I liked it, quite a bit in places, and (snarking aside) I can also see why it did (relatively) underwhelming business in its first weekend: it’s light in the way Star Wars films haven’t been before. Star Wars films have had humor, and have had snark, and have had quips and banter (usually through the graces of Lawrence Kasdan, who also offers them here in conjunction with his son Jonathan), and even have merchandise-ready cuddly creatures. But the core of Star Wars films is always something serious — the rise and fall of families and empires and personal morality.
It sets a tone, and that tone’s consistent through Star Wars films, until this one. This one flips the script: It’s got skullduggery and betrayal and death and personal sacrifice, but the core is weightless, and so everything ultimately feels consequenceless. This is a Boy’s Own Action Film, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except that’s all it is in the end, and — surprisingly! — I think many of us implicitly or explicitly expect more, or at least, different, from the Star Wars universe.
Does this mean the film is a failure, or a disappointment? Taken on its own terms, and considered as its own film independent of the Star Wars context, I don’t think so. This film is aggressively competent; it hits its marks. The action is sufficiently actiony, the acting is actual acting, the pacing is perfectly pace-y, and there’s no one place where the film falls down for me. It’s very fine summer entertainment and on that score I don’t think anyone involved should feel like they’ve done anything wrong. This is a film director Ron Howard, one of the most consummate directors working, could have done with his eyes closed, even if he hadn’t parachuted in at the eleventh hour to take over from the film’s previous directors. I can’t imagine that Howard, whose first film as a director was the Roger Corman-produced quickie Grand Theft Auto, didn’t enjoy directing those speeder chase scenes. It was like going home for him.
(While I’m at it, “taken on its own terms” is one reason why my intern’s review here was positive — as she notes in her review, she’s not nearly as steeped into the Star Wars universe as many other people, including me. She’s not carrying around the baggage of expectation. It makes a difference.)
All of this raises the question of whether Star Wars films should have the burden of their franchise’s particular thematic gravity. Why can’t you have a light, zippy, largely consequence-free story like Solo in this universe? Well, maybe you can: Solo will likely clear $200 million globally before Friday, and Solo has the reasonable good fortune of not having any film opening this weekend being a potential blockbuster, so it’s a decent bet it’ll stay at number one. The weekend after that the big film (Ocean’s 8) skews into a largely different demographic. So that’s two weekends for Solo to make up a bit of ground before The Incredibles 2 comes to snag its audience. If its box office grosses don’t drop too steeply this next weekend, or the weekend after, it might actually end up doing just fine overall, if (realistically) still well below other films in its franchise. If Solo earns out in theatrical, then the possibility for more Star Wars films like it isn’t entirely off the table, with some appropriate tweaking in the story and script stages.
Even if Solo does eventually — and again relatively — faceplant at below $250 million domestically and below $500 million globally, remember that Disney will still make money on the film when ancillary, merchandising and licensing is all hauled in. In other words, don’t cry for Disney, or LucasFilm, or for anyone else involved in the film. They’re all just fine. Solo will be to Star Wars what Cars is to Pixar: Valuable not for the theatrical box office, but everything else.
That said, I do think Solo flying in a bit lower than other Star Wars films should appropriately give LucasFilm a tiny bit of a pause for introspection. Were I giving Kathleen Kennedy advice, I would tell her three things: One, space your Star Wars films twelve months apart (December has been really good to the Star Wars franchise recently; don’t mess with that); Two, pay attention to overall tone so that the all the Star Wars films are consistent even when you’re trying for a little bit lighter; Three, the rest of Disney’s release schedule is not your friend. Avengers: Infinity War sucked up more than a little PR/marketing oxygen from Solo ahead of its release; The Incredibles 2 is sucking up that oxygen post-release (this is another reason to stay in December). Disney is now big enough to cannibalize itself, and I think that’s relevant to Solo, and the Star Wars franchise in general.
(Also I would tell her not to listen to the whiny manbabies posing as Star Wars fans on the Internet, stomping their feet about everything they stomp their feet about. But I expect if I did so Ms. Kennedy would look at me crossly for assuming she actually would listen to them; she’s smarter than that.)
In short: Solo: Perfectly good! I liked it! Only sort of what I come to Star Wars films for! Which is fine, and also possibly a teachable moment for the people making the films. I’ll be interested in how the next “Star Wars Story” film goes.
(Update, 6/2/18: Looks like Solo is dropping something like 66% in its second weekend, for an estimated weekend take of $28 million. Which is… not good. We’re looking at the faceplant scenario at this point.)