Solo: A Star Wars Story comes at a bit of a difficult time for Star Wars, although most of the franchise’s issues have been vastly blown out of proportion. All of the new films have been commercial and critical successes, grossing over a billion dollars each (with The Force Awakens becoming the 3rd-highest grossing film of all time) and have connected both with longtime fans as well as a new generation eager for their own Star Wars stories. But there have been bumps along the way for Disney, who took over the reins from George Lucas in 2012, magnified by a fanbase that is vocal and demanding, occasionally to the point of absurdity. There was an outcry when decades of Expanded Universe stories were struck from the canon, giving Lucasfilm and Disney a clean slate to start fresh with their own stories and timeline. The Force Awakens was an unprecedented smash, seemingly designed expressly to please longtime fans, but it had its detractors who complained that it was basically a rehash of A New Hope. Rogue One was likewise a hit, but stories of massive reshoots led to (untrue) rumors of a production troubled by interference from Disney, while some fans found the characters to be less compelling than the original heroes or the new trio from The Force Awakens. Then The Last Jedi dared to be different and bold, and critics responded with enthusiasm, but a vocal minority strongly objected to how the film handled Luke Skywalker and planned boycotts and sabotage of the film’s online ratings. The Star Wars fandom has never been more divided, and it has become impossible for the artists behind these films to please everyone.
Of course, that was never really possible, but the internet magnifies the voices of the angry while ignoring the voices of the masses who seem to have generally enjoyed everything they’ve been given so far. We live in an age where fandoms increasingly claim ownership of the things they love, and the expectation has grown that studios have an obligation to deliver exactly the film that each individual wants, just as they had always imagined it in their head, regardless of the fact that there are thousands of different viewpoints about the “correct” direction of the franchise. These people want to only focus on characters from the original trilogy, those people want to honor the prequels, others just want to see the new heroes. These people want family films, others want R-rated “adult” movies. These people want movies about the Force and the Jedi, others want to spend time in the world of bounty hunters and smugglers. Some want Old Republic movies, others want to fill the gaps between the prequels and the original trilogy, while more would rather see what happened after the fall of the Empire. Some want the movies to have a political side, the way George Lucas intended, while others take any instance of inclusive representation of women, people of color, or LGBT individuals as a “SJW” or “Feminazi” agenda from people who only want things to be “PC”. Star Wars is such a broad franchise, with so many diverse fans, that no movie will ever satisfy everyone. Yet everyone expects every movie to satisfy them personally. It’s a lose-lose situation.
All of this is to say that Solo: A Star Wars Story, much like Avengers: Infinity War, does not exist in a bubble, and it’s impossible to try to completely separate the film from the context in which it exists. Solo comes in with its own set of burdens that could potentially threaten its success alongside the current state of the film industry and the Star Wars fandom. Its production featured the departure of its original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, partway through filming over “creative differences”, leading to Ron Howard stepping in to finish the film, while early negative fan reactions to the film’s lead fueled rumors of acting coaches and major concerns by Disney. And then there’s the constant talk that “nobody asked for this,” that a film about Han Solo’s origins was not something people particularly desired to see. But my goal is always to take each movie at face value, judged not on everything that went on behind-the-scenes, or the prevailing winds of the current internet conversation, with the hope of enjoying it. The fact that Solo works pretty well is a testament to the creative forces behind it, as well as the guiding hands of producer Kathleen Kennedy, who has stuck to her guns as the president of Lucasfilm and who has a vision of the types of Star Wars movies she wants to see made. Solo is a fun adventure, filled with the action and humor we expect from Star Wars, punctuated by moments of connection that enrich these characters we know so well, and holding a few surprise cards up its sleeve. It may be the “safest” Star Wars movie yet, in that it is neither revolutionary nor particularly challenging, without as much to say as earlier films, but it’s an enjoyable ride that combines the new with the familiar in unexpected ways.
