"Solo: A Star Wars Story" - Lucasfilm’s First Bomb
Entering the fourth year of this new stage of Lucasfilm, a disturbance in the force began to slowly be felt. The second standalone film in the Star Wars universe after Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The situation, if confirmed, wasn't gonna be surprising. Yes, even being a multi-billionaire enterprise like Disney couldn't help it: That plan for an annual Star Wars movie release was way too ambitious.
So far, to achieve that, producer Kathleen Kennedy oversaw several projects at once. Each of those projects had its own writers, directors and a cast of stars. Everything at once. All in different stages of the production process.
So it ended up being understandable that Kathleen Kennedy didn't have the expected control and that when she decided to check the progress of the Han Solo standalone movie project that was written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, she was terrified to see that her non-surveillance had apparently turned out in a movie far from what she had envisioned.
Apparently, that movie was too leaning to comedy, which is completely understandable and logical when Lord and Miller are the writers and directors of your project. The duo had become famous precisely for their work in films such as The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or 21 Jump Street, so it was more than evident that their vision of Solo was gonna be lighthearted and fun.
With the departure of Lord and Miller came the veteran company man Ron Howard. Almost 70% of the film was reshot, which, with the short time remaining, already had to turn on all the alarms. It also became one of the most expensive movies ever made because of that.
Finally, Solo was released just five months away from The Last Jedi.
It became the first Star Wars movie to be considered a box office failure.
Why did that happen?
The first thing you have to acknowledge is that the market was most likely saturated. Star Wars movies have always been a cinematic event, something that is hyped and expected for years and years. Solo marked the fourth Star Wars movie in four years, and the fatigue of the audience was already beginning to be noticed.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that system of two (and even three!) movies per year work because of the huge number of characters, tones, genres and general narrative that is being built with each movie. And has been always part of its DNA. Lucasfilm's strategy was to alternate the Skywalker saga with loose, standalone, prequel stories.
Obviously, Solo also suffered from that last writing-directing change. I cannot imagine how "terrible" were the plans of Lord and Miller, but I know that they included more laughs (that in the end, were kinda missed) and a villain embodied by the great Michael K Williams, which was gonna be a kind of hybrid of a "mountain lion" (what?) and man. In the end, Michael K Williams wasn't available for the reshoot, so his character was recast by Paul Bettany, who although a solid actor ... come on, is not the same as Michael K. Williams as a half-lion villain.
And then, of course, came the most important controversy: Separating the character of Han Solo from Harrison Ford. Lucasfilm believed it was possible and possibly that was the whole reason for this failure. Alden Ehrenreich, understanding the absurdity and futile of impersonating a young Harrison Ford (especially when we all know how a young Harrison Ford looks), decided to make his own version. And possibly, thanks to that histrionic clash, he was subjected to the terrible rumors that he didn't know how to act and that he was the main cause of the fear of failure that rounded the film months before its premiere.
That is completely unfair. Ehrenreich is charismatic and can carry the film all by himself. He made the right call by putting his own spin on the beloved character. And he kinda nails that. But the problem is that we are seeing a young Han Solo, not a young Harrison Ford playing Han Solo, so empathy was never gonna be the same. Solo and Ford will always be completely merged into one entity.
With all the drama that surrounded this movie, it must be said: Solo is NOT a cinematic failure at all. Howard, a veteran of Hollywood, takes advantage of the Disney money and logistics and manages to complete a film that although it's not beyond “OK”, is not at all the dismembered mess that should have been, considering its off-camera antics.
The story checks all the necessary boxes in a Han Solo origin story: We know how he got his name, how he met Lando Calrissian, how he became friends with Chewbacca, how he got the Millennium Falcon and how he got the Kessel Run in “less than twelve parsecs."
But, perhaps more important than that, Solo has a couple of interesting elements in its plot that help better understand the iconic character. The whole issue of "Han shot first" is revealed in a great way. His status as a mercenary who doesn't want to be in a love relationship, too.
The beginning of the friendship between Han and Chewbacca is well established, but that absolute loyalty between the Wookie and the human is not developed. I guess that was going to be explored in the potential sequels.
What's your rating for Solo: A Star Wars Story?
As in all the most recent Star Wars movies, Solo has a wonderful cast, in characters that unfortunately have little time and impact on the screen. Emilia Clarke (who along with her character in Terminator Genisys seems to have no luck on the big screen) is a cute counterpart to Han. Donald Glover is a good Lando Calrissian, but his success is due more to his own Childish Gambino star and fame than to a correct interpretation of the emblematic character. Woody Harrelson and his Tobias Beckett is a great mentor for Han, but such an important relationship is somewhat hindered by other small love subplots like the one he has with Thandie Newton's character, who also has a fleeting and almost imperceptible appearance. Even the great Warwick Davis returns to embody his little (no pun intended) character Weazel in The Phantom Menace, and this time he has a bazooka. It's very brief but awesome.
But above all, we must mention the revolutionary android L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge before she became the Phoebe Waller-Bridge we all know and admire. L3-37 is by far the most interesting new character in the movie. She has a great personality and a bizarre quasi-sexual relationship with Lando. Her corrosive sense of humor and her eternal struggle for androids' rights gives a great contrast among this range of organic cheating thieves. Unfortunately, her time is cut short.
Solo has a couple of interesting twists and surprises that gave a hint of its future as a potential franchise. Darth Maul is revealed as the biggest behind-the-curtain villain, opening a world of possibilities. Unfortunately, unless the Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney Plus has something to say about it, this will be the last time we will see him in a long time.
Considering the relevance of the character, the adventures in Solo are rather lukewarm. There is never a real sense of danger (the prequels tend to have that big problem). The challenges are not going to place you on the edge of your seat.
It's really admirable what Ron Howard achieved. Solo is a film that will undoubtedly not be marginalized from the Star Wars universe and will win the affection of the audience over time. Unfortunately, the admirable thing of what Howard has achieved was due, in the first place, to a failed production and too many erroneous decisions that ultimately led Solo to be understandably ignored at the box office.
© 2019 Sam Shepards