It’s taken me a month, but I finally made it to the theater to see Solo: A Star Wars Story.
The box office numbers say it’s a flop.
Since its premiere May 24, Solo has pulled in just over $200 million in domestic box office. As any number of sources note, by Star Wars’s standards that’s a flop. Over the course of a month, by comparison, Star Wars: The Last Jedi raked in close to $600 million in its first month and standalone Rogue One more than $440 million.
Solo’s lack of box office success threatens to halt production of more standalone features, which is disappointing to hear. And since generating low numbers from its opening weekend, almost everyone has tried to figure out why.
Was it too close in release with Last Jedi? Have we just gotten bored and oversaturated with Star Wars? Or is it just a really bad movie?
To answer that last question first: No. It’s a good movie. Just what you want out of any heist movie: action at a 12 parsec pace, adventure, betrayals and reversals of fortune.
Moreover, it deals with two of the best characters in the Star Wars universe (those on film, at least): Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s an origin story, of Han’s life of crime on Corellia, of how he meets Chewie, of how he wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian and how he becomes the space pirate with a heart of gold destined to meet a young naïve Jedi-wannabe named Skywalker and a space princess named Leia.
These things make the movie delightful. That and the performances are good. Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo is as charming as predecessor Harrison Ford, and ably matches some of Ford’s quirks that made Solo Solo. That isn’t to say Ehrenreich’s performance is all imitation. He’s clearly got talent of his own.
As does Donald Glover as Lando. Actually, I would say Glover outcharms even Billy Dee Williams, and that’s hard to do. Glover makes Lando his own.
With good performances, and a storyline that has a decent payoff — it’s a popcorn movie, not an Academy Award performance, good escapism — why has it failed at the box office?
Maybe we have gotten a bit oversaturated with Star Wars? Last Jedi ended its theatrical run in April and was soon out on video and streaming. We had Rogue One behind it and The Force Awakens not all that far away.
That does seem like a lot of Star Wars. Still, Han Solo is an iconic figure in the Star Wars canon, and the Star Wars fandom never seems to get enough of the franchise. We haven’t since A New Hope premiered. We read comics and novels, bought action figures and couldn’t wait for the next film. We watched animated spinoffs and even, if we’re old enough, that classically bad Christmas special that put our heroes on TV screens.
Maybe there’s something in the fandom that’s killed the charm of the movies. Way back in 1999 when the first prequel film The Phantom Menace came out it seemed the fandom complained the most. The movie didn’t meet the expectation of their fannish imaginations.
Of course, there were agreeable complaints: the ridiculous introduction of midichlorians as a signal of someone strong in the Force and having Jedi potential; and poor Jar Jar Binks was just a bad character — a forced comic relief in a film that took itself too seriously.
Which was the real problem with the prequels: they took themselves too seriously. They were trying to be political thrillers telling the story of the rise of the Empire and Darth Vader’s beginnings. A great premise, but slowly done in each (Revenge of the Sith picks up the pace some, however) and when watched on TV, where you can pause the video to go pee, they seem better; they have a TV-series-binge-watched pace. They just weren’t well done movies.
But the complaints from fandom didn’t seem to care about the prequels as movies. What fandom seemed most concerned about was their lost childhoods, their sad nostalgia for Star Wars and what it meant to them.
Later films were hit by certain segments of fandom and seemed to reflect our current political division between left and right: There were a lot of complaints — mostly by white males — about The Force Awakens and Rogue One having female protagonists and a black stormtrooper and black leaders of the rebellion. Somehow, this made Star Wars a PC leftist conspiracy that not only took our childhoods away but made us lock-step into some conspiratorial leftist agenda, as if Princess Leia and Lando Calrissian never existed.
Such ridiculousness extended out of the movie theaters and into pages of a new Star Wars canon: writer Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars novel Aftermath was attacked not on whether it’s a good novel or not, but because Wendig introduced gay characters into the Star Wars universe.
I wonder how these people felt about the innuendo between Calrissian and droid L3-37 in Solo?
(There’s a bigger issue here about the outrageousness of what’s happening in science-fiction fandom in general and the certain set of fans who seem to want to make people miserable and, for me, to step back some away from what seemed a pleasant community; this sort of thing seems too common in all sorts of fandoms: football fans are getting overwrought about kneeling and the anthem, for instance. Maybe in another post all this is worth addressing.)
So, back to Solo. Perhaps what killed it at the box office was expectations: We wanted something more that nothing outside of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back could really ever give — we wanted, in a moment of sentimental existentialism, our childhoods back and the magic of our imaginations that were sparked by those movies.
But age and experience give us diminishing returns. Short of reverse evolution, we can’t go back to that time no matter how much we long for it. We might get a twinge of it watching children watching it for the first time. Star Wars was magical when we first saw it, however, because we allowed it to spark our imaginations, because we were open to it then.
If we expect the same from Solo or even from watching A New Hope again, it’s going to ruin the experience. Of course, there are still moments in the earlier movies that can touch even the cynic. The Empire Strikes Back seems to have the most for me — Han’s “I know” when Leia tells him she loves him as he’s about to get frozen in carbonite (he’s always the confident, composed, cool guy we want to be in the face of danger) and of course the revelation of revelations: Vader being Luke’s father, the cliffhanger leaving you hoping in Return of the Jedi it was all just a bullshit Force trick and Luke isn’t really, is he?
Of course, Disney’s expectations were high, too, weren’t they? Star Wars makes big bank no matter what, right? Solo will always be the disappointing prodigal among Star Wars movies by that standard, won’t it? Judging a movie by its box office is like judging the book by its cover: what really matters is inside.
My only real quibble with Solo is a fanboy quibble (spoiler alert): the Darth Maul cameo appearance at the end. How was that possible? We saw Maul die in Phantom Menace, didn’t we? We know as fans there can be only two Sith lords and Vader and the Emperor are out there building the Death Star. That’s implied in Solo. Solo is, after all, at the end of the movie about to fly off to Tatooine to work for Jabba, right?
That cameo had me working out timelines in my head after I left the theater. Was this a soap-opera trick? An alternate timeline? Maybe the next film is Better Call Maul?
Unless you’re versed in Star Wars lore beyond the movie —or have Google — you won’t know Maul in other media survives his death plunge on Naboo and is revived, well, like a favorite soap opera villain.
Still, that doesn’t ruin the movie.
So, go see Solo knowing that it’s not necessarily going to capture any more magic than you already have in your imagination. Know it’s a heist movie as good as any: there’s a train robbery, flying cars and space Kraken — even Baby Driver doesn’t have space Kraken and it’s still a fun heist movie. And, also, don’t be disappointed that Emilia Clarke doesn’t get naked. The Khaleesi still looks good as Solo’s love interest.
Or maybe Disney should make another Star Wars standalone in which Clarke is always naked? Jason Mamoa could make a cameo as Darth Aquaman. Talk about box-office numbers.