I’ve had all sorts of thoughts rattling around in my head since I first saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I gave it an A in my review, and I stand by that, especially as a reflection of how I feel about the film having now seen it twice. On the other hand, I don’t think Rogue One is necessarily that great of a movie either. It has some major character development issues that are for me its biggest shortcoming, particularly when held up to The Force Awakens whose greatest assets was its characters. So I wanted a chance to talk about the things I love about Rogue One, the things that frustrate me about it, and any other observations I might have. (I did something similar for The Force Awakens.) Needless to say there will be Spoilers Below for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Here, in no particular order, are some Rogue One thoughts and opinions that continue to clog up my brain. And of course, keep in mind that all of this is coming from someone who unashamedly loves the prequels.
In my youth I read every Star Wars novel I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with the Expanded Universe and the opportunity it represented to give me more of my beloved trilogy of films, at least until such time as George Lucas saw fit to give us those long-promised extra episodes. I loved reading about the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, R2, 3PO, and the rest, their children, and the extended Skywalker family’s attempts to bring peace to that galaxy far, far away. But my favorite books often didn’t involve the saga’s familiar bands of heroes and villains at all, instead focusing on a minor character from the films or telling the story of a previously unexplored event or location in the world of the movies. When Disney bought Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars, they sadly but wisely did away with the Expanded Universe, relegating it to the Star Wars Legends label and removing it from the official canon in order to clear the way for The Force Awakens. It made lots of sense, as it would have been impossible to work the new films around the intricate and even sometimes contradictory narrative that had been created by the countless books, but it was hard to see these stories that I’d (mostly) loved stripped of their official status and turned into a tantalizing “what if” outlining an alternate take on the Star Wars mythology. Despite the Star Wars universe losing a good deal of depth and color without the EU, Disney now finds itself with new avenues of storytelling open to it, and the opportunity to flesh out the saga in a more cohesive way. It’s already started this process with a new series of books that weave in and out of the films and TV series that make up the new official Star Wars canon, but their newest and biggest push to once again plumb those unexplored depths has arrived in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a bold move, giving audiences a big screen event film with Star Wars in the title, yet featuring almost none of the saga’s main characters, placing it alongside the series’ other 7 live-action films as an equal, yet not advancing the main story of the Skywalker family, requiring a little work and understanding from viewers as to how it relates to its cinematic brethren, all while hoping to launch a new method of Star Wars storytelling as well as a new way to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars. In the end, Rogue One is a success, telling an exciting and compelling story that enriches the universe without distracting from the ongoing main saga, and I can’t help but feel like it’s the cinematic equivalent of those novels I loved as a kid, which explored moments, issues, and characters that would never be worthy of inclusion alongside the Skywalkers, but which nevertheless contributed to those iconic stories by bringing the surrounding world to life. Continue reading
I’ll be honest, since Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was first officially announced a little over a year ago it became my most anticipated Star Wars movies, far more than The Force Awakens. As much as I enjoyed that film, Rogue One was always easier for me to get excited about. I love the idea of exploring the vast Star Wars universe without having to be tied into the story of the Skywalker family (in the way many of the books did), and with the departure of George Lucas I was less worried about whether or not Rogue One is the “true” version of the story. Canon has always been important to me, so the fact is that I’ll never be as attached the main series of new films the way others might be, no matter how much I enjoy them. But I am 100% behind Rogue One, whose first trailer debuted this morning and which promises a very different take on Star Wars than we’ve ever seen before. Take a look at the trailer below and tell me what you think, and then check back later in the week for a more in-depth analysis complete with screencaps (I keep wracking up more articles to write, don’t I?). As for my first thoughts, it’s definitely thrilling, and I love how it’s going out of its way to give us a different view of events with which we’re somewhat familiar. It’s trying very hard to differentiate itself from the main series of films, which is definitely a good thing. Plus I’m already rooting for Felicity Jones’ character, Jyn Erso, and more strong female protagonists can only be a good thing!