After a relatively disastrous second weekend at the box office, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" is well on its way to becoming one of the biggest disappointments from a galaxy far, far away. A troubled production from its start, even bringing Ron Howard in to replace directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller didn't help, and may have made things worse.
We don't know exactly what Lord and Miller created, but we've heard enough to believe that Howard made some sweeping and dramatic changes in the film, including recasting the main villain and tweaking significant plot developments. And yet, he had to do this while trying to avoid reshooting the whole movie.
That meant he was tasked with incorporating as much of the existing footage from Lord and Miller's vision for "Solo" into his own take. The results have that hodge-podge feel, like this is a film mosaic struggling with an identity crisis. We'd like to think there's a more rich and compelling film underneath this had any of the directors been given the opportunity to fully realize their respective ideas, but we're skeptical.
"Solo" currently ranks above only "The Phantom Menace" and "The Clone Wars" in critical response, per Rotten Tomatoes, and to make matters worse, it opened to a disappointing $88 million domestic box office haul over Memorial Day weekend. Clearly, fans were not stoked for this spinoff. And considering ticket sales plummeted in its second weekend in theaters, managing just shy of $24.4 million in North America, word of mouth is not generating any more interest. And we have nine ideas as to why after reflecting on a whole slew of problems plaguing this unnecessary prequel.
Nobody was asking Alden Ehrenreich to pull off a Harrison Ford impression, but we were at least hoping he could bring a similar level of charm and charisma. As a swashbuckling anti-hero, Ford imbued Han with a smart-alec attitude, plenty of rudeness and a general lack of respect for authority, others and really anything that didn't directly benefit Han Solo. Sure, he turned it around in the end, but those core qualities were always on display and kept us on the edge of our seat in "A New Hope" when audiences were genuinely surprised to see him show up in the Falcon to save Luke Skywalker as the Rebels took on the Death Star.
"Solo" seems to want to tell us Han didn't become those things until sometime after the events of this movie, as he reminded us more of idealistic young Luke than grumpy Han. Everything he does for years after leaving Corellia is to make enough money to save Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra, and then he's absolutely committed to helping the fledgling rebellion right away.
Are we supposed to believe that her betrayal of him at the end is why he was such an ass to Princess Leia, Luke and everyone else he met along the way in the original trilogy? They're asking us to buy a complete personality shift from the do-gooder we see here in just a few short years, but that's just not likely. He's always been a good guy, but he's also always been a bit of an arrogant ass.
Han became the man we met in "A New Hope" precisely because he grew up on Corellia. It's a crime-ridden world with no morality of any kind, so he'd been hustling as long as he'd been alive. Yes, he'd made a connection to Qi'ra while there, but he is a smooth-talking, hustler from day one. He's Lando Calrissian, minus a lot of his charm. At least they got the fact that he's a terrible liar correct.
It seemed like every line from the commercial was shoehorned into its scene with almost no regard for what came before or after. Did Ron Howard start with those snippets and try to build a scene around them? When Han and Q'ira reconect and we get the moment where she says, "You look good. A little rough around the edges, but good." In the trailer, it looks like part of a meaningful conversation. In the film, it's an abrupt change of topic and shift that was glaring going into those lines and coming out. And that's just one example.
The dialogue all felt that way, like it was there to serve the story rather than the characters. In fact, almost no lines were wasted on any sort of character development, leaving it up to the cast to try and wring some emotional moments out of what they were given. Only one cast member was able to do that. For the rest, their job was to spout their lines and help set the film up for the next scene or moment. It made for an incredibly predictable and boring affair.
On top of that, a lot of the moments in the film were awkwardly edited together, which was maybe done on purpose to keep us awake trying to follow the logical gaps in the film. It got to the point it wasn't always clear who was where during the tragic sequence that took L3-37 from Donald Glover's Lando, or in the dramatic fight sequence between Han, Qi'ra and Paul Bettany's Dryden Vos.
Speaking of Vos, he was a total bore. The rebels that kept sabotaging all of Beckett's (Woody Harrelson) plots were far more interesting, and seemed far more dangerous. Bettany played Vos like a petulant child who threw temper tantrums -- that just happened to leave people dead -- when things didn't go his way. His characterization offered no more depth than that, and it was disappointing.
