There’s a new Star Wars out, have you seen it yet? It’s more likely than ever that the answer is “no.” Solo: A Star Wars Story, the origin tale of everyone’s favourite stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder, has been struggling hard at the box office since its release.
What’s behind the audience apathy? Franchise fatigue? Residual disappointment with The Last Jedi? Or is Solo just not resonating enough for moviegoers to see it multiple times, as with previous Star Wars films? Solo went through some highly-publicised developmental shakeups: It was originally helmed by Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were replaced mid-shooting with veteran director Ron Howard.
Kotaku‘s Chris Person, Tim Rogers, and Chris Kohler sat down to chat about Solo recently, and here’s what transpired.
Chris Kohler: So, my top-line feeling is that Solo: A Star Wars Story is not a bad movie. I think the characters are believable, I think the story makes sense, I think it’s a decent stab at telling Han Solo’s origin story.
However, I couldn’t help but walking away with a few misgivings about the whole thing, feeling like the story could have been told a lot better. Before we get into the specifics, what were your general takeaways?
Chris Person: I want whatever movie Lord and Miller were going to make but we didn’t get that and I’m not terribly upset with what I watched.
Chris Kohler: Yes. Seeing those few scenes where Lord and Miller’s fingerprints were still there was bitter sweet, in that regard. I, too, wanted that movie.
Tim Rogers: As I said on Twitter, I liked it “a perhaps unhealthy amount.” As I also said on Twitter, it felt like “a big crackly-plastic-box Disney VHS tape for Weird Adults.”
Chris Kohler: Well, I can’t imagine not diving deeper into that, so why don’t you expand on that thought, Tim?
Tim Rogers: I have loved weird pulp adventure stories for as long as I’ve loved any stories at all, and so I just sort of can’t get enough of big loud stories where a bunch of stuff doesn’t add up.
I am saying I appreciated all the broken or half-done things in this movie. I am sure Lord and Miller’s film would have been Perfectly Very Cute and maybe I’d like it more, though I loved this weird dumb movie a lot.
What scenes would you say had the most apparent Lord and Miller fingerprints? Han Solo meeting Chewbacca?
Chris Person: Who they cast as Han Solo. Like he’s really good in Hail, Caesar! and I feel like they would have pushed him in a comic direction similar to that.
Chris Kohler: There were jokes that were clearly Lego Movie-esque, like “He was the best pilot I ever knew. Until he died. Doing this.”
Tim Rogers: I think Han Solo meeting Chewbacca and speaking The Wookiee Language was pretty Lord and Miller, though also a genuine awesome Star Wars moment. Like, how else did they become friends, if not via a shared language?
Chris Kohler: Yeah. On that note, I felt like one of the film’s hobbyhorses, maybe to its detriment, was its obsession with box-checking Solo’s backstory.
Tim Rogers: Some of that box-checking might have been hilarious, though, if Lord and Miller had been able to direct the scene. Like Han Solo saying “Chewbacca? I’m not gonna say THAT every time. You’re gonna need a nickname!”
Chris Kohler: Who can say, really? I doubt Lucasfilm is ever going to tell us what Lord and Miller shot.
Chris Person: The whole thing has the vibe of a 90s young adult Star Wars novel, which I sorta respect.
Every time there was some exposition where they explain something in a very on the nose way I would get kinda mad for a second, but then be like “You know what? Fair.”
Tim Rogers: Yeah, I had reference fatigue like maybe twelve minutes into the movie, though that didn’t stop me from cackling at the stuff. Like they god darn name-dropped Teras Kasi! From the PlayStation game, and from the novel “Shadows of the Empire.”
Chris Kohler: The constant “and now we’ve explained it!” bits, though. It felt like they were just running down the list:
☑ How do Han and Chewbacca communicate?
☑ What was the deal with the Kessel Run?
☑ How did that legendary card game go down?
☑ How did Han get his name?
Also, on that last one, that was the most boring possible explanation. “No last name? You’re wearing a jacket? I’ll call you Bob Jacket.”
Chris Person: And that man’s name, was John Tattooine……
Tim Rogers: I hate the “Solo” one, yes. Though again, see, I wanna say maybe if Lord and Miller had directed that it would have been played as a funny joke.
