There’s no denying that Solo: A Star Wars Story was an unmitigated disaster for Disney and Lucasfilm. The science fiction movie grossed just $393.2 million worldwide – making it the lowest-grossing live-action Star Wars movie ever – against a rumoured production budget of at least $275 million. No matter how you try to slice that (even with a lightsaber), that’s not good.
Several reasons have been put forward to justify Solo’s poor financial performance, with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy recently suggesting in an interview with Vanity Fair that audiences didn’t like seeing their favourite Star Wars characters recast. “There should be moments along the way when you learn things,” Kennedy said. “Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t [recast old actors].”
Well, with the greatest of respect Ms Kennedy, that’s a load of bantha poodoo and demonstrates that those in charge of a galaxy far, far, away don’t understand what’s really force-choking the life out of this beloved sci-fi series. What’s really damaging Star Wars is poisonous nostalgia and unadventurous storytelling that panders to a vocal minority in the fan base.
Now for the record, I like Solo. I think its poor performance at the box office was really unfair. The thing I like most about Solo, though, is the cast. Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and the rest are really likeable and do a great job with the material they’ve been given.
The issue is that the material they were given wasn’t very good, with the story being so cliched I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was written by an AI that scrapes fan forums for the worst ideas and moulds them into a screenplay. Solo took everyone’s favourite nerf-herding smuggler and completely demystified him by explaining in immaculate detail every single thing about him.
Seriously, the only thing they didn’t bother to explain in that film is where he got his natty vests. Basically, Han Solo met Chewbacca and Lando, won the Millennium Falcon, and did the Kessel Run in a single afternoon. Who thought that was a good idea? I’ll tell you: someone who was more concerned with what fans wanted to see than telling a good standalone story.
Solo could have worked had the writers not felt they had to make it an origin story – we knew everything we needed to know about Han’s origin when we met him in Mos Eisley – and just made it a fun adventure featuring our favourite smuggler. The issue was never Ehrenreich. It was the script. Solo isn’t the only example of the creative minds at Lucasfilm pandering to what fans think they want.
Lucasfilm followed Solo up with The Rise of Skywalker, the worst Star Wars movie ever made. Now we won’t get into the Last Jedi debate here (It’s a fantastic movie, is all you need to know), but it’s hard to watch that film and then The Rise of Skywalker and not think that Lucasfilm was doing some serious damage control.
The film basically drops all of Rian Johnson’s captivating and subversive ideas to instead pander to a vocal section of the fan base. As such, the film suffers from weird narrative whiplash as it desperately tries to course-correct, stuffing the cracks in its story with references to earlier films in the hopes you won’t notice what a terrible movie they’ve made.
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That’s why the disillusionment of Luke Skywalker, the tragedy of Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side, and Rey questioning the orthodoxy of the Jedi and Sith debate are all dropped. They were new and risky, and the people running Star Wars are risk-averse.
That’s how Palpatine “somehow” returned, not because it made sense but because it gave the sci-fi movie a superficial resemblance to what had come before. That’s why Rey was revealed to have some great lineage, because that’s what the fans thought they wanted.
It’s cowardly, unambitious filmmaking that spits in the face of what George Lucas did when he pulled the rug from under everyone in The Empire Strikes Back by having the good guys lose and Darth Vader revealing himself to be Luke’s father.
All I can say is thank god social media didn’t exist in 1980; otherwise, Return of the Jedi would have ended with Luke learning his real dad was Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo getting force powers.
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This nostalgic position is even creeping into the Star Wars Disney Plus series. The Mandalorian’s first season managed to shake off the comfortable weighted blanket of nostalgia, but we saw with the second series Lucasfilm just can’t help themselves. Luke Skywalker’s appearance in the season 2 finale was a fun cameo, but we should have seen it as an omen of things to come.
Sure enough, when The Book of Boba Fett debuted, we got CGI homunculus Luke back, but he wasn’t alone. We also got Ashoka, Mando, and Grogu back because we’re now apparently nostalgic for things from less than 12 months ago.
Why couldn’t The Book of Boba Fett have the courage of its core concept and just be about the galaxy’s best bounty hunter trying to become a crime lord? Because Lucasfilm is worried that you’ll change the channel if you don’t see something you recognise.
But the success of The Last Jedi at the box office should demonstrate to Disney and Lucasfilm that people like things that are different, even if they don’t know it. It’s a bit like forcing a kid to eat vegetables. Sure they might demand sweets and ice cream, but kids – like Star Wars fans – don’t always know what’s good for them. That’s the lesson you should have learned, Ms Kennedy.