Timidity, Not Franchise Fatigue Foiled ‘Solo: A Stars Wars Story’
The origin story of Han Solo lacked his devil-may-care charm, disappointing at the box office.
In the inevitable pile-on following the premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the critical comments amassed: “soft,” “fatigue” and “so low.” Despite a holiday-weekend domestic gross of $103 million, the post-mortem is enough to make a tough guy like Solo have performance anxiety.
Over at Forbes, box office guru and critic Scott Mendelson dismissed the argument that audiences have Star Wars fatigue – although, at this point, I feel like I’ve been weary of the franchise for decades. Still, Mendelson, pointing to the robust returns for Star Wars: The Last Jedi that generated a $220M opening weekend only five months ago, placed the blame directly on the content. He concluded: “The fault lies not in the brand or in oversaturation, but with the movie itself. Solo: A Star Wars Story bombed because of Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
Certainly “bombed” is harsh criticism for a movie that won its weekend and will make history among the highest grossing Memorial Day Weekend openings. Nevertheless, timing is an issue that Disney and Lucasfilm will be considering in their post-release hair-tear sessions. Opening two movies in an aging brand within five months is risky. And, while a Star Wars event film released in December like The Last Jedi is counter-programming against adult Oscar fare, the release of the latest film in the prime Memorial Day slot pits it against fellow big-budget action blockbusters. Siphoning Star Wars grosses are comic book movies with momentum that exploded earlier out of the gate: Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.
And, for the fanbase, it’s not just oversaturation. For some, there’s a cause for resistance to the brand they loved, made profitable and for which they feel ownership. It’s the rise of the SJW (social justice warrior) that is provoking some fan criticism. Over in the comments section at Variety, one fan, “Jenny,” shut down a claim that diversity is ruining the franchise: “Nah diversity is a great thing. Everyone gets that. It’s when they lecture to us like we don’t get it and treat us like children continually shoving it down our throats as if we are morally corrupt individuals and we need them to save us. That is what is destroying Star Wars. We received the message a long time ago and most people agreed with it. Enough is enough. Just make a movie and leave the politics at home.”
For some of the faithful, a franchise born out of escapist fun has been updated in the worst way, becoming preachy and self-conscious even as, hypocritically, the studio’s ultimate corporate goal remains what it has always been: separate as many suckers from their hard-earned cash as possible.
So I would agree with Forbes‘ Mendelson. The problem with Solo – if you can fault a movie that still hoses over $100M on opening weekend – is not franchise fatigue. But, then, what is it?
It’s challenging to fly seat of one’s pants and risk everything, in an aging series tasked with carrying bloated studio overhead and exorbitant executive salaries. The hallmark of Han Solo, as originally embodied by crusty manly man Harrison Ford, is that he’s a bold, reckless and devil-may-care space cowboy, loyal to his friends whether they’re human, bot or Wookie. And, so, when this character, so burdened by expectations, belatedly gets his standalone Solo run, those very virtues that raised him to iconic status can’t be replicated. Whether called soft or underwhelming, the tame prequel fumbles the opportunity for a deeper dive into the psyche of Solo, losing the chance to reimagine and reinvigorate a legend in the Star Wars pantheon.