Sometimes the references got a little bit too dense, like when Woody Harrelson says “If you get out of this alive, come to Tattooine. There’s a gangster putting together a crew……” And it’s like, if you know your Star Wars, you know that Han and Jabba have a history. So the movie is counting on you to know that, and then think, “Wow, that’s the sequel setup right there!”
And that adds to your surprise that Woody is a backstabber.
Chris Kohler: I feel like that stuff is just such low-level fan bait.
Chris Person: It’s such low-level bait that I wasn’t mad.
Chris Kohler: “We’ll obliquely reference Jabba the Hutt for no particular storyline reason, twice!”
Chris Person: Like it’s dumb as hell, I don’t care.
Tim Rogers: Yeah, that Jabba thing is dumb. It’s like a real reference ouroboros and I think it’s kinda bad to have that in there from an objective view.
Again, though, I’m an idiot and I love thinking about movies a tiny bit more than I love watching them, so it rules as far as I’m concerned.
Chris Kohler: Just so somebody can elbow his buddy in the theatre and go, “Jabba the Hutt! That’s who they’re talking about!” No shit.
Chris Person: The Lord and Miller shit kinda bums me out on some level because they clearly spent a shitload of money reshooting this movie, and it’s going to be a bomb as a result, which is a bummer.
Tim Rogers: Wow it sure does look pretty expensive, huh?
Chris Person: Ron Howard is a scab and a cop.
Tim Rogers: Ron “Narc” Howard.
Chris Person: I’m kidding, he’s fine, he’s just who you bring in to make a safe movie.
Tim Rogers: Ron “Oscar Narc” Howard.
Ron Howard on the set of Solo.
Chris Kohler: Yeah. For Howard to come in and try to assemble a safe movie out of the pieces of the chessboard that were picked out by Lord and Miller… I mean, you can’t help but have this as a result.
Tim Rogers: Not that this movie is winning any Oscars.
Chris Kohler: Which, as I said, it’s not the prequels. It’s not bad. I liked the cast of characters except Han! Not that I disliked him but I feel like he had the least character development of anyone in the film including Thandie Newton.
Tim Rogers: Han is played by Alden Ehrenreich, who is a fantastic actor, who unfortunately was used as a marionette playing a character everyone, everyone’s dad, and everyone’s grandma knows.
Chris Person: I just think he’s bad in something that’s not a comedy. Like watch Beautiful Creatures.
Tim Rogers: Watch him in Warren Beatty’s phenomenal Rules Don’t Apply (2016).
Chris Kohler: Every time Han says he’s an “outlaw” and not a “good guy,” it’s totally unbelievable based on what we’re seeing in the script. Han, in this film, is such a nice boy.
Tim Rogers: Han Solo is definitely on Santa’s Nice List.
Chris Person: Han “Sweet Boy” Solo.
Tim Rogers: For a kid raised on Crime Planet™ he has such a cardiologist-certified heart of gold.
Chris Kohler: Just so nice. Nice to his new gang of criminal buddies, tries to go back to the slave pits for Qi’ra, is really concerned about Woody Harrelson after he kills him, etc. Just such a sweetheart to everyone.
So why does this movie think we think he’s a hardened loner whose heart of gold will only be revealed in Episode IV?
Tim Rogers: We get to see him Shoot First at the very end! So maybe that’s the character development!
Chris Person: I kept waiting for him to Shoot First.
Tim Rogers: The opening crawl should have been like, “This is a story about a man who is going to shoot first for the first time in his long career of shooting first.”
You know who shot first? Lord and Miller. Ron Howard shot second.
Chris Person: Blammo.
Chris Kohler: More about what we liked. Can we all agree that Donald Glover’s Lando is pitch-perfect? I mean, I realise that’s the safest thing to say about this movie and has been said a million times.
Chris Person: I felt like that was a given going in. We all know Donald Glover is gonna be good.
Tim Rogers: Yeah, Lando Calrissian’s cape fits Donald Glover like a…… glove.
Chris Person: I was a fan of the weird gangster ship.
Tim Rogers: I love Jude Law Junior’s weird office. The production design is bonkers. Everything looks like it’s on the front cover of an awful pulp scifi novel, and that is 100% My Stuff.
Chris Person: Love the gold trim and the laser knives.
