Why ‘Solo’ Stands Alone – Disney’s First Star Wars Stumble

Most of us have had a chance to see Disney’s latest installation in the Star Wars franchise by now. Solo: A Star Wars Story recently arrived in theaters after a well-documented production period littered with turbulence. The original director tandem of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street) were fired after Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy didn’t like where they were headed with the Han Solo film. Ron Howard stepped in, did a bunch of reshoots, and viola! Success! Right? The film opened to a less than spectacular $103 million in its 4-day opening weekend and dropped 65% in its second weekend.  What went wrong?  Let’s take a closer look as to why Solo is by itself in the realm of Star Wars’ performances at the box office.

Make no mistake, this article isn’t about which Star Wars movie is better or how we should rank them or anything like that.  We’re going to break down why this picture is making Disney film execs pace their office floors right now.  First off, this film hasn’t gotten a quarter of the backlash that the much-criticized Episode I: The Phantom Menace did nearly 20 years ago.  Despite that, the inaugural chapter in the Skywalker saga made gobs and gobs of money at the box office, a feat Solo will not likely accomplish.

Second, Lucasfilm had some serious momentum behind itself in regard to what it’s done with The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi.  Yes, The Last Jedi got a lot of negative feedback from fans but it still made an impressive chunk of change at the box office and I loved it.  If Lucasfilm were a Marvel character, it’d be the Juggernaut, because once it got going, it couldn’t be stopped.  Oops, hold that thought.  It definitely didn’t get stopped, but it did get noticeably slowed with those Solo box office figures.

So what is the achilles heel of this movie?  It’s certainly not the cast.  Everyone gave a proficient (if not better) performance with their characters.  Lead actor Alden Ehrenreich did a great job channeling our favorite smuggler’s charisma and Donald Glover was exceptional as Lando.  Close your eyes and you’d think that was Billy Dee talking.  The fanboy tips of the hat were also nice touches such as the reappearance of Maul on the big screen and the obscure mention of the Teras Kasi (if you had a Playstation 1, you get this nod).  Still, great acting and tips of the hat to saga faithfuls do not secure a film’s success.  They are a few of the moving parts in a bigger machine.

Number one (I’m always numbering things, aren’t I?), this is the Star Wars film no one wanted.  I know, some of you are going to say, “Hey!  I wanted a Solo movie!”  That’s fine.  Do you realize how minute your numbers are?  Personally, I’ve never found Han Solo to be an interesting character and neither did the man that played him through four films.  Solo is a great supporting character, but as a lead, he just doesn’t wow.  Want to argue that?  Go look at the box office figures.

Numero dos, we knew far too much about Han Solo already going into this movie to have anything earth-shattering come to fruition.  The only real surprise I had with his background was that he joined the Empire at one point.  Other than that, we already knew Chewie owed him a life debt.  We knew he’s from Corellia.  We knew he’s a space pirate.  We knew he won the Falcon gambling with Lando.  We knew he was cocky, brash and a great pilot.  There were few to no surprises about Han Solo in this movie.  You need to wow the audience.  It’s hard to get excited about your Christmas present when you already know what’s under the wrapping paper.

If you look at Rogue One, we knew before that movie was released that the rebels steal the plans to the Death Star and it gets destroyed.  We had no idea how they got stolen.  We had no idea who exactly stole them.  We had no idea how they got away with them or whatever happened to them afterward.  Each of those characters, from Jyn Erso to K-2SO, were new to us.  Their behaviors were unknown which made each scene unexpected.  As a result, that movie won over the hearts of legions of Star Wars fans as well as many who were previously unfamiliar with the specifics of the franchise.

