The fourth Disney controlled Star Wars film has arrived and it has been largely met with middling reviews, and this one is going to be no different.
In a vacuum, Solo is nothing more than an alright, but fairly forgettable sci-fi action flick. It is somewhere on the level of Atomic Blonde, but not quite as fun…or as good. It certainly does some things right, but has its share of miscues which slowly whittle the experience to one which has no real staying power.
But this film is nearly impossible to view in a vacuum. It has attached to it, possibly the largest and highest profile entertainment property in the West, and is one of the largest ones in the world- even if Disney cannot find a way to make Chinese folks go see them. Star Wars is the one brand that should be able to perform in spite of casting. The Force Awakens was able to field a cast of newcomers because it had the power of Star Wars behind it and didn’t need big names to attract audiences (outside of the obvious returning actors from the original cast). Star Wars itself, is one of the most profitable and prolific entertainment brands on the planet. It is a titan within western culture, and has been for decades. In spite of all this, Solo has massively underperformed and it is leading some to question if the power of the brand is beginning to wane. Before we can cover that, lets get Solo itself out of the way.
The problem with Solo is entirely within the decision making at some of the more detailed levels of the film. Taking a few steps back and examining the big picture, many of the larger concepts and ideas are pretty solid. Han Solo was a misfit from the streets of Corelia who had been conscripted to working for a crime syndicate at an assumed early age. He escapes from that situation and eventually finds himself working with some criminals/smugglers that he begins to learn from, and along the way he encounters a hustler in the form of Lando Calrissian. Solo joins Lando and the others on a heist in which he is tasked with piloting the Millennium Flacon through the infamous Kessel Run. Once the heist is completed, he places what he has learned from those around him into action to not only get himself out of a sticky situation, but also come away with the Falcon in the process. Oh, and he meets Chewbacca along the way.
That elevator pitch sounds perfectly reasonable for a Han Solo film, and is the skeleton of the final film. Unfortunately, things start falling apart once you start adding in details. There is a point in the film where Solo has joined the imperial military in order to escape the criminal organization he works for on Corelia. This was not a good decision. It seems shockingly out of character for Han Solo to even consider joining the military, doubly-so for him to actually go through with it and to be stuck in it for three years. The Han Solo we meet in the beginning of A New Hope in the Mos Eisley Cantina is not one whose skills were forged by spending any time in the Imperial military; his nature and his actions were forged by his time dealing with other scoundrels and gangsters across the galaxy. Han Solo is a man who has spent his entire life in the presence of criminals, and while he is not necessarily one of them, he has no trouble borrowing some of their habits.
The other major issue in the film is his primary motivation- it is centered around him returning to Corelia to save Qi’ra, his friend/love interest. Han Solo ain’t got time for that noise. He is not a man who allows himself to be tied down to other people; he rolls with Chewy, and that seems to be about it. He has no interest in larger conflicts that may be a safety hazard to his well-being. His original character arc was him breaking out of his set in ways to put the lives and sacrifices of others above his own well-being to help Luke and the rebellion. I can understand maybe wanting to establish his reluctance to be attached to anything for too long by giving him some sort of loos early in his life. But if this was the intention, it was not executed well enough, and its impact was virtually non-existent. This relationship serves as the main motivation for Solo throughout the entire film, and it never feels believable or appropriate for his character- or at least what his character is supposed to be.
Ultimately, these issues along with all of the others which mount up throughout the length of the film lead to a film that did not have good decision making behind it. Part of this no doubt comes from the tumultuous production of the film in which the directors were replaced and an acting coach had to be brought in. The coach apparently helped some, but it was not enough, as Alden Ehrenreich is easily one of the weakest parts of the film. He is not a convincing Han Solo, and he spends most of the film imitating a weird, smug-asshole version of Han Solo. Overall, the decision making from the very outset of this project was flawed, and it showed with a weak final product that deserves nothing higher than an “eh, it was alright.”
Alden Ehrenreich was not a good choice to take on one of the most iconic roles in film history. He could not command the room in the way that Harrison Ford could in the same role.
The more interesting aspect of this film and it’s lack of success is how it reflects on Star Wars and a brand, and how future Star Wars films are going to be impacted by this clunker. Solo is the worst performing Star Wars film to date, and domestically is coming in far behinds its predecessors. Rogue One, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi all exceeded $500 million domestically, while Solo is languishing at just over $200 million. The biggest problem for Solo however, is it’s perceived damage to the Star Wars brand. Coming out only a few months after The Last Jedi, a feeling of saturation is starting to set in, as in the same time frame in which the original Star Wars and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, we have gotten four different Star Wars films. Delivering two Marvel films a year has proven sustainable for Disney, but Star Wars is proving to be more limited than most want to admit, or at least Disney’s treatment of the material is.
Most of the blame is falling squarely on Solo, but that likely is not the case. This is simply the building frustration around these new Star Wars films finally becoming visible. The Force Awakens made a ton of money and released to very good reviews both critically and from audiences, but it is fairly blatantly a remake of A New Hope, and it borrows substantially form the original trilogy in what feels like unnecessary fan service. Rogue One was a film that took itself very seriously which also relied heavily on the recognition of older imagery; it was filled with unremarkable characters and told a disappointingly unremarkable story. The Last Jedi was critically well-received, but audiences weren’t so keen on the middle chapter of the new trilogy.
It is that last part which is the important takeaway from this section. Fans did not like The Last Jedi; it likely ended up leaving a sour taste in many people’s mouths and did Solo no favors in terms of positive buzz or energy heading into its own release. If The Last Jedi had been more warmly received by audiences, there would have been far more enthusiasm and excitement about whatever the newest Star Wars film was going to be. Instead, it sapped all that away and replaced it with apprehension and disinterest. Throw in reports of turmoil during the production of Solo, which chipped even further away at any remaining excitement, and you have a recipe for a tepid response to a film that is not worth the brand it bears in the first place.