‘Solo’ Is Failing Because Disney Has No Vision for the ‘Star Wars’ Franchise (Commentary)

“Solo” never had a chance to succeed because Disney never gave it a reason to exist

Last Updated: June 1, 2018 @ 12:45 PM

In the past few years, in which Disney and Lucasfilm have acted terrified they might ruin their “Star Wars” cash cow by making movies that don’t exactly fit some mathematical formula of what a “Star Wars” movie looks like, I feel like they missed an important detail — a detail that is becoming very clear with “Solo” shaping up to be a massive disappointment.

There are other ways to damage a brand than just by making bad movies, or movies that don’t appeal on the surface to the audience you’re targeting. You can diminish a franchise just as easily by coasting on former glories instead of actually moving forward with new ideas.

That’s exactly what Disney has done since it bought Lucasfilm, and “Star Wars” with it, back in 2012. And it’s the reason why “Solo” is doing so poorly at the box office. The powers that be have failed to make people care about this iteration of the series. Disney has been doing this “Star Wars” thing all wrong, and “Solo” is the proof.

We all understood when Disney made that $4 billion purchase that the plan was to pump out “Star Wars” movies for the rest of our lives. But now, just a few years into this endeavor, there is suddenly a very real chance that the whole thing may fall apart much sooner than we could have imagined — if they don’t get it together soon.

In hindsight, “Solo” was probably doomed from the start, being born from a lack of vision for the franchise. It has no bearing on the portion of the franchise that is ostensibly trying to advance the brand — the numbered main saga movies — which renders it optional viewing by default for casual viewers. There’s no reason to think that future movies about Boba Fett or Obi-Wan will do any better, because they’d be even LESS relevant.

If there was a time when “Solo” and other future standalone movies maybe could have worked, it was before Lucasfilm decided against going in any sort of interesting or fresh direction with them. Way back in 2015, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy described these “Star Wars Story” movies as an “opportunity for us to tap into emergent directing talent out there and do some things that are unexpected.”

That idea was certainly reflected in the hiring of Gareth Edwards for “Rogue One” and Phil Lord and Chris Miller for “Solo.” But both of those movies ended up swapping that “emergent directing talent” for fixers, who ended up delivering the most generic possible “Star Wars” experiences.

The way I see it, these spinoffs are the products of hubris — the thought, in this case, that the brand is so strong that so long as you throw things out there that feel sufficiently “Star Wars”-esque, they will succeed. But the box office failure of “Solo” (which looks on its way to pulling-in less than a half-billion worldwide — definitely a failure) shows that didn’t pan out. And if Disney/Lucasfilm thinks this is just some one-off freak accident that doesn’t warrant a major course correction, then this situation will eventually get worse.

To put it a different way: “Solo” is a sign that Disney is on the wrong path with “Star Wars.”

It’s clear that the novelty factor that has driven the wild and unprecedented success of this new era of “Star Wars” is gone now. The first couple of new “Star Wars” films were going to be big winners by default, because that’s just how it is when you bring back the most popular movie franchise in history after a long hiatus. (We saw a similar thing happen with “Jurassic World” just six months prior to the release of “The Force Awakens.”)

Fan fervor for new, potentially good “Star Wars” movies gave Disney what amounts to a grace period to figure out what they wanted to do — there was built-in goodwill just because they were bringing “Star Wars” back, and doing so just as the inarguable success of Marvel suggested to us that the company Knows What It Is Doing. But at some point they were gonna have to make a real effort if they wanted that gargantuan success to continue with yearly releases.

They haven’t done that. Star Wars” in the Disney era has no identity of its own, as it opts to re-use the old franchise identity instead. The franchise now just lives in the past, with new saga movies judged by how well they echo previous “Star Wars” movies, and spinoffs that tie into the 40-year-old original trilogy instead of the new one they’re making right now.”

And that’s why “Solo” is flopping.

“Solo” is the fourth in a severely disjointed sequence of movies that were all released in quick succession. There is absolutely no sense of direction to all this, no vibe that these movies are leading to something other than more references to the old movies. Maybe they had a vague plan to create some kind of mini-universe out of the standalone movies — movies about Boba Fett and Obi-Wan would certainly allow for characters to cross over between each other and also “Rogue One” and “Solo.” But there’s been absolutely no sign to that effect so far — we didn’t get any “Rogue One” characters popping up in “Solo,” for example, and they keep killing off nearly every important character who wasn’t already in the original trilogy.

Generally, these movies exist apart from one another, and serve mainly to give viewers the thrill of recognizing references to the original trilogy.

But more than that, there’s been no feeling that there’s any kind of real vision for the franchise as a whole at all the last few years.

That problem is hardly localized just to the “Star Wars Story” standalones. “The Last Jedi” was particularly egregious in its disposability and lack of connection to even its own context. If anything, it was more preoccupied with clearing the board that “The Force Awakens” had set than with setting anything new up — if “The Force Awakens” was a franchise reboot of sorts, then “The Last Jedi” was a reboot of the reboot.

That movie leaves the world in much the same state that “Revenge of the Sith” did — our heroes have lost, and are in no position to mount a real opposition to their enemies. But when we saw “Revenge of the Sith” we already knew what the next part of the story was because we’d seen it already in the original “Star Wars.” “The Last Jedi” just leaves us wondering where the story could possibly go from here, with the entire fighting forces of the Resistance all but completely destroyed.

That’s a huge deal, but for some reason, Disney/Lucasfilm followed that up with a spinoff movie that has absolutely no bearing on those events.

Sure, Disney and Lucasfilm apologists could point to the fact that fans have been pleased in the moment with each of these new movies (to the tune of A Cinemascores for the first three they put out and an A- for “Solo”) as proof contrary to my complaints. But satisfying the “Star Wars” audience on opening night doesn’t necessarily equal a good legacy. For proof of that just look at the maligned prequels, each of which earned an A- when they were released. With “Star Wars” it’s much harder to get a bad Cinemascore than it is to get a good one

A long-running franchise can only persist in perpetuity — without long breaks like the ones “Star Wars” has taken in the past — if it works as a coherent unit.

The lack of overall vision for the movie franchise is particularly glaring next to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which Lucasfilm so obviously has been hoping to replicate. The big difference between the two is that the MCU has had at least a broad plan from the very beginning, and each of its movies — even seeming stand-alones like “Guardians of the Galaxy” — have played into the grand tapestry that is the whole of the franchise. Meanwhile, remember how “The Last Jedi” essentially rebooted what it didn’t completely discard outright from “The Force Awakens”? We’re now four movies into the new “Star Wars” and it still does not appear to have any kind of plan or even an attempt to make its movies function as a unit.

Lucasfilm needs a vision for where it wants to take the franchise as a whole, and all the movies it produces need to take part in delivering that vision. Spinoffs need to bolster the main saga in at least some small way, not be completely separate from it. And that main saga needs to have a destination in mind — they can’t just undo each other to way “The Last Jedi” rebuked “The Force Awakens.”

From here on out, those are the problems that have to be fixed. Because if “Solo” is the indicator it appears to be, rather than a fluke, the days of Disney/Lucasfilm being able to pump out a serviceable “Star Wars” movie and make oodles of profit by default are coming to an end.