6:00 pm EDT, May 28, 2018

Too much of a good thing: ‘Solo’ highlights Disney’s Star Wars problem

Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 meant one thing: expansion. That very expansion is proving to be too much of a good thing.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm, there is no question that Star Wars was fated to change forever. Already permanently enmeshed in the cultural zeitgeist, the series didn’t need to come back. The original and prequel series told a closed and shut story, but with Disney’s huge bank account and penchant for growing cinematic universes (look no further than Marvel, also owned by Disney) there was no question that Star Wars was about to grow.

The announcement of a new trilogy was expected, delivering the highly anticipated The Force Awakens — a movie that struck a delicate balance between introducing a new cast of characters while showcasing the return of those familiar names that defined the previous films.

Rather inevitably, The Force Awakens stood firmly in the shadows of the previous films, critiqued for being too similar to the 1977 Star Wars, later gifted the name A New Hope. But it didn’t end there.

Disney has released a new Star Wars film every year since the release of The Force Awakens. We have already seen two installments in the new trilogy and two movies –- Rogue One and Solo -– that fall under the heading of “A Star Wars Story.”

These films are meant to be one-offs, broadening the scope of the galaxy and giving audiences more stories in the universe that they love so much. Conceptually, this is a great idea. In practice, the results are unfortunately mediocre.

Plagued by production problems, both Rogue One and Solo forced Disney to bring on more seasoned directors late in the game to oversee the final product. The issue with these installments appears to be two-fold.

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First, they are rushed. Watching both these movies, there is a thin façade evident to even casual viewers; it’s as if the stitching holding everything together is just about to break. In Rogue One, it was evident that an entirely new ending had been pieced together — especially obvious since so much of the footage in promotional material never showed up in the final product. On the other hand, Solo has an amateurish feel, lacking the sophistication that we saw so recently in The Last Jedi.

These movies feel so hurried to meet a deadline that no one seems to be pausing to ask, “Why?” Why do we need a Han Solo prequel? If we’re going to make this, how can we make it matter? Maybe this is asking too much. Maybe I’m overthinking it! However, quite unlike the ongoing trilogy — the latest of which marked the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back — these Star Wars stories amount to very little.

That fact ties into the second issue with these one-off installments: they are so preoccupied with tying themselves to the franchise-at-large that they limit themselves. Someone needs to tell Kathleen Kennedy (the President of Lucasfilm) that we are ready to move forward. There is a whole generation of movie-watchers ready to see Star Wars move into the future, rather than burrow their heads into the past.

The simple fact is that the current rate of production of Star Wars films is dangerously close to exceeding the demand. At a rate of one a year, there’s not enough time for these films to build the kind of excitement and anticipation they are capable of.

This rate of release emphasizes the worst qualities of a franchise of this size and scope — they take on a factory chain quality, meant for nothing more than consumption to yield a greater return on investment. The more movies they release, the greater the dilution of the brand.

At this point, it’s impossible and naïve to ignore the way fandom is wrapped up in corporate interests. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that the love fans have for this franchise is being manipulated for financial gain. As consumers, this is difficult to grapple with. While I’m not advocating that we stop watching these movies, it’s important to acknowledge this as we continue to have discussions regarding the quality of the movies themselves.

We shouldn’t expect Disney to slow down. They have already announced a new trilogy to be led by Rian Johnson and a second trilogy in the hands of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. For Disney, Star Wars is a massive money-making venture. The consequence of this fact is diminished quality; movies like the uninspired and safe Solo.

If I sound jaded, please trust that I am not; The Last Jedi marked what I felt was a huge step forward for the franchise as it learned to let go of the past. In this way, Solo is the antithesis to what Rian Johnson achieved with The Last Jedi; it’s safe and predictable, tied to the past, skating by on our nostalgia for Han Solo. It’s made to be consumed and forgotten, leaving no meaningful impression on the Star Wars universe.

Two 10-year-olds sitting behind me in the theater for Solo kept making quiet comments to their dad during the movie like, “I thought he was dead,” and, “When did this happen?”

It struck me how little they care for the mining into the past for Star Wars movies. They don’t care about prequels. They’ve barely got a grasp on the timeline for these movies, but they’re still showing up.

Why make stand-alone movies if they aren’t really stand-alone movies? Why not give us new heroes to root for? Why not reach for the full potential of big-budget studio movie-making?

I’m afraid these questions will continue to go unanswered as Disney churns out more sequels as they try to maximize their box office numbers.

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