Solo: A Star Wars Story Goes All-In On Feel-Good Fun, But Grossly Overplays Its Hand.
More Than Chips and Ships At Stake - Disney gambles with one of the biggest names in science fiction, and gets felted. Suddenly, Solo: A Star Wars Story is potentially the worst performing Star Wars film on record, and it's no shocker as to why.
It's with a heavy sci-fi heart that I have to write this Solo: A Star Wars Movie review, because I was so hopeful that the accomplishments achieved with Rogue One could be replicated with Solo. That, however, was not the case. We should probably start with the good, since there's a lot less of that to talk about than there is the bad.
I think one of the biggest issues people had with Solo was the replacement of Harrison Ford. I think some fans of the franchise were hoping a computer-generated, youthful Harrison Ford would play the role. Personally, after having actually seen the film, I felt Alden Ehrenreich did a pretty good job of portraying Han's fight-or-flighty wit and humor, but it's simultaneously apparent that from a marketing standpoint, this may have had something to do with why Solo's box office performance has been drastically worse than expected.
Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson do most of the theatrical heavy lifting in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Thandie Newton's performance is pretty strong as well, given her relatively limited screen time. I even liked the film's villain, Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany. I was however a little bit disappointed by Donald Glover's Lando, but it's hard to pinpoint how much of it was his fault, and how much of it was the script's.
If we're to really sit down and truly dissect Solo, we'll probably find issues in all departments. And ordinarily, I hate nitpicking at a story to this degree, because there's room for improvement in anything we do, and half the time, those suggestions are subjective, but when the franchise in question is a household name spanning four decades and is slated to generate billions of dollars in revenue but instead is struggling to break even in the domestic box office, that's something that needs to be dissected as granularly as possible.
All Images: Lucasfilm
The hands-down single biggest problem with Solo: A Star Wars Story is the script itself. Too many tacky, cheesy, low-brow jokes and statements, and I think it really had a negative impact on the film. A couple drunken half-wits in the theatre seemed to be getting a real kick out of Solo's dialogue, but catering to that demo won't make for a billion dollar gross.
L3-37 was a sticking point for me as well. K-2SO made us laugh, but he did it maturely and charismatically. L3 was a little bit too far out there and obnoxious for my liking, and two-foot-tall droids stomping around on control panels was the straw that broke my organic back. I don't think these issues are conceptual problems, but rather questions of rushed or distasteful execution.
I can even recall maybe two or three scenes where the VFX were tacky too, and that's the last thing you'd expect to see in a Star Wars movie, or any science fiction film with a quarter-billion dollar production budget.
Solo, to me, was the first Star Wars film since Disney's acquisition that truly felt Disneyfied, and unless you're close enough to the project, it's difficult to pinpoint which and how many departments contributed to this mediocre-at-best Star Wars spin-off. But what I can tell you is that it's sad. It's sad that one of the biggest names in sci-fi, if not the biggest name in sci-fi (also touted in polls as the most popular film franchise in the world...) was mildly tarnished by such a sub-par production. It really does start to raise questions about if the process is being rushed, if too many Star Wars movies are being made too frequently, or if the idea of these stand-alone films in general is a bad idea to begin with.
In my debut science fiction novel Dawn of Legaia, if I'm remembering correctly, the manuscript underwent no fewer than five drafts spanning several years before I felt comfortable publishing it, and I'm sure it probably could have undergone one or two more. Solo, however, was released just five months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Disney has a pretty good track record of getting it right. They're a cinematic powerhouse and they release dozens of films a year which produce billions of dollars in revenue. They're more than familiar with the recipe for film making success. Solo: A Star Wars Movie, between the film itself and the promotion behind it, was more of a recipe for disaster, but all that can be done now is making sure a lesson is learned and the same mistakes are not repeated.
If we're just comparing Solo to Rogue One, the only other spin-off Star Wars film to date, even in this far more narrow of a side-by-side, Solo's story telling holes are much more visible.
When K-2SO died, it meant something. When Chirrut died, we felt something. Whereas with Solo, when Val and L3 died, I felt almost nothing, because the character development was never there to begin with, which then rendered their deaths trivial and anti-climactic. Just another one of the many reasons why Solo failed to move audiences, which then caused its box office performance to plummet.
Jyn Erso! Krennic! Cassian! Bodhi! K2! Chirrut! Even Saw Gerrera and Baze Malbus! They brought depth and dimension to Rogue One—a reason for you to care! That level of richness, both in characters and in story, was simply missing from Solo: A Star Wars Story, and that's all that needs to be said about that. Just not the same caliber of creative writing, is what it boils down to.
If we take the A-list actors of Solo out of the equation, and remove the sheer nostalgic weight of iconic characters like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian, we're left with an extremely mediocre, shallow, blasé, straight-to-DVD feeling film. The words that we're discussing here, these adjectives, are the farthest thing from what should be used in discussions about anything Star Wars related. Whether it's a film, novel, video game, it doesn't matter. These are simply things that should never be said about one of the most iconic and beloved science fiction sagas to ever be created.
So you can see why I'm frustrated with this film, because IMHO, it's definitely the biggest Star Wars blunder to date. Even worse than little Anakin and our good old friend Jar Jar Binks. I cannot recall any element of any Star Wars product or story that has irked me the way Solo: A Star Wars Story has, and it's really very unfortunate, because we had a lot of momentum in the works with Rogue One and even The Last Jedi. Even in the grand scheme of things, my gripes with The Force Awakens seem to diminish when compared to the inadequacies and missed opportunities of this latest Han Solo spin-off.
There is a bright side to all this. Disney has been rudely awakened with a very important lesson: No I.P., regardless of age, size, stature, fan base, following, revenue, etc., is impervious to failure. And even something as titanic as Star Wars can buckle at its knees if any integral part of the process is mishandled.
There were a few golden nuggets here and there that are worth noting. The original heist that took place on that monorail-ish train was pretty cool. I liked how the train banked around turns and the scene in general held my attention pretty well. The chase scene in which several tie fighters were in pursuit of the Millennium Falcon had a few cool sequences in there too. But as you can tell, I'm really reaching here, trying to isolate the scenes that were done right because the film as a whole didn't provide me with much to appreciate. Also, notice how these are primarily action scenes—scenes that didn't have a tremendous impact on the emotional aspects of Solo or even the story telling in general. :::Sigh:::
Anyhoo, it's time to end this critical tirade and cut our losses. I sense there's much more to discuss in regards to why Solo: A Star Wars Story fell so short of its mark, but that'll take more time, will, and energy than I've got. My current manuscript is brewing, and the summer of 2018 will surely be filled with early mornings and late nights. After all, my old buddy Hank was the one that said, "If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that." and I've been thanking him for years inside my own head for sharing that insight with me.
The parting thought I'll leave you with is this: I'd say the box office don't lie, but sometimes it does, because Blade Runner 2049 was a superb film that didn't come anywhere close to crushing it in ticket sales, but here's how I would urge you to look at the box office now and in the future...There's a big difference between a critically acclaimed film that does poorly at the box office, and a film that critics are highly critical of, that does poorly at the box office. The former is a cinematic anomaly or more often than not, a marketing blunder, whereas the latter is probably a pretty good indicator of a bad movie. Food for thought!