'Solo: A Star Wars Story' feels like a competent side story. Is that enough?
Star Wars season came early this year, premiering in the middle of May rather than the Christmas season release date we’ve gotten used to these past years.
Yet, ironically, it seems that even the summer heat can’t warm up the cold shoulder of a reception Solo: A Star Wars Story received. Though nowhere near a trainwreck (one would think that this would have been the case given its troubled production), the prevailing sentiment to the film was an apathetic “good enough,” “competent but not groundbreaking.”
Critic Oggs Cruz while calling it overall an “enjoyable romp“ even notes that “the biggest problem of Solo is not its being a mishmash of repeated narratives. It is its refusal to be anything more than a redundant piece in the puzzle.”
No love, no hate, just shrugs
For any other movie, an “ok” consensus might acceptable, but as a Star Wars film, this might be more alarming than it sounds.
When it comes to the geek community, fandom and fervor almost always come hand in hand. This reverence has been known to be malignant, even — case in point, for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, one angry fan allegedly rigged Rotten Tomatoes via bots to give the film a low audience score.
Surprisingly though, when it comes to Solo, even the fans concede to the film’s mere competence. There are little to no fanboys rallying to attack nor defend the movie this time.
So what happens when passion has turned into passivity? When there isn’t even a love it or hate it polarization but just a collective shrug?
A case of history repeating itself?
In true George Lucas fashion, it is by looking into the franchises past patterns (or “rhymes” as he liked to call them) that we may get to understand the foreboding hazard that comes with the Han Solo prequel.
In 1983, after Star Wars’ last film in its original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, was released, the franchise went silent. There was barely a peep that came from Lucas on future plans for the franchise.
Five years after, Lou Aronica, the publisher who founded Bantam Spectra — the science-fiction division of Bantam books — was just one of those fans who felt the drought in the Star Wars universe. He had a plan, and more importantly, he had the capability to change things. He sent a letter to Lucasfilm proposing a new line of books which expanded on the universe.
The project dwindled at first, as Lucasfilm didn’t even bother to answer the letter for a year. However in 1991, by sheer will, Heir to the Empire, written by Nebula Award-winning author Timothy Zahn, was finally released. The books rose to the be number on the New York Times’ hardcover best-seller list.
Aronica — much like today’s Kevin Feige of Marvel or Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm — had a game plan for this expanded universe. He originally wanted just one carefully crafted story every year.
However, after the strong sales and critical reception of Heir, Aronica agreed to increase production by adding a “sidebar story” between the main books. (Now why does this sound familiar?)
Aronica left Bantam in 1993. And to put things into perspective, by 1997, there were as much as 27 Star Wars books released in that year alone. Not surprising, the quality, along with the books’ reputation went down the drain.
In an interview with The Ringer, Aronica said, “If those sidebar stories start to feel like sidebars, that might affect the whole franchise.”
“I think what became clear is that this audience wants the galaxy-spanning scope of Star Wars. When they think Star Wars, they’re thinking enormous scale, they’re not thinking little stories.”
Filler episodes and prequel problems
While I may not entirely agree with Aronica’s stance when it comes to little stories (because I do want to see closed-off tales set in different pockets of the Star Wars universe), I do think scale and importance — just feeling like a sidebar — is a much needed consideration when it comes to bringing Star Wars stories to the big screen.
In Solo, this problem is evident as its whole conceit comes from the smallest of ambitions trying to be stretched for biggest of mediums.
Though not exactly little in terms of galaxy-hopping, Solo is the sidebar story Aronica warned us against. It’s a flashback episode, a gap filler, not unlike those we see in shows required to produce 20+ episodes per season on TV.
(TV might just even be the best medium for the smallness of Solo’s writing. A mini-series perhaps?)
This is not to any way undermine TV (some of the best of pop culture are on TV), but when it comes to watching Star Wars on the big screen, the grandeur and ambition must arrive at a scale expected of one of the biggest and most well-loved franchises of all time.
And make no mistakes, even a little story can carry the grandeur and ambition I’m talking about. (Where’s that Seven Samurai-based Star Wars adaptation rumored before?)
How little Solo feels like comes from how it’s mere goal is to tick boxes off a character origin checklist. How it stops itself from being anything more than supplementary material.
To be fair, this is a problem that has plagued not just Solo: A Star Wars Story, but prequels in general.
For one, many prequels are greatly obsessed with emblems. What’s a character’s signature piece of clothing? What weapon does he or she use? How about a catchphrase? Here’s a movie to show how and when they all came into being.
Secondly, prequels find themselves in a precarious spot as capturing uncertainty is hard to achieve when we know where a character will end up somewhere down the line. This limits the drama as stakes can be dismissible as we have the comfort of the future as a security blanket.
Solo falls under all these as it spreads itself thin in trying answer all the questions we don’t need answers to, cutting down the stakes at the same time. Ultimately, by forcing itself to cover all of Han’s bases from childhood to a last-minute throwaway line to what precedes the original trilogy, audiences are left with both more and less — more unneeded explanations, and less fresh insights.
If Solo wants to go small, I’d much rather see it experiment by centering on a single point of Han’s life. Be Top Gun in space by covering Han’s early days as a pilot, or be a full-on crime movie involving the Crimson Dawn syndicate set in the underworld of a galaxy far, far, away.
If it wants to be big, go big on ambition and give audiences wonder and character arcs that don’t undercut future character development. (Solo basically features Han learning to be part of a cause higher than himself….that’s literally the whole character development of the original trilogy.)
Is competence enough?
Solo: A Star Wars Story is ok; that’s its biggest problem. It was happy enough to be just competent. It never really tries to be magical, it never really tries to blow the minds of fans.
Solo is whole affirmation story of what we already know, an indulgence of fan knowledge. It doesn't seek to expand our knowledge of the Star Wars universe, nor does it deepen insights and aspirations of it, and it's completely ok with that.
For a Star Wars film, “it’s ok” is not and never will be ok.
If Solo is indicative of what the next stories will be, good-to and not need-to-knows, then I too “have a bad feeling about this.” – Rappler.com