Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Walt Disney Home Entertainment for a complimentary copy of the film for the purposes of this essay.
As mentioned in narrow details with our coverage of the box office for the film, Solo: A Star Wars Story was intended to be a ricochet success for the Disney age of Star Wars, allowing divided fans to unite over seeing one of cinema’s greatest icons be portrayed in their younger years. Unfortunately, judging by the poor financial reception with a shocking 392 million at the worldwide box office, the film ultimately ended up doing anything but. Coming off 2017’s most controversial and discussed film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was clear that Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm, was antsy about the progress of Solo, even leading her to fire the original directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The production became messy and soon the entire community of fans were glaring the film with utter appeasement.
Many argue that Solo became such a devastating financial backfire due to the fans out crying that they didn’t want an incarnation of the character that didn’t involve Harrison Ford. And while this notion was disproved for actually causing any financial disruption in our exclusive box office analysis report published on Sunday, it’s certainly unavoidable that it was a common complaint of the Star Wars community, one of the most passionate communities of fans that can be found in the entire world. Immediately from the start, actor Alden Ehrenreich, noteworthy for his role in 2016’s Hail Caesar, was immediately flooded with controversy before fans were even able to see a first image of the character. Analysts of the film industry have suspected that it may have been the sheer brilliance of Harrison Ford’s performance and how it is so firmly connected to how the character is portrayed. However, the real reason comes from something much simpler-nostalgia.
When it was first released theatrically in 1997, the original film, Star Wars, became an iconic classic thanks to Lucas’ brilliant characterization and portrayal of three exceptionally charming characters, including Harrison Ford as Han Solo.
From there on, he has become almost synonymous for the role, leading to multiple instances of the actor being frustrated for how much attention this one role of his career has taken. This fact in particular should be critical in realizing that the original trilogy of films was never intended to be as massive and grand as they were, especially with the 1977 original. These films were simply passion projects for director George Lucas and they were elegantly so, only with the note that it led to the most popular film franchise of all time. What was originally a broad area of one’s imagination turned into a phenomenon for the ages, an attribute that is rarely applied to film. As anybody would expect, these three films, while they have fantastic moments of great filmmaking, simply don’t meet those expectations and are remembered far better than they actually should be, simply due to nostalgia.
With this knowledge, it’s easy to recognize and pinpoint where Solo: A Star Wars Story veered off course for fans. The original character of Han Solo is quite simply lacking in characterization. Outside of one key romantic character arc, there is nothing that is truly interesting or unique about this character outside of his charm and charisma. And while 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens reinvented the character, portraying him as a grounded and stumbling father, Solo: A Star Wars Story carries the weight of a prequel and therefore is unable to further explore the dynamic themes of the 2015 soft reboot. Ehrnreich was entrusted to portray a character that had nothing more to him other than his swagger and charisma, elements that he clearly attempts to inject into his performance.
Critics of the film have noted on how stale his performance was. As addressed before, this talented young actor was placed in a position where he couldn’t be anything else. He didn’t have the full reins to explore the iconic scoundrel of the galaxy far, far away. By no means am I suggesting that Solo: A Star Wars Story is being unfairly persecuted, the film does have critical issues due to how it has very little moments of experimentation and boldness. But aren’t these themes similar to how the actual character can be described? There simply is very little to accomplish with Han Solo as a character due to how narrow-minded he actually was in his development. If Solo took place in a time free of both the original trilogy and the 2015 soft reboot, then Enhrenich and his fellow director, Ron Howard would have had the full spectrum to operate in. But with such a tightly knitted web that kept movement and experimentation at a bare minimum, the interpretation of this legendary icon proved to be anything but iconic.