Solo: A Star Wars Story is further proof that the franchise's future is going to be defined by the boldness of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Despite lower than expected box office returns and lukewarm reviews, the Han Solo prequel film isn't a disaster by any stretch. Director Ron Howard should be commended for salvaging what could have been a genuine catastrophe after original directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired in the middle of production. The movie is packed to the brim with great performances, like Donald Glover's delightful spin on Lando Calrissian, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's unhinged revolutionary droid L3-37, and the ever-reliable Woody Harrelson as the duplicitous space smuggler Tobias Beckett. Give or take a bewildering cameo, even the film's lowest moments are largely inoffensive.
But the paint by numbers nature of Solo makes it the first Star Wars movie to feel decidedly earthbound in scale. We get a checklist of notable Han Solo milestones: his first meeting with Chewbacca; the Kessel Run; winning the Millennium Falcon in a rigged card game from Lando; he even shoots someone first. Too much of the movie is expertly paced, handsomely produced fanservice with little in the way of new insight into its iconic lead character. Through all this, Alden Ehrenreich does the best he can with what he's given, but even an actor of his charms can't overcome such a pedestrian script, let alone emerge from the long, cranky shadow of Harrison Ford.
There's likely little reason to panic, however. This is the first of Disney's four Star Wars films to date that could be considered a box office or critical misfire after relaunching the franchise in stunningly successful fashion. After Star Wars: The Force Awakens gave audiences something of a remixed and updated version of the original film and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story showed the spinoff films could be unflinching, personal stories on the edges of the main saga, Star Wars: The Last Jedi proved to be the great leap forward, simultaneously detonating and revitalizing the franchise's worldview and mythology in one fell swoop.
It's the sort of dynamic, narratively progressive storytelling that cash cow franchises tend to eschew in favor of safer fare. The fact that The Last Jedi has sparked an unexpected divide among Star Wars fans is sort of beside the point; Rian Johnson's film not only ensures that the new trilogy will be far more than just a carbon copy of the original trio, it also lights the way for the franchise as a whole to move beyond the stories of the Skywalkers and Solos and Kenobis in fresh and exciting ways.
- This Page: The Problems With Solo In The Current Star Wars Franchise
- Page 2: Comparing Solo & The Last Jedi's Part In Star Wars' Future
What Is Solo: A Star Wars Story Missing?
So if Disney is aware of all of this, how is it that Solo fell so far from the creative dynamism of its fellow Disney Star Wars films? There are a few possible answers, including some unfortunate scheduling decisions and the film's well documented behind the scenes upheaval.
Another likely - and ironic - culprit is that Rogue One was actually the outlier, not Solo. It makes a certain amount of sense that the saga films would end up being the ones to push the envelope thematically and narratively, as the story has to move forward eventually with very few remaining elements from the original films. Using the spinoffs to dip into the unfilled gaps in established Star Wars lore is theoretically a strong way to satisfy fans for whom Star Wars is, first and foremost, a very expensive, very pretty nostalgia generator; there's nothing inherently wrong in wanting those films to mine new stories from established characters in the franchise, maybe even some who never got the spotlight fans felt they deserved. Rogue One, however, doesn't exactly fit that bill; its primarily a story of characters who we know essentially nothing about other than their crucial role in the fight against the Empire. That the entire crew both felt like fully fleshed out Star Wars characters and perished in their one and only film is a minor miracle, made all the more miraculous by its behind the scenes troubles.
But Rogue One: A Star Wars Story doesn't look like much of a template for Disney at this point. A Boba Fett film from director James Mangold is in the pipeline, and a long-rumored Obi-Wan Kenobi film starring Ewan McGregor seems closer than ever to a reality. There's nothing to say those films won't be successful, but they're obviously much more in the vein of Solo than Rogue One. It might be at least worth considering if that's still a viable long-term strategy.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019