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.