Why the Tanking of ‘Solo’ is a Force of Darkness for ‘Star Wars’
Is there a poetic meaning to box-office grosses? That sounds like a silly question, but I’m serious. Is there a value and a karma to the numbers beyond the obvious value, which is that movies need to make money, preferably a lot of it? (They’re too expensive to exist otherwise.) Blockbusters cost a fortune, both to create and to market, and if they don’t make that fortune back there’s a problem. If a franchise film isn’t successful — if it falls on its face — that may suggest the franchise is in trouble, that going forward it will have to fight to hold onto the popularity it once achieved with a snap of its fingers.
If you’re wondering whether that’s now going to be a problem for the “Star Wars” franchise, the answer, in any immediate sense, is probably no. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” had a disarmingly lackluster opening weekend, only to plunge to even more stunning levels of commercial indifference in its just-completed second frame. Yet it would be a naïve bit of Chicken Little to think that the Star Wars Cinematic Universe — that’s not what it’s called, but I’ve just named it that, since that’s what it now is — is somehow “in trouble.” With “Solo,” the “Star Wars” brand has been nicked and dinged; it may even have suffered a fender bender. But it will recover.
The rationalizations for the film’s failure have all been dutifully noted and proclaimed. It came out too soon after “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” generating a rare feeling of “Star Wars” overkill. The very public firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the project last June created a who’s-piloting-the-ship? aura around the movie (and Ron Howard, unfortunately, did not turn out to be the Han Solo — or the Victor Fleming — of co-pilots; his direction is earnest and sodden enough that you can’t help but wonder whether he just made it worse). And, of course, if you had to search the greater galaxy for the wrong actor to play the young Harrison Ford, you probably couldn’t do much better than Alden Ehrenreich, who may be a handsome dude but is — obviously! — too short, too scowlingly officious, not reckless-swaggery-rebel-dickish-cool enough. I do get that Han, in “Solo,” isn’t supposed to be fully formed yet, but Ehrenreich comes off like a preppie boy sent to do a man’s job.
When “Star Wars: Episode IX” gets released, in December 2019, the movie will suffer from none of those factors. It will have been a year-and-a-half since the previous “Star Wars” film, just enough of a yawning chasm to re-stoke everyone’s interest. The director will be J.J. Abrams, whose middle named might be “Reliable.” And since, unlike the stand-alone “Solo,” it’s the concluding chapter of a trilogy, how could anyone invested in the Stars Wars Cinematic Universe not go? We all lined up (God help us) to see all three of the Lucas prequels, because by the…