Could ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Be Disney’s First True Flop?
As production wrapped on the upcoming Star Wars Han Solo anthology film, director Ron Howard treated fans with yet another minor tidbit about the film. In a video released on his Twitter account, Howard gave us the title of the upcoming movie featuring the franchise’s most famous scoundrel: Solo: A Star Wars Story. Yeah, that’s really the name they came up with. Kind of disappointing, to be honest.
But that’s not really the biggest reason to be worried about the next — and currently, only announced — Star Wars anthology film. We took a look at a handful of reasons to be concerned about Solo, which is amazingly scheduled to hit theaters in just a few short months. Could this end up being Disney’s first true Star Wars flop?
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First, let’s just get this out of the way: Harrison Ford is Han Solo. Alden Ehrenreich will be taking up the mantle in Solo, which is supposedly set 10 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Given that the character is supposed to be roughly 30 years old in the original film, that means Ehrenreich is to play a 20-year-old (and possibly also slightly older, as the movie goes on) Han Solo.
The character may not have been Ford’s first role back in 1977, but it was the one that propelled him to stardom. There’s no debating that Ford is the breakout star of the Star Wars franchise, going on to star in the Indiana Jones movies, Blade Runner, The Fugitive, and many others. He’s a beloved actor who many fans associate with the role, and that’s a steep uphill climb for Ehrenreich.
The best case scenario is hard to achieve, but it’s that he gives a perfect performance and gracefully adds to the character’s history. Anything less than that will be viewed as somewhat of a failure on the part of Disney, which would be tremendously unfair to Ehrenreich.
The first anthology film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, featured new characters within a timeframe that was familiar to Star Wars fans. It worked, with great success, thanks in large part to the background of the Death Star, the rebellion, and the way the movie succinctly leads into A New Hope. But Solo is a bit different.
This is a movie with characters with which we’re already familiar. Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian are introduced in the original trilogy, with their own beginning, middle, and end — or in Chewie’s case, no end yet. We immediately get all the backstory we need on Han; he’s a smuggler and a scoundrel, a rebel without a cause. Over four movies, he finds his heart, becomes a true rebel, falls in love, and gets murdered by his own son. Beginning, middle, and end.
A prequel to the Han Solo story — and that’s really all this movie is — only provides backstory that fans were better off not seeing on the big screen. Could it work? Sure. But after seeing George Lucas’ prequels, fans were painfully aware of why they never needed to see Darth Vader as a little boy or a whiny teenager. That may be where we’re headed with Solo, as well.
Why is Vader involved?
If you hadn’t heard, fans of Darth Vader will be getting a lot more of him on the big screen very soon. That includes a rumored appearance in Solo, which frankly makes very little sense. Why Disney would want to do it is clear; Rogue One’s Vader cameo was brief in total screen time but a major hit nonetheless. So why not find a way to shoehorn Vader into everything they do?
But it doesn’t work that way. Vader’s appearance in Rogue One was organic and a true fit, considering the timeline and story. In the original trilogy, we never got a sense that Han Solo had ever encountered Vader before or that he had any sort of Imperial trouble, minus him dropping a shipment at the first sight of a Star Destroyer. Would a small-time smuggler really be something that Vader is concerned with? We don’t think so, and writing Vader into Solo for a cameo feels like little more than fan-service.
Don’t get us wrong, having more Darth Vader on the big screen is very cool. In fact, we’d love it if Disney would just haul off and announce Vader: A Star Wars Story — only with a cooler title, maybe. But the rumors of his appearance in Solo, combined with how late into production those rumors first appeared, smack of desperation on the part of Disney.
Originally, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were tapped to direct Solo. Known for their success with 21 Jump Street, the idea seemingly was that Lord and Miller’s unique comedic style could turn the traditionally action-packed dramas with a side order of humor to a light-hearted comedy featuring the young smuggler. It made sense, even if the whole thing didn’t exactly feel like a Star Wars movie.
Apparently, Disney was less-than-thrilled with the way things were going. Lord and Miller were let go in the middle of production, with Ron Howard — known for Backdraft, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind — taking over the director’s chair. Edicts that actors were not allowed to ad-lib were made, and at least one actor — Michael K. Williams — was cut from the movie entirely.
Switching from Lord and Miller to Howard, in a vacuum, is not a bad thing. You could rightfully argue that Howard is a much more accomplished Hollywood director. But making a directorial switch — not to mention, a major change in tone — in the middle of production, well, that’s a huge red flag.
Not long after letting Lord and Miller go from the project, Disney brought in an acting coach for Ehrenreich. Remember earlier, the mention of how the actor needed to give a borderline perfect performance to be accepted by Star Wars fans as part of the Han Solo story? Having to hire an acting coach for Ehrenreich in the middle of production creates major concerns.
And again, this is all very unfair to the young actor. Even if he does give an excellent performance in the movie, he’s going to be judged more harshly because of the role he’s playing — just ask Hayden Christensen about that. Being Han Solo is as much about getting the tone of voice, the mannerisms, and the feel of the character right as delivering the lines. Can Erhenreich pull it off? Maybe he can, but it’s not going to be easy.
Messing with character development
Another thing that prequels often do — and the Star Wars prequels sometimes did — is mess with previously established storytelling. For example, in A New Hope Obi-Wan Kenobi has no clue who R2-D2 is, but the prequels show him spending plenty of time with the little droid. In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Leia mentions having memories of her birth mother, but in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith we learn that Padme died shortly after giving birth to Luke and Leia.
Important plot points? Not exactly. But still, as the years have gone on fans have become extremely comfortable with the story as they know it. For example, Disney had to reassure fans that Han Solo is the character’s actual name after briefly insinuating that it was actually something else.
What we already know of Han Solo and how we’re introduced to him in A New Hope is all the backstory we really need to understand what motivates him. Again, it’s not that a prequel that adds to the character is necessarily a bad thing. But changing that story in a meaningful way or messing with future character development would leave a bad taste in the mouths of fans.
A no-win situation
The truth of the matter is that Disney is in a no-win situation with Solo. That is, unless you count simply making a ton of money off one movie as a win — and maybe Disney does. But diving into the unknown life of a beloved character and completely botching it would be a dangerous precedent. That goes extra because of the money that stories based on other well-known characters, such as Obi-Wan, Yoda, or Darth Vader, could potentially make.
Unlike Han Solo, who already has a true introduction, a story arc, and an ending, those characters have timelines that are ripe for exploration. Kenobi’s story currently is missing 20 years while he dwells on Tatooine. We first meet Yoda when he’s already 850 years old and a Jedi Master, meaning there are plenty of early years to dive into. And don’t tell me that Vader’s time with the Empire as a Sith Lord isn’t worth fleshing out into a full movie.
But if Solo is a massive flop, there’s a very real chance we never get any of those movies. Failing to appease the fans will definitely direct the future of the anthology movies. It’s no coincidence that Disney has waited to officially announce its next film, currently projected to release in 2020. So for the sake of the franchise and the fans that love it, we’re hoping that Solo pulls off a one-in-a-million shot and becomes another huge success for Disney.
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