It’s not always easy to figure out why a film flopped. It’s even harder to figure out when it’s a Star Wars movie, since it’s a notion that’s basically never happened before. (The exceptions, of course, are the animated Clone Wars movie and the bewildering 3D conversion of The Phantom Menace, which halted plans to convert all Star Wars movies into 3D.) This past summer, though, Solo: A Star Wars Story performed horribly at the box office relative to sky high expectations that come with any Star Wars movie, and suddenly everyone tangentially involved with the movies became expert box office prognosticators.
There were numerous theories floated from all corners of the internet. Was it the vocal haters of The Last Jedi? Was it that nobody would accept Alden Ehrenreich in role made iconic by Harrison Ford? Was it too much Star Wars too soon? Was it the result of the bad publicity caused by firing the original directors in the middle of production and reshooting most of the film with new director Ron Howard? Was it just that Solo wasn’t a good movie? Personally, I believe the change in directors in the middle of production was the main culprit here, but not for the reasons you’d think. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much prefer a Phillip Lord and Chris Miller Star Wars movie than a Ron Howard but that’s not the way things worked out. And under the unique circumstances, Ron Howard delivered a minor and entertaining Star Wars film. It’s neither a triumph nor a disaster.
The reason the change affected Solo at the box office is because the massive undertaking of reshooting most of the film in a tight timeframe to meet a release date prevent Disney and Lucasfilm from employing their vast publicity machine to generate more hype for the film. The first teaser for Solo dropped in February, just a little over three short months ahead of its May release. The big mistake was not pushing back the release date for the film, but after a highly publicized directorial change and massive reshoots changing the release date would be perceived as a sign of weakness, and that’s just something you can’t do in today’s blockbuster environment. (A similar situation occurred with Justice League.) Disney and Lucasfilm found themselves trapped. Solo’s release date of May 25th is part of Star Wars history, the anniversary of the original film’s release, but the summer blockbuster season has moved earlier and earlier into April and Memorial Day isn’t a weekend known for its blockbuster box office returns. More importantly, Star Wars under Disney has found a new home in December and the box office returns are there to match. I can’t say with certainty that a December release date would’ve given Solo better returns at the box office, but I think that’s the key reason the film floundered so unexpectedly.
As for the movie, Solo is an unusual film in that its weaknesses and strengths are practically intertwined. On one hand, I love that the film is minor in the scale of a Star Wars film, a heist movie that doesn’t involve the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. One the other hand, it’s that minor feel to Solo that prevents it from being this operatic space adventure on the grand scale we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. It does seem that screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan are presenting us with a new side of the Star Wars universe and an unseen side to some of the series’ greatest characters, which is a welcome change of pace. However, that new side to the familiar is often undermined by countless references to so many other aspects of Star Wars that it prevents Solo from expanding an otherwise small, interconnected universe. With audiences needing to believe these new actors in old roles it’s important to let us get wrapped up in these new adventures without the unnecessary distraction of recalling the more iconic past.
Revisiting Solo for its Blu-ray release, I was stricken with a bit of sadness that we won’t get another go ‘round with Alden Ehrenreich as the scoundrel. As the film progresses, the Hail, Caesar! breakout becomes more and more comfortable in the role, and it’s so refreshing that he really put his own stamp on the iconic character and veered away from trying to do a simple Harrison Ford impersonation. It’s also sad that Donald Glover’s fantastic turn as Lando Calrissian will probably never return to that galaxy far, far away. The two exude chemistry and charisma, presenting a lively, updated take on characters that we know and love. There are other standouts in Solo that weren’t due to return for future installments anyway, including Woody Harrelson as Solo’s scoundrel mentor Tobias Beckett and Pheobe Waller-Bridge as the scene stealing rebellious droid L3-37. I’m less saddened at the realization that Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra and her association with Darth Maul (Ray Park and voiced by Sam Witwer) won’t be picked up – I think Maul’s saga is wrapped up quite perfectly in the Clone Wars series and Rebels.
The special features on the Solo Blu-ray provide some featurettes and deleted scenes as well as a roundtable discussion with the cast and Ron Howard. The deleted scenes look to be from Howard’s shoot, so don’t expect much in the way of insight as to the film Lord and Miller were trying to create. The absence of audio commentary means that the behind the scenes turmoil won’t be given much discussion, and it rarely comes up in the interviews and featurettes. The special features on the disc are rather rote for a movie of this type but still entertaining.
Solo: A Star Wars Story will be discussed for years to come if only for how its lackluster box office performance affected the future of Star Wars films. That’s a shame, though, because it’s an entertaining diversion from the typical Star Wars movie. It’s not perfect. It’s not a home run. It’s minor but fun. Too often than not, Solo plays it safe. That’s why Ron Howard was brought in – to provide a journeyman’s touch that won’t derail a billion-dollar franchise. Despite the results at the box office, Howard didn’t fail in this task. Maybe the future of Star Wars needs to play it a bit more like Han Solo: take bigger risks, have a bit more swagger, and sometimes shoot from the hip. Never forget: scoundrels shoot first.
Solo A Star Wars Story
A minor albeit entertaining installment in the ongoing Star Wars franchise, Solo: A Star Wars Story may have underperformed at the box office but that’s no indication of the film’s quality.