not all films cost $275 million to make. Which means the film is now projected to lose money factoring in marketing costs which aren’t usually part of a film’s production budget.
Which all leads me to the inevitable question, why?
Too much too soon?
Four Star Wars films in just over two and a half years is a lot considering that the last Star Wars film had been 10 years prior and between the prequel trilogy beginning and ending was a time span of 6 years. The Last Jedi had been released 5 months before Solo and was very much still part of the zeitgeist (possibly more for the negatives than the positives). The negativity towards The Last Jedi may have put off a bulk of the ardent fan base from seeeing Solo whereas the previous formula of December releases appears to have done nothing but good (Yes, I’m aware that May was traditionally the month when the original and prequel trilogy films were released but let’s not get too hung up on that here). Plus Avengers: Infinity War (a fellow Disney franchise) is still sending audiences to the cinema to take in the sheer spectacle and carnage again and again. Oh and you also have Deadpool 2. And then there’s that family trip to the dinosaur park, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom that was released mere weeks later. December probably would have been a better choice, or even much later on in the summer. It can’t be denied that the timing of the release of Solo, smack bang in the middle of such a cluttered box office release schedule, is a significant culprit in the film’s apparent failure.
Were people put off by the tales of production woe?
Keen film fans (that’s you) tend to keep abreast of film news so would have known about the firing of… sorry, the exit over “creative differences” of the original directors and the rumours of ‘Ace Venture – In Space!’ (Ridiculous when you see the performance of Alden Ehrenreich who’s very much his own version of Han Solo). But Star Wars fans are fans of Star Wars first and foremost and it’s a fair thing to surmise that the majority are not interested in who the D.P. is on this film, or even the director(s) for that matter. They want lightsabers, dogfights with spaceships, colourful planets, strange aliens, a plethora of cool quips and do they really care who gives it to them? So if they went in droves to see The Last Jedi, then why not Solo? Some of the marketing campaign certainly looked good (I’m going to get one of those Lando posters) and whilst the trailer wasn’t exactly up to the awe-baiting standard of that second The Force Awakens trailer (you know, the one with the Vader helmet reveal, the Falcon flying over the crashed Star Destroyers, the original John Williams score JUST for the trailer, “Chewie, we’re Home”, that one), it definitely gave you an idea as to what they were aiming for and what was in store. Then again, Rogue One had its share of behind the scenes troubles and that turned out just fine in the end.
Was the choice of new director just too safe?
Look, Ron Howard is a fine filmmaker (Apollo 13 and Rush are personal favourites of mine). He rarely makes films that feel overly similar to others in his filmography (save for the awful Dan Brown adaptations, which happen to be based on highly overrated books to begin with). He also happens to be big pals with a lot of the main players involved here. When the news initially broke over the departure of original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, one director immediately sprang to mind as an able, and one would imagine willing replacement – Edgar Wright. But as soon as I thought of it I was reminded of his experience on Marvel’s Ant-Man (2015) and his issues there and subsequent departure. I don’t think the constraints imposed upon him would have been as severe here (one can’t exactly place a can of Dr Pepper into a cantina bar on Mos Eisley) but having had his fingers burnt, would he want to go into another huge franchise where directorial control was limited? He seemed like a logical choice for me – he can shoot big, bold and breathtaking action scenes, he can do the smaller, yet equally important talky moments, he could no doubt get the characters bouncing off each other and might have made Lando even funkier than Childish Gambino himself. But Ron Howard’s a safe pair of hands. He’ll guide the Falcon home. No dramas, no “creative differences”. But again would that hamper its appeal? No director is bigger than Star Wars. And certainly the newer Star Wars films are not advertised as ‘A J.J. Abrams Film’ or ‘A Rian Johnson Film’ .
So what is the issue that’s caused Solo’s failure?
The newest incarnation of Lucasfilm has had something previously unthinkable, its first misfire and it’s unlikely to be its last. But Disney are a bit more accident prone. Yes, they’re wildly profitable on the whole and even Pixar has it’s missteps every now and then, but when you consider films like John Carter and The Lone Ranger bombed financially to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, what does it fall down to? Both the aforementioned films are, in my humble opinion entertaining and enjoyable films in their own way. It appears that poor marketing (especially in the case of John Carter) failed them and negative word of mouth from the film sets didn’t help either. But much like Solo, they are far from bad films. Solo had its trailers and posters released mere weeks before release, something usual for a modern Star Wars film which again begs the question, why release it then? By all means release the posters, hold press screenings, let the responses circulate (“Hey! It’s actually good!”) and tease people gradually, build their expectation and anticipation as they’ve done so many times before instead of forcing the new £200 Lego kit on them when they haven’t even finished last Christmas’ kit! It comes down to the dollar signs unfortunately, and whilst I think Solo will find a bigger audience on home video, the question must be asked about the other proposed Star Wars Stories. What to do with them?
If indeed the next Star Wars Story spin-off film does become the latest Young Han Solo adventure that ties into a Boba Fett feature, or a Tatooine based Obi-Wan adventure or if Lando and Han meet again for another card game and go shopping for capes I’d suggest this to Disney and Lucasfilm – take your time. Star Wars isn’t going away anytime soon. It has a vast, loyal fan base who are passionate in a way that borders on possessive. There really is no need to over saturate the market with a glut of Star Wars films right now. Giving the fans too much of a good thing is like over-feeding someone with their favourite food, sooner or later they’ll get sick of it, no matter how good it is, and if it’s not up to scratch they’ll be more critical of it than if it were drip-fed to them over a far longer time frame. Why and how we have seen the first Star Wars film failure isn’t a question that has one clear answer. There are many complex variables at play and I don’t hope to offer a firm conclusion as to what has gone wrong, moreover I’d suggest it’s a combination of the points I’ve raised that has caused this film to fail. What is certainly clear is that Solo didn’t deserve to be ignored and neglected and if a fine Star Wars film has failed at the box office then Disney/Lucasfilm really need to take a step back and re-evaluate how they’re handling this franchise because those aforementioned fans, as loyal and passionate as they are, won’t take lightly the mistreatment of the very thing they hold so dearly. No one wants to see Star Wars fail, I certainly don’t, it’s as much a part of my film-loving DNA as any other film or franchise and whilst it’s not a franchise above failure, an important lesson has to be learned here. With a third film in the sequel trilogy due in 2019 and a proposed Rian Johnson trilogy in the works, the future of Star Wars is unclear and for the first time in a long time, hope is something that Star Wars fans may be running out of.
For a more in-depth and detailed breakdown of the general Film ‘89 consensus on Solo: A Star Wars Story check out episode 10 of The Film ‘89 Podcast. Solo: A Star Wars Story is on general release now. Please, go see it.