At the beginning of the month, I made a handful of predictions about Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw it over the weekend, and have digested the various reactions to it on social media. Let’s now see how well I did:
Everyone will go in with very low expectations. The rumor about this film is that it’s been a giant clusterbomb that’s been 90% reshot. Everyone who hated The Last Jedi will have all guns trained on it, ready to blast it to hell.
It was worse than that. People were staying away in droves. People who went to see it did so out of the kind of fan-obligation (or quiet hope under the guise of fan obligation) that brought them into the theaters to see Revenge of the Sith in 2005. No one ever really wanted a Han Solo-movie. The idea was kind of irritating when it dropped. And after at least half the fan base found The Last Jedi completely irritating, there was almost no enthusiasm for seeing this. So I don’t think this prediction really panned out.
It will not suck. It will not be brilliant. It will not become anyone’s favorite SW film. But it won’t suck. It will be entertaining. I will like it better than Rogue One.
This proved correct, in my eyes. I’m not the biggest fan of Rogue One, for the simple reason that I did not find the characters, and especially the protagonist, compelling. Bringing us down into the nitty-gritty of the early Rebellion would have made a find story. They should have stuck to that story, and given us a protagonist committed to that.
Solo, by contrast, has very watchable characters in a kind of makeshift plot. Alden Ehrenreich makes the right decision not to do an overworked Harrison Ford impression, but to take his own read on a young Han Solo, making the film about this nobody from the slums of Corellia becoming Han Solo, the outlaw anti-hero. He’s not that person we know at the beginning of the film, but he is getting there at the end. Good choice by an actor who got a lot of flack from the rumor mill.
The other characters are also good. Donald Glover is fun as a goofier Lando Calrissian than we might recall. Woody Harrelson works as Tobias Beckett, the smuggler who mentors Han. Emilia Clarke has a nice turn as Q’ira, playing a compromised love interest without going the obvious femme fatale route. Thandie Newton is good, Paul Bethany is good. They’re all good, fully real and fully inhabited. The reason I keep holding the New Trilogy above the Prequels is precisely because the characters in them – Finn and Poe and Rey – come across as real people, rather than the wooden kabuki puppets of Episodes I-III. We get the same thing in Solo.
The story won’t have much if anything to do with the main SW plot. We won’t see Vader, we won’t see Leia, we won’t see Obi-Wan Kenobi. It will be entirely about being a criminal smuggler under the Empire.
This was an easy prediction to make, but it was still right, and it’s one of the best things about it. The movie brings us down into the worlds, shows us some of the dirt of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, and thereby shows us what life is mostly like under Palpatine’s Empire. We go almost the whole movie without a lightsaber ignition (and the one we do get is one of the dumber moments of the film, a hackneyed piece of obligatory fan service, as if we needed reminding that we were watching a Star Wars film), and it was nice seeing a story in the SW universe totally uninvolved with the Skywalker Saga. Solo is more like a western than anything else, which fits, because in A New Hope, Han Solo is basically the Man With No Name from A Fistful of Dollars in space (including the classic double-back-to-save-a-friend antihero move at the end).
People’s reactions will very from “meh” and “whatever” to “That was better than I thought,” “actually kind of fun,” and “Best SW Prequel.” There will even be some “better than Last Jedi” (there will also be some “worse than Last Jedi“).
This jibes with what I’ve seen on Reddit and Twitter. No one really loves it, no one really hates it. Some like it better than others. I’m not seeing the vitriolic anger that Last Jedi got (which, as I said, I don’t share, but I understand). However, there is an almost palpable desire to see this movie fail, which brings us to…
It will do decent box office. People will have a bunch of dumb arguments about What That Means.
This has proven wrong. All the chatter in the entertainment media is that Solo is the worst-performing SW film ever. Yes, making $100 million over Memorial Day weekend is considered “failure” for a SW film. It’s below expectations, and now everyone is scrambling to explain it. Variety is chalking it up to “fan fatigue”, Polygon is blaming it on Prequels being unnecessary.
Both of those are ignoring the elephant in the living room, which is that the SW fandom is one of the grumpiest in the geek universe, and has been so since The Phantom Menace permanently sundered it into cynical Bashers who hate everything since The Empire Strikes Back, and brainless Gushers who will line up for a Jar-Jar standalone if the trailer looks cool. And that fandom, which was mixed at best about Disney taking over Lucasfilm, is now in open revolt.
The Force Awakens got slammed for being A New Hope 2.0. Rogue One got slammed for being a bunch of fan service glommed onto a story we already knew. Both of these paled in comparison to The Last Jedi, which reached almost Phantom Menace levels of hatred. And here the difference between 1999 and 2018 shows its face. Back then, before social media, fan reaction was limited to fan-related SW websites, and people still held out hope that if the first of the prequels stumbled out of the gate, maybe Lucas would find his footing for the rest of it. Today, it’s impossible to avoid noticing the discontent if you’re anywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. And at this point, people are so tired of SW movies not living up to the originals that they’ve decided they’ve had enough.
The Last Jedi got slammed for destroying the Hero of the Original Trilogy in a lame and bitter manner, for having spinning plot wheels that don’t go anywhere, and for bringing ham-fisted gender-and-class politics into populist entertainment (The Force is not Female. The Force doesn’t have a gender. That’s not how the Force works). Whether you think that’s true or not, that’s what the reaction is, and that’s why no one feels the need to watch another prequel of an Original Character. Why bother? They’re just going to screw it up.
Hence, for the sins against Luke Skywalker, Han Solo must pay.