Perhaps it is time that the president of Lucasfilm — Kathleen Kennedy — and Walt Disney Studios rethought this one-film-every-year strategy for Star Wars. I say this even though I found Solo: A Star Wars Story to be immensely entertaining and most in line with the spirit of the original trilogy amongst the new films so far. Yet, by the end of it, I was left with a feeling of melancholy, and the scary thing for the franchise is that I, despite being a diehard fan, couldn’t be bothered to watch it a second time to better understand why.
And I’m not alone.
By all accounts so far, this origin story of everyone’s favourite Star Wars rogue Han Solo, starring newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as the titular character, Joonas Suotamo as his giant hairy sidekick Chewbacca, and Donald Glover as the smuggler Lando Calrissian, is a major box office disappointment. In fact, it is the worst performing live-action Star Wars films of all time (especially when adjusted for inflation). This is in spite of carrying not a dull moment and featuring one of the most interesting new additions to the universe, a complex butt-kicking counterpart to Han named Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), as well as a cameo from one of the most popular fan-favourite villains in the Star Wars universe (whose return sets up an Obi Wan Kenobi standalone film nicely).
Solo: A Star Wars Story may have performed below expectations at the box office. But the film itself is immensely entertaining and in line with the spirit of the original trilogy
Let’s be clear, Solo: A Star Wars Story hasn’t had a bad opening week — any other franchise would kill for this much money. But Star Wars is box office royalty, and the 100 million dollars made domestically, especially with a ballooning budget of 250 million dollars — thanks to a disastrous production where filmmakers were fired, scenes were reshot and acting coaches were hired — is well below expectations.
As I said, audience-fatigue could be a factor though, then again, Marvel is churning out more films a minute and fans can’t get enough of them. Another factor may very well be that viewers just aren’t interested in seeing a new actor play the iconic character, especially when Han isn’t supposed to be that much younger in Solo: A Star Wars Story than he was in Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope when Harrison Ford played him for the first time. Watching different actors play the same character is easier to digest when very different timelines in their lives are being portrayed respectively, but this isn’t quite the case here.
Certainly, Ehrenreich doesn’t do a bad job playing Solo, but it is initially jarring to see him in the role. Granted, this is a slightly younger, more optimistic and empathetic version of the character, but for my money, Ehrenreich smiles too much as Han and fails to portray that cocky swagger that Ford exuded so effortlessly.
Certainly, Ehrenreich doesn’t do a bad job playing Solo, but it is initially jarring to see him in the role. Granted, this is a slightly younger, more optimistic and empathetic version of the character but. for my money, Ehrenreich smiles too much as Han and fails to portray that cocky swagger that Ford exuded so effortlessly. These nitpicks aside, it is still exciting to see the many Solo moments we had only imagined, such as Han meeting Chewie and Lando for the first time, falling in love with the Millennium Falcon and, of course, making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
But these can’t be the only reasons why fans aren’t turning to the new Star Wars film in droves and it may have to do with the mixed reactions to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi (2017). While a good film overall, it completely ignored the mysterious threads set up by J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). What truly angered fans, however, is that it lampooned the beloved lore of the franchise as well as the characters to some degree. For some fans, Johnson was so eager to make a subversive film that he went dangerously close to irreverence.
Solo: A Star Wars Story makes no such mistake. It features plenty of excellent humour that had me chuckling out loud, and none at the expense of the characters or the universe. For instance, there are thankfully no scenes of Solo milking a space cow’s teat for greenish milk. Likewise, the characterisation of the heroes here is true to what we’ve seen before. The best sequences though, are all action, with outstanding special effects, and some thrilling space battles involving the Falcon.
Only time will tell if the mediocre performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story is an anomaly or the symptom of a deeper malaise. As one viewer said, a few years ago fans would have given their right leg for a chance to see Han Solo make the Kessel Run in a film, but couldn’t care less now. This is a pity, because this story deserves better.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 3rd, 2018