Unless I happen to be in Los Angeles for a premiere, I tend to skip the advance screenings of upcoming films. In large part it’s due to being 50 miles outside of Chicago proper, which makes attending the advances logistically difficult – but there are exceptions. Star Wars is the one franchise that I consciously avoid attending press screenings for, even though it’s the series that most would expect that I’d absolutely want to see early. The reason for that is that the Star Wars films are something special for our family, and for the modern films that Lucasfilm has been releasing under Disney ownership, the tradition is that my wife and I see them at the Thursday night “preview” showings, and then take our daughters to see them over the weekend. My personal connection to Star Wars runs deep, and I was there working with Disney to promote the launch of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, on the ground at the Global Media Event to play a small part in ushering in a new era of Star Wars – a return to the saga that many felt would never happen. Now, with the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, I think we’ve reached a point where all generations should be enjoying these films more than ever before… if they’d just let themselves have some fun.
Casual fans, especially those who take a films-only approach to Star Wars (not indulging in all the other connecting stories from television, film, books & comics) may not have noticed the division that’s happened among different types of fans – particularly following the 2017 release of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. One certainty is that we will likely never again see the type of fanfare that accompanied The Force Awakens. That was a global event that was not just a new film, but the return of a beloved franchise and continuation of a storyline that had a four-decade history behind it. Now we’re getting a film a year for the foreseeable future, so it’s not as special… but it’s what many from my generation would’ve loved to have as children – frequent expansion of the galaxy we loved so much. At the same time, it’s what the new generations expect – a barrage of constant content.
Where the problems lie is not with any of the Star Wars films being made, but with certain members of the fandom. If you keep things too traditional it’s “more of the same.” If you serve up something too different, you’re “ruining the franchise.” Those are the arguments that the creatives constantly face – all spewed by the toxic individuals who attempt to skew ratings on sites like Rotten Tomatoes. They’re fueled by an unfounded sense of entitlement and ownership to stories that aren’t theirs. No one has ever had a “ruined childhood” based on a movie, and frankly, I’ve been tired of hearing that since the early 2000s era of the Prequel Trilogy. You can choose to like something or choose not to – but the stories… the films, they’re not yours.
Within the Star Wars lore, there’s things I like and things that I don’t. With the new films, I’ve loved all of them in different ways and for different reasons, and after having paid to see Solo twice this weekend, it’s near the top of the stack for an unexpected reason: It feels like the Original Trilogy in a way that the other films don’t, but also with a freshness. There’s always talk about what “feels like Star Wars,” and that’s always tied to the 1977-1983 era. For me, the Prequel Trilogy doesn’t, but first two films of the Sequel Trilogy do. Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels did, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One certainly did (that film seamlessly tying directly into the 1977 film), but Solo hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
There’s a lightness to Solo that I think is more akin to the first Star Wars (later dubbed “A New Hope”) than anything else that’s come since. Keeping in mind that George Lucas and his crew had no idea that sequels would ever actually happen, they presented an adventure that gave the audience minimal background and exposition, but it really moved. Solo feels very much the same in that at face value you get a tiny bit of background surrounding Han and then the story just takes off running. Audiences are going into the movie knowing more, but as the marketing has shown, this really is a heist film at it’s core. From a visual standpoint, it really feels like A New Hope and Return of the Jedi – particularly the scenes on Corellia. The way they’re lit recalls a lot of the Jabba’s Palace vibe, and that can’t be coincidence. Han and Qi’ra being chased and cornered both on foot and by speeder (a Star Wars car chase!) had elements of Greedo cornering Han in Mos Eisley – much like the bad guys confronting Han and Chewie on their ship in The Force Awakens. It’s Han being Han!
There was a lot at stake here in that Ron Howard had to pull together a film that other directors started, but also that audiences would buy into new actors inhabiting characters that were made famous by other performers that came before them. I believe that Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover slipped into the roles of Han and Lando perfectly for a movie that I can see our family watching again and again when it comes home – possibly even more than the other modern films. And while it carries the torch for the Old Trilogy, it also provides the biggest cinematic link between the Prequels and the Sequels that we’ve seen so far. While the box office may be a big decider (and as of this writing Solo is trending low), there are doors left open for further adventures of Young Solo, and I’m hoping that those are stories that we will one day see come to life on the big screen. Sometimes audiences take things too seriously, and I don’t think that’s something Han would approve of.