It’s a question I’ve been asking myself after seeing SOLO: A Star Wars Story and reading the mixed reactions to the film from fans. While The Last Jedi was the most divisive Star Wars film since The Phantom Menace, it was much more than just a case of ‘failed expectations’. With Solo a lot of fans had zero expectations since it wasn’t a film a lot of fans even thought should be made, but a lot of fans really enjoyed it – myself included.
My review of the film shows that I do not think it’s an amazing Star Wars movie as it still has many flaws, but compared to The Last Jedi I felt that it really brought back the fun to Star Wars that’s been missing for quite awhile. This opinion isn’t held by everyone of course as there are many fans who didn’t enjoy the film and thought it was terrible. What’s interesting is that a lot of the things fans who enjoyed the film liked about it are the same things that fans who didn’t like the film hated about it.
We are now 4 films in to the Disney-era of Star Wars (The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi & Solo) with many more on the way including Episode IX, Rian Johnson’s trilogy, a Kenobi movie and a Boba Fett movie to name a few, and we’re at a bit of a crossroads right now as Star Wars fans since Solo under performed pretty substantially – which is being blamed on everything but fans just not wanting to see the movie. Star Wars fans are not the type of fans to sit something out. If you put out a new Star Wars movie they’re going to go to it – unless it’s Solo. This brings up the reality that either Star Wars is losing popularity with mainstream audiences (in part due to Star Wars fatigue) or Star Wars fans are just not going to go see everything Lucasfilm & Disney put out.
I think it might be a little bit of both scenarios going on right now and I don’t think anyone knows exactly what that means for the future of Star Wars.
As I read negative reviews of the film and disagree with a lot of the points made, I start to realize that this is probably how fans of The Last Jedi felt when other fans disagreed with them about not liking the movie. Personally I can’t stand The Last Jedi at this point. I think it’s an awful film (regardless of being Star Wars) and I cringe to think of Rian Johnson helming a new trilogy of Star Wars movies.
But you see, while I and many others hated that movie, there are a ton of fans who loved it. Solo is the same way right now.
So between fans just not liking it for one reason or another, and a lot of fans just not turning out to see it at all, Disney and Lucasfilm have to be scratching their heads and wondering something along the lines of ‘what went wrong’?
I’m not sure there is an easy answer to that question, but I do think that it has a lot to do with the politicization of Star Wars and using it to push certain agendas. While Solo didn’t feel quite as ‘hit you over the head’ with it as The Last Jedi did, there was a certain droid in the mix in Solo who represented a very specific voice in modern politics and social discussions. It’s this type of blatant insertion of modern political and social ideas that will undoubtedly date this movie.
When George Lucas made the prequel trilogy many people accused him of racial stereotypes, such as Jar Jar Binks and the Gungans being Jamaican, the Neimoidians being Asian and Watto being Jewish. When you watch those films it’s easy to see why people might think that about those characters, but Lucas denied it all saying that he never intended for any alien race to mirror any real-world race of people in a derogatory and negative way. Regardless of Lucas’ intent, some of the characters do come across as racial stereotypes and because of this it hurts the films and dates them in a way that makes them lack the universal appeal of the original Star Wars films – not to mention they’re really just not as good.
Something similar is happening with Disney’s Star Wars movies and a lot of fans do not like it. While it’s important to include and feature women and minorities in Star Wars stories, you can do it without being so blatant about it. I’m not going to sit here and accuse Lucasfilm of some SJW conspiracy like some fans have, but I am going to note that in a film like The Last Jedi it’s very obvious to see the male characters depicted as inept and incapable while the female characters are depicted as infallible.
While I’m all for strong and smart women in stories, it serves no one if you simply flip the dynamic and make men dumb to showcase how smart your female characters are. Go back and watch The Last Jedi and you’ll see how incompetent Poe, Finn, Luke, Hux and Kylo are yet Leia, Holdo, Rose and Rey are the ones who save the day and keep the men from screwing everything up. It’s ridiculous. Yet it’s this type of blatant reverse discrimination and sexism that has some fans up in arms over Disney’s Star Wars. In addition the public responses from people like Rian Johnson, J.J. Abrams, Pablo Hidalgo and other Lucasfilm representatives calling fans who didn’t like the new films sexist, racist and ignorant doesn’t help matters either.
But it’s not just about political agendas, the new Star Wars films have largely been lacking really great storytelling. The Force Awakens was literally a rehash of the original Star Wars almost beat for beat while The Last Jedi imitated many scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi while simultaneously ignoring most major plot points from the previous film. Rogue One has been criticized for having a weak story (personally I disagree and it’s my favorite of the new films) as has Solo.
All of this leads me to my original question about what we should expect from a Star Wars film. With amazing writing and storytelling going on with shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Westworld and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans have become accustomed to a level of storytelling that Star Wars just hasn’t reached in any of its modern incarnations. That can be chalked up to Star Wars being aimed at children of course and adults wanting a more sophisticated Star Wars film (much like Empire) but being disappointed with paper thin plots and characters and no real stakes beyond the killing off of the original cast – another aspect that has a lot of fans upset with Disney and Lucasfilm these days. While I’m not implying that the original trilogy rivals that level of storytelling, it does maintain a level that appeals to all ages more-so than these modern films do.
