Solo: A Star Wars Story is the only installment in the Star Wars franchise that has been largely forgotten since its release – why did it fail? .
Very recently I embarked on a rewatch of Solo: A Star Wars Story – a film I hadn’t seen since it was released in 2018. Considering how little discussion there is, it’s surprising to think it’s been released so recently, but the Han Solo prequel starring Alden Ehrenreich has been largely left out of Star Wars discourse. At the time, it was one of the most expensive films ever made (with an estimated production budget of over $275 million). Grossing $393.2 million worldwide, it became the franchise’s number one box office bomb.
But why did he fail? And did he deserve it?
It’s no secret that the film was plagued with issues throughout production, which began in January 2017. In June, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who of course worked on The Lego Movie and 21 jump street) were fired by Disney, who gave the typical “creative differences” reason, and were quickly replaced by Ron Howard, who completed the remainder of filming and presided over five weeks of reshoots. The Hollywood Reporter claimed that the creative differences between Lord and Miller and Disney were due to Kathleen Kennedy’s dissatisfaction with the directors’ time to shoot, as well as the lack of various camera setups they used on set and to their style of improvisation.
Lord and Miller said they never had enough time to film in the first place and severely restricted creative freedom.
The directors weren’t the only victims of the end-of-production changes. LucasFilm replaced Solooriginal editor, Chris Dickens (who worked on the Michael Fassbender-directed film macbeth) with Oscar winner and frequent Ridley Scott collaborator Pietro Scalia. An acting coach was also brought in very late in filming to help Alden Ehrenreich, who was not giving the performance LucasFilm had wanted.
Huge changes to the character of antagonist Dryden Vos were also made in the reshoots. The late Michael K. Williams was originally cast in the role, with him meant to be a half-human, half-lion alien character. Williams was unavailable for reshoots due to scheduling conflicts, so he was summarily replaced by Paul Bettany. The character was drastically changed as a result, becoming the much more human iteration seen in the finished product.
With the production troubled from the start, it would be easy to blame behind-the-scenes bickering for the film’s box office failure and its forgettable nature. But let’s look at the movie itself, which in my opinion isn’t as bad as some make it out to be.
It is ironic that Kathleen Kennedy recently quoted Solo’Box office failure is the reason LucasFilm can’t recast characters and has to rely on CGI and deepfakes. Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover’s performances as Han and Lando Calrissian are by far the best and most memorable part of the film.
The apprehension felt by the public at the idea that an actor should live up to Harrison Ford has proven to be completely unfounded. Ehrenreich brings buckets of charisma to the role and is in every way a perfect young Han. He’s easily matched (maybe even surpassed) by Glover as Lando, who had clearly studied Billy Dee Williams’ performance and incorporated many of his mannerisms while making it his own. It’s a shame that this film seems to have unfairly affected Ehrenreich’s career. In 2023, he will appear in Elizabeth Banks’ cocaine bear and Christopher Nolan Oppenheimer – these will be the first films he has been in since Solo.
The film’s problems, as with many blockbusters, stem from the script.
Mischievous charm is central to Han’s character, and any prequel should feature a thrilling lawless smuggling adventure from start to finish. What we got was a narrative that clung to explaining every facet of his past. We needed a story for Han’s last name and how he got his lucky dice as much as we needed the story behind Poirot’s mustache (sorry, Kenneth Branagh).
Although the narrative centers on Han coming in with a gang of criminals and becoming beholden to a violent mobster, there is a surprising lack of tension and threat. Bettany’s antagonist falls a bit flat, and too much of the story focuses on getting coaxium, or hyperfuel, to power ships. We are repeatedly told that it is highly volatile, prone to exploding if stored at the wrong temperature, yet this never looks like a tangible problem. The danger is over-explained instead of being felt.
However, the performances of the talented cast and the fundamentally enjoyable plot make Solo deserves to be revisited.
Woody Harrelson plays his usual type as smuggler Beckett, and he doesn’t disappoint. Even the barely present secondary characters are played by big names, like Thandiwe Newton as Val and Erin Kellyman as the leader of the rebel group The Cloud Riders. Let’s also not forget Darth Maul’s excellent cameo, with The Phantom Menace actor Ray Park and The Clone Wars voice actor Sam Witwer both return to the role. With no tension and unpredictable story, the film becomes character driven, and it’s the performances that really hold everything together.
It should also be noted that Solo came out just a few months later The Last Jedi, by far the most controversial of the Star Wars films. Its box office downfall could easily be down to fan mistrust, as much as anything wrong with the film itself.
Solo: A Star Wars Story may not be the strongest installment in the franchise, but it took a huge risk in recasting beloved characters that paid off massively. Too bad the studio seems to have learned all the wrong lessons.
Hopefully, that’s not the end of LucasFilm’s desire to explore this period in Star Wars history. On their 2020 Investor Day, Disney announced that a lando The series is in the works and should be released on Disney +. Not much information is available on the series, but hopefully that might include Glover’s young Lando. Although I guess with LucasFilm it might as well be some weird CGI’d Billy Dee Williams.
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