We can't even blame Bettany for it, as he gave us the character as written. He was so two-dimensional, though, he might as well have been a cackling cartoon villain twirling a long mustache. We'd have much rather they move up Han's connection with Jabba the Hutt and have him be the overlord behind the whole thing. We already know he has a thing for pretty girls, so having Qi'ra by his side would have made perfect sense.
Or they could have just leaned into the film's biggest surprise, the reveal of Darth Maul as Vos' boss and the apparent leader of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate. While it was a fun Easter egg when Qi'ra contacted him after she broke bad and abandoned Han to pursue her own ambitions, we'd have much rather seen Maul as the villain than Vos. Maybe Vos could have been dispatched earlier, forcing Maul to take matters into his own hands. Fans would have been way more enthusiastic about Han and Chewie matching wits with Darth Maul than this confusing cameo and the lame-o villain we got.
Nothing felt particularly dangerous, and even the deaths we did get were so obvious, we saw them coming from the moment the "Lucasfilm" logo appeared at the top of the film. In fact, the story was so by-the-book, there were no twists or turns or surprises of any kind, save the appearance of Darth Maul. And that was more about who the leader of Crimson Dawn was rather than Qi'ra betraying Han and making her own political power play. Again, it was all too obvious.
On top of that, it didn't feel like there were any real stakes in the film. The whole thing was an elaborate heist job followed by another elaborate heist job, both of which just facilitated the placement of these characters in diverse environments so fans can ooooh and aaaah at how pretty (or ugly) Lucasfilm can make worlds look. Even the fabled "Kessel run" was reduced to a quick maneuver that was neither tense nor particularly exciting. And yet, Han was still bragging about it years later.
There wasn't even an emotional response when Beckett's wife Val (Thandie Newton) died on the train job. The pilot died, too, but everyone seemed to have forgotten about it by the next scene because it was time to set up the next moment in this paint-by-numbers plot. Plus, since we were never given a reason to be invested in any of the characters or their relationships -- and apparently neither were they -- no one really cared.
THE RELATIONSHIPS WEREN'T BELIEVABLE AND LACKED CONFLICT
There were three key relationships in our mind that carried the movie, and all three of them could have been beefed up with conflict to be both more believe and more interesting.
First, there's the dynamic between Qi'ra and Han, which pretty much consisted of the two fawning over each other, first on Corellia, then three years later when they team up to take down Vos. But anyone who has ever been in love -- especially with someone just out of their grasp -- is aware of a very powerful emotion called jealousy, which can create a lot of conflict, yet was completely ignored by the writers. Not once did Han get uncomfortable with how close his girl was with her successful, powerful boss, and not once did he seem to question to whom her allegiances lie or take issue with the path she had taken since they lost touch. As a result, there wasn't much dramatic or even sexual tension between the two. In short, their relationship was super boring compared to Han's combative relationship with Princess Leia.
Then there's Han and Chewie -- perhaps the greatest bromance to ever unfold in a blockbuster saga. While we loved how "Solo" introduced the loveable wookie as a feared beast that killed Imperial prisoners, we didn't quite buy how quickly the pair bonded after their escape. Respect and trust has to be earned, and it's always more entertaining when it's a rocky road to friendship. Han also lobs his fair share of jabs at his furry friend in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, which was a dynamic we missed this time around. Some of the most human moments between Han and his alien partner came when they were at odds with each other, and it would have been fun to see these two bicker more early on in their relationship before having a mutual epiphany that they need each other to survive and navigate a very dangerous universe. More conflict between these two in the first two acts of the movie would have made it all the more powerful to see Chewie choose Han over his own kind at the end of the film.
Then there's Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who is basically the space scoundrel who taught Han how to be a space scoundrel. He gave Han a lot of 'tude before warming up to him, but it would have been nice to see one of the cockiest pilots in the "Star Wars" universe dish it right back. Even if we buy the excuse that he's young and still developing into the arrogant Han we know and love from "A New Hope," we can't accept Han's complete lack of emotional response -- any kind of emotion -- to Beckett betraying him. This is a scoundrel Han looked up to and deeply respected, so much so that Han was willing to have a price put on his head to help Beckett out. Beckett and his crew were basically the first family Han had ever known, yet there was no dark night of the soul when that father figure stabbed him in the back and took Chewie hostage. If we're to believe that "Solo" depicts the events that hardened Han into a committed criminal whose trust is not easily earned, then we need to see the death of his optimism. Shooting Beckett first could have been a powerful metaphor representing the death of Han's dream of a happy, peaceful existence alongside the love of his young life (who also didn't get much of an emotional reaction when she ditched him for the dark side of The Force!).
