I had a pile of laundry to iron the other night, so I fired up Solo (A Star Wars Story). It was one of those films I wanted to see, but didn’t manage to catch it in the theatre.
After an hour, I finished the laundry. And then I turned off the movie.
More to the point, I switched over to a BBC nature documentary, which had maybe 5% of Solo‘s shooting budget but a much more compelling set of characters. And story.
There’s the rub.
Solo isn’t a bad movie, but it didn’t engage me. It certainly didn’t pack the punch of Rogue One, which had a set of (mostly) unknown characters and a we-knew-it-was-coming ending. We all went along with the ride since it was a ride. The characters had agency, they had conflict, they had cool stuff to do.
In contrast, Solo started with a vehicle chase, shoved in some quick background, attached another vehicle chase, then quickly flittered to war scene/montage/introduction of cool kids and THEN A TRAIN ROBBERY.
I didn’t care. And I was annoyed at the level of expository dialog that felt like the writers (and I’m sure there were many) were checking all the Star Wars boxes:
- Solo wants to be a pilot
- Solo does the “thermal detonator” trick
- Chewbacca needs a nickname. Why not “Chewie”?
- The Millenium Falcon is won in a card game. Or is it?
- There’s a Kessel run.
- Et cetera.
Two of the most interesting characters were killed early in the process, leaving some rather second-string folks to carry the show. (Okay, I’ll give props to Donald Glover for his turn as Lando Calrissian. But poor Paul Bettany – someone told him to BE EVIL, OKAY?)
I didn’t read reviews beforehand, or troll the film blogs, and perhaps that was a mistake. If I had known about the director swap, the rewrites, and the reshoots, I probably would have set my expectations accordingly. As it was, I thought I was going to get a high-quality popcorn flick that played off my nostalgia and (maybe) brought something new to the table.
The takeaway for me is focus in storytelling. Pick an angle, a theme, a character. Run with those. Give your audience something to care about, and then drag them along. Hell, they’ll come willingly.
Second, don’t be afraid to walk away when it doesn’t deliver. The BBC is always there with life and death struggles of snow leopards in the Himalayas.