With Jon Favreau’s live action Star Wars TV series being based around the dark underbelly of the Star Wars Universe, and Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss working on a new series of Star Wars films, adult fans may get their wish. But is it too little too late? With the box office numbers of Solo so low compared to previous Star Wars films, are we seeing a new trend that is going to continue or is this just a one-off Star Wars movie that a lot of fans just weren’t interested in going to see at the theater?
It’s hard to say right now and only time will tell if Disney & Lucasfilm can revisit the success of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and even Rogue One.
When Star Wars was at its peak in the late 70’s and early 80’s there were 3 year gaps between movies leaving fans wanting more. With Solo being released just over 5 months after The Last Jedi, it’s entirely possible that the world can have too much Star Wars. Although the hardcore fans are always willing to see anything Star Wars, the general population may just start seeing Star Wars as another brand like Marvel, DC, Pixar or Disney itself without the need to invest in every single thing that is released. If this is the case Disney and Lucasfilm may have to re-evaluate what they gauge as a successful Star Wars film. They have to know that The Force Awakens was a one-time thing and that what followed would never reach that level of success again. After all, it had been 10 years since the last Star Wars movie and the first time fans would see the original cast return to their respective roles since 1983.
When I went to see The Last Jedi my expectations were only that I wanted to see a good Star Wars movie. I wanted something new and different yet also something that felt like Star Wars. What I got undermined those expectations but also gave me a film that did not feel like a Star Wars movie and in my opinion ruined one of the greatest characters in cinematic history (Luke Skywalker). It felt to me like a weak story with awful humor and dialogue and a lack of respect for the source material.
It seems that’s what some fans are feeling about Solo. I can respect that, but I don’t agree with it. I enjoyed Solo on a surface level and while the film doesn’t hold up to scrutiny as being a great movie when you really break down certain plot points and story elements, it had enough of the feel of Star Wars to bring me joy and to have fun with the characters. Maybe it was my lack of expectations that allowed me to enjoy it compared to The Last Jedi, or maybe it is just a better movie (personally I feel it is). Whatever the case, I walked out of Solo wanting to see the movie again while walking out of The Last Jedi had me contemplating walking away from Star Wars for good.
So are we expecting too much from these films? Will there ever be a perfect Star Wars movie ever again? I doubt it.
What’s unique about Star Wars is that it’s such a big universe that you can go in just about any direction with it. With The Force Awakens J.J. Abrams wanted to stick as close to the original trilogy as he could while Rogue One went in a somewhat new direction by making Star Wars darker and grittier and showing us a side of the galaxy we hadn’t really seen on screen before. The Rebels cartoon series and the upcoming Resistance cartoon series are examples of putting a different spin on Star Wars as well.
It’s something that few franchises and brands have the opportunity to explore but something that Star Wars has been able to do and will continue to do. The difference in the Disney-era of Star Wars is that we’re going to see more live-action TV series and movies that are going to be very different than the movies we’re used to seeing.
While this is upsetting to many fans it is this opportunity that will allow Star Wars to be enjoyed by all kinds of different people in different ways. And there will be so much of it that if you don’t like one thing you can always like something else. I believe that ultimately that is what Lucasfilm and Disney are striving for – a plethora of Star Wars content that is accessible to everyone on some level.
What I think is important as a fan to remember is that you don’t have to like anything and everything Star Wars to call yourself a fan – just enjoy what you like and let other fans enjoy what they like.
I feel Star Wars is going through a growth period right now and everyone is trying to figure out what Star Wars means to them. Some feel that nothing but the Original Trilogy will ever be Star Wars to them, others feel that anything and everything Star Wars is awesome. Still others prefer the Extended Universe while other fans just like the new movies and aren’t really that interested in the OT and prequels.
What we as fans have to do is respect each other and know that not everything that is Star Wars is made for us. It’s a big world and it’s a big galaxy. Let other people enjoy their slice of the pie just like you enjoy yours. None of us own Star Wars, but all of us do. It’s a concept that I hope more fans will start to understand and appreciate as the Star Wars Universe grows exponentially over the next decade.
I do think it’s important for Lucasfilm to stop trying to politicize Star Wars and just tell good stories. It’s also important that they listen to their fans and stop insulting them because they don’t like X, Y or Z. Respect goes both ways and as much as it’s important for fans to respect other fans as well as the storytellers, it’s also important for Lucasfilm to respect those same fans.
There are of course the individuals who just want to argue, fight, name-call and attack. I don’t consider those people fans, just angry individuals looking to share their pain with others.
For now we just have to deal with the growing pains and hope that we can all get through it together and come out on the other side still fans and friends. That being said, may the Force be with you!