Tim Rogers: I love that space train. I love the costumes of those Destiny Characters who chase our buddies.
Chris Person: I enjoyed the lounge singer lady and her friend.
Chris Kohler: Oh man. That guy was great.
Tim Rogers: Bottle Friend was legit.
Chris Kohler: He had some pipes on him. He was in some pipes.
Tim Rogers: I also just like Woody Harrelson and well, now he’s in Star Wars. And I like Star Wars, so I have to like Woody Harrelson in Star Wars. And I sure do!
I saw a lot of people on Twitter complaining that the movie was too dark – cinematography-wise, I mean. I saw it in Dolby Vision HDR, so maybe that’s why I thought it was just the right brightness level.
When something is shot in or optimised for HDR, it feels like your eyes have to do a little bit more work than they do with the higher contrast look of more traditional cinematography.
Chris Person: I like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, despite her character’s name being L3-37.
Tim Rogers: Yeah, I love that droid!
Chris Kohler: I mean, that’s just stupid enough to be an Authentic Star Wars Pun so I’m fine with it.
Tim Rogers: Do they actually call her L3-37 out loud, or is that just her “official” name? As far as I can recall, they just called her “L3.”
Chris Person: IDK, but it feels like a droid name from a mid-2000s webcomic. Like a droid that would throw a bottle of Bawls at you.
Tim Rogers: There have been some bad Star Wars names in the past, so maybe it’s “good”?
Chris Person: I think we would be remiss if we did not talk about The Reveal At The End.
Unless we don’t wanna get into that for the sake of spoilers.
Tim Rogers: Darth Maul!!!!!!!!
Chris Person: Tim, as an official Darth Maul shirt haver, you must have been psyched.
Tim Rogers: I feel like the absolute worst person in the world for not wearing my Darth Maul shirt to the movie. I put it in my suitcase and drove 1,127km from New York City to Indianapolis, Indiana to go to the Indy 500, knowing that my friends and I were seeing Solo after the race.
Well, I wore my race shirt to the movie. How was I supposed to know Darth Maul was going to be in that film? I haven’t felt this stupid about Entertainment Synergy since I took a Diet Barq’s and not a Cherry Coke Zero out of the refrigerator before putting on the first episode of The Young Pope.
Chris Person: You dropped the ball, man.
Chris Kohler: Disappointed.
Tim Rogers: That ball got dropped hard. It is burrowing straight into the earth’s core as we speak.
Chris Kohler: So first of all, as a person who Likes Star Wars and Has Seen All The Films, my reaction to that reveal was confusion. Didn’t he die at the end of Episode I? So that means that this takes place before or during Episode I?
But the empire already exists? I was confused until I read later that Darth Maul didn’t die in Phantom Menace and that he came back in a cartoon.
You gotta figure there are a lot of people like me out there.
Chris Person: I knew he was still alive because I’m a huge nerd that reads wiki pages to things I don’t even like. I have a sickness. He is legit the best part of Episode I though, so I’m not mad to see him.
Tim Rogers: I think for every person who doesn’t know Darth Maul isn’t dead, there are two who don’t care about his character at all, and there are maybe 0.25 people who screamed in the theatre when he showed up (me). That’s not exact maths, though.
Chris Person: I’m upset Peter Serafinowicz didn’t get a paycheck though.
Tim Rogers: So Darth Maul (whose name is just “Maul” now, by the way, because he’s no longer a Sith) is a crime lord. This impresses us if we know the character and it doesn’t if we don’t know the character.
Can someone who knows nothing about Star Wars watch this scene and be like, “Aha, Daenerys Targaryen is the underling of a darker more sinister crime lord than we have yet met in this film.”
Chris Kohler: So what I did not expect at all is that this film would be, pretty clearly, setting up a whole range of potential sequel and spin-off options.
The Darth Maul reveal being one of those – why bring that character back unless you plan to have him show up in a later film not via hologram? But if so, what film?
Tim Rogers: What film, you ask? Well, Ewan “Paycheck” MacGregor as Obi-Wan “Big” Ben Kenobi in Tattooine Casablanca.
Chris Kohler: Perhaps!
Tim Rogers: The first Star Wars film to win an Oscar for original screenplay, of course.
Chris Person: I wonder if they’re going to be more skittish about side projects given how Solo is doing in the box office. Maybe they will just focus on straight-to-Netflix TV series.
