Production officially wrapped this week on the Han Solo origin film (aka Solo: A Star Wars Story), to the resounding sound of crickets. This is a movie that LucasFilm and Disney chose to make, for reasons only they could tell you (it’s related to money). The more important question, however, is this a movie that fans needed (or even wanted)? Hardcore Star Wars fans might be drooling over the prospect of witnessing how Han Solo won the Milennium Falcon in a card game or his record-breaking Kessel Run — though it’s hard to imagine such minutiae driving mainstream audiences into theaters.
When LucasFilm announced their “Anthology Series” initiative, at the Anaheim Star Wars Celebration event in 2015, there was a lot of understandable fanfare and hype. Stand-alone stories exploring secondary characters and plot points from the first six Star Wars films — but really only the episodes IV-VI — was kind of intriguing. Unfortunately, fanfare and hype doesn’t necessarily beget great films.
Rogue One was the first movie to debut under the anthology banner, and it depicted a key, canonical plot point, which literally leads into the opening moments of the original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). The problem was, Rogue One didn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know, which essentially sums up the whole premise of these anthology films: an all-you-can eat buffet of nostalgia, spectacle, and easter eggs. Rogue One was a solid sci-fi/action film, and according to Box Office Mojo, made over $1 billion worldwide (on a $200 million budget) — apparently, Star Wars fans are A-OK with gap-filling narratives… but is there enough hunger for all things Rebel, Jedi, and Empire to propel Solo?
Aside from Rogue One, it’s been an uphill battle to get other anthology films moving forward (Yoda, Boba Fett, Obi-Wan, and yes even Jabba the Hutt have been rumored). Only the Han Solo film has even gotten out of the blocks thus far — and as has been well-reported, this movie struggled mightily until veteran filmmaker Ron Howard came aboard very late in the process. According to Omega Underground, Howard was compelled to reshoot much of the film due to problems with its previous creative team. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, or at least lowered expectations. To be fair, around this time last year, similar questions were asked about Rogue One.
The issue these anthology films raise is existential for LucasFilm, Disney, and Hollywood too (many legacy properties not named Star Wars have struggled to extend, reboot, or remake themselves). In other words, do audiences really need to see every Star Wars detail or throwaway line spun-off into its own thing? Given declining theater audiences and the rise of streaming services, how films like Solo perform will inform the future of suddenly shaky franchises like James Bond, Transformers, Planet of the Apes, etc.
If Solo fails to outperform Rogue One does that doom Boba Fett (or whatever the next anthology film might or might not be about)? Given the state of the domestic box office today, it’s unclear. Audiences are becoming more fickle, and delivering more of the same might not be the best way forward. The Last Jedi hits this December, and it has mega-blockbuster written all over it… the fate of Solo: A Star Wars Story is not so evident, but that story could change based on the merits of its forthcoming trailer (whenever that is).
Solo: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on May 25, 2018.
Directed by Ron Howard (Splash, Apollo 13), screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan, music composed by John Powell. Starring Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, Woody Harrelson as Beckett, and Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca.