When 'Star Wars' Refuses to Take Risks

Solo A Star Wars Story Still 10 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Despite being a story about an outlaw, 'Solo' makes sure to follow the rules.

There’s a lot to like about Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the now-annual Star Wars ritual. The notoriously troubled shoot brought in Ron Howard near the end of production to take over as director after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired from the project last June over “creative differences.” 

Howard delivers a generally pleasant experience with Solo, but for a story about a gambler, it takes very few risks. All considering, perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise, given that Han Solo is arguably the most popular character from the franchise. Even after he met his fate at the hands of his son in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his character’s presence still hung heavy throughout last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Solo and star Alden Ehrenreich give audiences a chance to go back to the character’s younger days, before he was bogged down with the responsibility of being a ranking officer in the Rebellion. Sure, these days are filled with thieving, smuggling, pirating and gambling, but Howard makes them feel whimsical and carefree. The fact that he’s doing it all for a girl (Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra), instead of the greater galactic good, reinforces Solo’s complexity that Star Wars characters often lack.

With rumors of the potential to continue the Han Solo story after this film, it’s clear that Disney has high hopes for Solo, and for the studio to realize them, it obviously felt the right move was to deliver his first solo outing as a fantasy/sci-fi adventure with near-universal appeal.  

Since the Star Wars revival, the franchise has proven capable of both convention and reinvention. Right out of the gate, The Force Awakens hit many of the beats from A New Hope. Two years later, The Last Jedi went in a totally new direction, subverting expectations and deconstructing much of the Star Wars mythology. Between the two, Rogue One, while a troubled production in its own right, leaned closer to a war movie than a space opera.

As the first stand-alone movie, it created a high-stakes world for the roster of (mostly) all-new characters.

As the limits of what a Star Wars movie could be have started being explored, the notion that audiences will be getting a new one every year became even more appealing. Each new movie could not only be its own story, but maybe even its own genre (or, at least, sub-genre). This line of thinking could be what sparked the rumor that Lord and Miller, who’d directed The Lego Movie, were crafting a Butch and Sundance-style space Western. Whatever Lord and Miller were planning on doing, that never came to fruition after their exit.

It’s a situation Disney has run into with the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. After about a dozen or so films, all of which were fairly similar in structure and tone, Edgar Wright walked away from Ant-Man in 2014. After years developing the project, he also attributed the split to “creative differences.”

In recent years, however, Disney seems to have warmed to the idea of shaking up its convention. Most of the credit here goes to James Gunn’s unique spin on both Guardians of the Galaxy movies — something that reached all the way to Avengers: Infinity War. Similarly, Taika Waititi took numerous liberties with Thor: Ragnarok, which was a huge gamble that proved worth the risk.

Solo aside, Disney’s long-term plans for Star Wars include The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson overseeing a new trilogy, and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss getting three movies of their own after HBO's Game of Thrones finally wraps up. Additionally, there are two new series in development, including Jon Favreau’s live-action adaptation set between the classic and sequel trilogy. With so many distinct personalities working behind the scenes, it’s inevitable that their respective projects will continue to explore the idea of what Star Wars can be.

Nonetheless, Disney decided to make the safe bet with Solo, and Howard seems to have delivered exactly what they were expecting. Perhaps after Episode IX wraps up the Skywalker saga, we’ll start seeing Star Wars through different creative lenses, with stories scattered across thousands of years. No knows how this will all go, but if Disney can find a way to balance the expected with the experimental with Star Wars, the franchise would be better as a result.