Chris Kohler: But he (and Qi’ra, obviously) could show up anywhere. A Lando standalone. The Boba Fett standalone that’s being floated. Solo 2: Duo.
Tim Rogers: I saw some people saying that the movie would have been “better” if it hadn’t been about a character everyone knows and loves and is thus defensive about. Sure, though also, who would have seen it?
Chris Kohler: Yeah. Rogue One needed to earn our buy-in because it was largely about new characters.
Solo assumed we’d be on board to hear about these characters, which is not a bad assumption, but it means you’re not scrambling to make them relatable.
Tim Rogers: If they’re trying to make a sort of Marvel Cinematic Universe here (they are, aren’t they?) then yeah, putting Maul and Qi’ra as side characters in something else would be cool!
Isn’t James “Logan” Mangold signed on to do that Boba Fett movie? Is it just going to be called Fett? If they call it Boba it’s gonna make a lotta people thirsty!
Chris Kohler: Boba: Those Blobs In Your Blue Milk Are Supposed To Be There.
Chris Person: The presence of Thandie Newton and Emilia Clarke made me wonder if Disney is just gonna say fuck it and buy HBO. They won’t rest until they own all media.
Tim Rogers: I heard that Star Wars has the same casting people as Game of Thrones, hence all the Game of Thrones actor cameos in The Last Jedi. And I guess The Game of Thrones Guys are making a Star Wars movie as well? It’s wild.
I of course most fondly remember Thandie Newton from John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2. In summary, Game of Thrones world in Kingdom Hearts 4 please.
Chris Person: Every time an actor from a different massive franchise shows up in one of these movies I get a really weird disassociate sensation. Like Paul Bettany (Vision) showing up feels real weird. It’s like seeing your teacher at the mall.
Tim Rogers: I can’t wait for A Star Wars Story directed by The Game Of Thrones Guys starring Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean and Kit Harrington as Old Republic Jedi.
Chris Kohler: Coming summer 2019.
Tim Rogers: And Yoda would have to be in there too. Baby Yoda: A Star Wars Story. Without Yoda, who’d go see it?
Chris Kohler: One thing is clear: Disney didn’t buy Star Wars to not make Star Wars movies.
For good or ill, they will be pushing these things out until the sun explodes.
Chris Person: Oh yeah, get ready, they’re gonna put a giant Looney Toons funnel in your mouth and just dump as much Star Wars as you can handle.
Tim Rogers: I know some people who say they don’t care enough to keep watching them, though I’m definitely not at that point yet!
Chris Kohler: Well, honestly, the way this VGChat shook out when we were planning it here at the ol’ Kotaku homestead, it’s already arrived for many people. We had a lot of staff members respond to this invitation with some variation on, Oh, right, a Star War came out? Haven’t seen it.
Tim Rogers: I see the phrase “franchise fatigue” getting passed around. Which is remarkable, because Disney puts out, what, four Marvel movies a year and people barely complain.
I loved this Solo, though. As I said on Twitter, it reminds me of what Hayao Miyazaki said about Porco Rosso: that he made it for a businessman to watch while falling intermittently into and out of sleep on an aeroplane.
I want this film in 4K to watch on my TV on an air-conditioned summer night in my bathrobe after taking some melatonin.
Chris Person: I think we all suspect that we’re eventually going to hit a huge wall of no-longer-giving-a-shit, not unlike what happened to Universal monster movies, and I wonder what happens when that great implosion finally happens. But who knows, they might be able to keep juggling that stuff indefinitely.
Tim Rogers: I feel like with Star Wars they gotta distance themselves from Marvel Audience expectations. They gotta make a smart one. Hence: Tattooine Casablanca Starring Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Chris Kohler: There’s a lot they can do that’s not just a rote game of box-checking with Han Solo’s backstory, that’s for sure. Please look forward to Young Bossk (2020).
Tim Rogers: Young Bossk: A Star Wars Story, directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Bossk.
Chris Person: Hell, I’d watch that.
Tim Rogers: Me too – if Yoda was also in it. And Yoda fought Bossk with a lightsaber. Ah, who am I kidding? I’ll watch it even if Yoda doesn’t fight Bossk with a lightsaber.