Let’s wind our clocks back to December 17th, 2015. This was the day that I, and fans everywhere, would finally see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which would soon become the highest grossing domestic film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). As of this piece being written, the top 10 in that list also includes Star Wars: The Last Jedi at #8, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at #10. All three of these films were distributed by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm and its assets in 2012. It was safe to say that, at least in terms of revenue and popularity, all was well.
So what the hell could’ve possibly happened for it to end up like this?:
If you haven’t heard by now, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a huge box-office bomb. Even if you want to say that the movie has barely been out for a month, Look at those opening weekend numbers! It performed so poorly that Disney and Lucasfilm have, allegedly, put all other anthology films on hold. This includes, most notably: the slated Boba Fett film (set to be directed by James Mangold who helmed Logan, a fantastic film which I’ve reviewed here), and the highly anticipated (depending on the involvement of Ewan McGregor) Kenobi film.
I will repeat the question: What the hell happened?
Many have tried to answer it with some of the lazy criticisms you would expect: about the actor playing Han, about the directors quitting, about how “they’re doing it like Marvel”, etc….but it can’t be that simple. You mean to tell me even with Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke doing TONS of press beforehand, after post-red carpet reviews seemed vaguely positive, and after the Tomato-meter never went rotten, that a STAR WARS MOVIE would open this badly on Memorial Day Weekend? Before continuing, I’d like to take this time to briefly summarize my thoughts on the movie.
It was very okay. I think it was fun, had cool elements, and nothing stood out as glaringly negative, but it held no importance. I KNOW this story because I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back more times than I can count. We know Han was a smuggler, we know how Han meets Lando, we know he is the way he is because he was betrayed, we know he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc. Any of the extra stuff (i.e. how Han got his dice or his blaster)…I didn’t really need. If I DIDN’T use my moviepass and actually paid full price for a ticket, I would’ve had some buyer’s remorse. I think if this movie was instead released as animation or a book, it would’ve been more appropriate, had more room to expand, and maybe even more praised.
Regardless of how I feel, this is still a Star Wars movie and those numbers are preposterous. So, once again, what the hell happened? We can look at this from a few angles:
THE LACK OF A TARGET AUDIENCE
When discussing Star Wars in any capacity, I believe it is fundamental to acknowledge the generational aspect of the franchise. By that, I mean the idea of “what was YOUR Star Wars“, a concept often used in discussing the 007 franchise or various Batman actors. Presumably: The Original Trilogy (OT) was first enjoyed by younger Boomers and mostly Gen-Xers, The Prequel Trilogy (PT) was prominent when Millennials like myself were growing up, and the Sequel Trilogy (ST) has found their solid fan base in Gen-Z. It also should be noted that everyone eventually becomes very familiar with the OT, as it objectively contains the quintessential installments of the franchise. Millennials went to Blockbuster (RIP) to rent the older films on VHS (also RIP). Gen-Zers have their Gen-X parents showing them the OT to catch them up, as the ST contains the 3 main characters from the OT anyway.
Rogue One had the appeal to all fans: it promised that we would see a major point in the Rebellion’s effort that wasn’t expanded on yet. We know the Rebellion got the Death Star plans, but we had so many questions. What was the war like before that? Where was most of the fighting taking place? Why was there such a convenient hole in the Empire’s space station? Who stole the plans? Rogue One answered all of these questions and more, and since the characters didn’t have as much depth as the ones in the saga films, we could focus more on the conflict at hand and connect it to the OT easily.
A Kenobi film with Ewan McGregor would bring out the Millennial audience in full force. It could also bring out the other crowds because whatever Obi-Wan was doing between the PT and OT isn’t common knowledge (it is briefly touched on in the Star Wars Rebels animated show).
Similarly, the OT crowd will live and die as Boba Fett fans. When you ask me, the dude had roughly five lines and fell into the Sarlacc pit like an idiot. He could’ve been replaced by a talking flying bantha for all I care. However, a Boba Fett film still appeals to various markets because the OT crowd will be nostalgic and the PT/ST crowd will see something new.
So who was Solo meant for? They alienated the OT crowd who wont accept anyone but Harrison Ford as the character, the PT crowd doesn’t feel much nostalgia towards Han, and the ST crowd knows Han as old, defeated, and more of a plot device than a main character. On top of all of that, they made a movie that all three crowds already know the main events of. It only adds irony to the fact that Han’s son is now famous for his “Let the past die” line.
This disappointed me like crazy, and I know it all too well (remember when we thought Joker was going to be the primary antagonist of Suicide Squad?). The public was meant to believe that this movie was going to center on Han, Qi’ra, and Lando, with a lot of screen time for Chewbacca. Instead, it was more about Han and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and the others just felt like part of the larger setting for Han to be himself and be “mentored” by Tobias.
Word eventually got out that Glover and Emilia weren’t that prominent in the film, most likely Because of The Internet. The problem with that is that they were the “aces” the project had. I myself went on opening weekend almost entirely out of support for Glover, and when Lando had one cool scene, about 7 other lines of dialogue, and ends up being the biggest loser in the end, it pissed me off.
Qi’ra was just reduced to “Han’s girl”, despite being a new character with more backstory than Lando, Chewbacca, or Tobias. However all of this resulted in a few moments where the audience is forced to connect extremely vague dots, and the last time we see her on screen just ends up more confusing than anything. I suppose they weren’t in it for your character development,
BACKLASH AND FATIGUE
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since December 2017, you probably know that The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie. I’m not going to get into it because it isn’t even fun to talk about anymore, and fans have gotten toxic to the point of negatively impacting those who worked on the film (a topic further discussed in this episode of the “Overrated” Podcast).
The point here to be noted is that the ST films were slated for the Decembers of 2015, 2017, and 2019, giving fans ample time to digest each one and properly anticipate another. While the MCU releases films only months apart, it changes its setting, characters, and conflicts with every movie and simply connects them to each other, Star Wars has always been more of a “previously in our story…” type of deal. Many fans were opposed to the idea of anthology films such as Rogue One in the first place.
Regardless, Rogue One came out in December 2016, a year after The Force Awakens and a year before The Last Jedi. Solo came out in May 2018, and the fans are STILL processing The Last Jedi. I don’t understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to release Solo at that time, especially with trouble behind the scenes, and the clash against both Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Delaying Solo until December 2018 would’ve made perfect sense to me.
A MISSING SENSE OF WONDER
For most people, Star Wars has always been about the characters, the idea of the Force, the larger conflict, and the vastness of the Galaxy. Han himself barely got any development throughout this film, I can’t even exactly point to what he learned or if there was a major change in personality. So when a Star Wars film ignores characterization, has no mention of the Force, doesn’t connect to a larger theme or conflict, and barely explores the planets it takes place on…well, you get the idea.
The point is: Maybe someone should’ve told them the odds on this one.