Finally, Lucasfilm/Disney did not listen to the fans on this one, which goes back to the ‘no one wanted a Han Solo movie’ argument.  While I’m still trying to figure out why Boba Fett is such a bad ass, right there is a film with much more potential for success.  We know where Fett comes from and we know he’s a Mandalorian bounty hunter.  That’s it.  There are so many gaps to fill in and stories to tell there that he should have had his stand-alone film before any green light was given to Solo.  Where’s our Darth Maul movie?  How about a Rebels live action movie?  How about the origins of Emperor Palpatine?  How does he discover the dark side and become so unbelievably masterful with it?  And so help me if one more person says they should make a Darth Vader movie, I am going to lose my mind.  They’re called Episodes I through VI.

As for my own thoughts on Solo: A Star Wars Story, I thought it was okay, nothing great.  The movie was rather dark (in a lighting sense) and it took me quite a while before I started getting invested in any of the characters.  Lastly, and as previously mentioned, there was no ah-ha moment in the film regarding Han himself.  That’s kind of a big deal when the movie is about him.  No fault to Ehrenreich as his employer can take the blame on this one.

Maybe Lucasfilm needs to throttle back on their barrage of Star Wars films.  It’s not so much sensory overload as it is possibly watering down the product.  I absolutely love this intergalactic playground George Lucas has given us, but maybe it’s time for Disney to take a breath and have a long-term plan for Star Wars. When Disney releases a movie, they do not aim to simply have the number one movie.  They aim to have the number one movie with smash-mouth numbers that break records and leave the competition staggering in its wake.  Believe that.  At the end of the day, all this fantasy is real world business.


3 Responses to “Why ‘Solo’ Stands Alone – Disney’s First Star Wars Stumble”

  1. Brian White

    I don’t know G
    No one wanted this movie not to be made than me
    But I had a blast with it
    It was such a fresh of breath air free from any Skywalker or kid drama
    Even Dragon Lady was decent in it
    I’m not sure what’s wrong with movie goers
    But I sure in the hell don’t want a Boba Fett movie
    I agree with all your other movie choice ideas
    Shadow of the Empire would have been killer but that ship has sailed

  2. Gregg

    I’m glad you had fun with it. There is some fun to be had here and the Maul moment blew me away like no other. However, the fact remains that the masses aren’t all that enthused with this film. Many are passing on it altogether until it hits on-demand, Redbox, etc. Some are just passing on it, period. That’s rather unheard of for a Star Wars film. I agree we need to finally break free from the Skywalker saga once Episode IX is over and done with. That’s been milked for a all it’s worth. Let’s see a Braveheart-style battle with Jedi and Sith. Give me some Old Republic. If they do end up going the route of a Boba Fett film, they’ll have to structure it like a friend of mine suggested, the old Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. He didn’t say a whole lot, but when he spoke, he meant business and it worked. Producers will have to stay true to this as that’s pretty much why Fett strikes a chord with so many. He has this commanding presence without saying a whole lot. After Solo’s struggles at the box office though, I’m sure Lucasfilm is strongly reconsidering a Fett or Obi Wan movie. They need to get this next stand-alone right.

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    The best thing they could do for future standalones is keep them reasonable in cost. Obviously Solo had its issues, but these one-off ideas should be like $75 mill (modest for a blockbuster) and handled by fresh voices that have their backs pushed more against a wall so they can be more creative in delivering something interesting.

    My biggest issue with Solo, which was fine overall, is how it lacks any ambition to be anything beyond “origin story: the movie.” It has no real ideas or standout moments that seem set to push Star Wars forward. If we’re doing a Star Wars film every year, I can get used to not expecting them to be continually ambitious in the same way the previous films had been (Solo makes the prequels continue to look better by the way, simply because those movies attempted to do new things in terms of filmmaking), but I’d still hope for a film that stands out because of its association with Star Wars.

    Since we have tons of big-budget franchises these days, simply making a generic origin story starring a guy that’s not Harrison Ford as the character made famous by Harrison Ford clearly isn’t going cut it these days, I do hope priorities are shifted when it comes to having these spin-offs feel necessary in some way beyond learning how a guy got his last name or other nonsense answers to questions we weren’t asking.