Subtext should be subtle. Perhaps even unspoken. It's the message that astute viewers pick up while reading between the lines; or pick up from the juxtaposition of visuals, themes and action unfolding on the screen. In short, good subtext is shown, not told. But of course, when pedaling products to the masses, studio movies tend to make the mistake of beating viewers over the head with whatever message the movie is trying to sell.
In "Solo," the subtext was spoken. Often and loudly.
Han is a good guy, folks, and in case you didn't know, Qi'ra went ahead and repeatedly told you that he's a good guy and he's going to do the right thing, even though we picked up on that as soon as he was willing risk his life to get her off their home planet.
Also, space scoundrels will betray and be betrayed. In case you didn't pick up on that through Beckett's actions, Woody Harrelson also went ahead and verbally confirmed that, too.
It would be really nice if filmmakers and the studio executives overseeing the projects trusted their audiences to pick up on these things, but that's probably a pipe dream these days, considering our ever-shortening attention span.
How did Han Solo get the Millennium Falcon? Check. How did Han and Chewie meet? Check. Wookies rip people's arms off. Check. And hate to lose at Dejarik (holo-chess). Check. Where did Chewie get his sash? Check. Lando pronounces Han with a short "a." Check. Does Han shoot first? Check. Who cheated at Sabacc? Check.
With the script moving stiltedly from one plot point to the next, it was also keen to check off each of the major questions fans have had about Han Solo, as if the movie was an encyclopedia entry rather than a film that's supposed to be exciting and compelling and make us want more.
It even made sure to leave us at the point he was about to go and try to work with Jabba the Hutt, and we already know how well that works out. Just about the only thing left was how he got that scar on his chin, and we already know the answer to that, too. He became Harrison Ford, and in so doing, far more interesting and watchable.
Let's be honest, the critics called it and we all kind of knew it was going to be true before we even bought our tickets to go see "Solo." Donald Glover was the real star of the film, and every moment that his Lando wasn't on the screen was a moment that was weaker for his absence. His very first line came before we saw him, and you could almost swear it was Billy Dee Williams talking.
But then, he came into view and it was all Donald Glover. More importantly, he proved it's possible to step into an iconic role made famous by an actor and make it both recognizable as that character and totally your own without trying to do an impression of the original. Glover wasn't putting on a Billy Dee Williams voice or characterization. He just embodied what it was that made Lando who he was. It's a subtle distinction, but one that proves a stronger actor than Ehrenreich (with a much better script) might have managed to pull off a stronger young Han Solo.
There's a reason people are now crying out for a "Lando" solo film over a sequel to this one. Even though the conflict was clearly set up with Qi'ra heading off to rise in the ranks at Crimson Dawn -- not to mention work with Darth Maul -- and Han off for his fateful meeting with Jabba the Hutt that puts him into seeming eternal debt to the giant slug, fans just aren't that invested in this version of Han Solo.
Admittedly, we just railed against fan service, but in this case we might encourage Lucasfilm to listen. "Solo" didn't do great at the box office, but that's no reason to abandon these plot threads. Lando was clearly smitten with Qi'ra, as he is with most sentient beings, so why not put him front and center in a "Lando" movie and Han can be a supporting player in his story.
And don't worry about serving up a bunch of answers about Lando's past, because we really don't care. We didn't even want all our questions about Han answered. Sometimes a little mystery in someone's past makes him or her more interesting. Was anyone thrilled that George Lucas gave us those three movies to tell us everything we never wanted to know about Anakin Skywalker? The main thing we learned is where Luke's whinyness came from.
Maybe just give us an exciting yarn and explore some new things, "Star Wars." That's what you were doing when we first met, and we absolutely fell in love with you. If you want to give us fan service, we'll take more of that, please.