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2022 is turning out to be a thrilling year for Star Wars fans across the galaxy, bringing in a plethora of highly anticipated content through new shows, the return of fan favorites Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, as well as some well needed validation for anyone who grew up a fan of the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
The media buzz couldn’t be more explosive, especially since Vanity Fair’s exclusive look into the future of our favorite galaxy far far away gave us all so much to be pumped about. The shoot included a look at all the new Disney+ showrunners coming to our screens at home within a matter of days, from Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka to Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor to Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen standing side by side as Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Streaming and Star Wars are here to stay.
The silver screen; however, will remain dark for a time. A huge player in that decision comes from the fan reception and acceptance of Lucasfilm’s vision going into this new era of Star Wars. In the Vanity Fair piece, writers got a chance to sit down and have an exclusive interview with none other than Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy.
Though the interview covered a lot of positive remarks and creative high ground, it’s clear that the current tone at the ranch is one of caution and careful planning. Reception and box office returns show, not everyone has been pleased with where Star Wars has been lead so far post the Lucas’ era. However, it’s also quite striking that in that discourse, one particular film was honed in on as a hard lesson for the studio, and one that has been the focus of media attention since the interview dropped last week.
Kennedy was prompted about recasting of legacy characters, a topic of contention in the fan community as more and more content has explored the gaps between already established parts of the Star Wars timeline. While some celebrate the idea, even going as far as fan casting their favorite choices for these iconic roles (Sebastian Stan taking the helm for Luke Skywalker for example), not everyone is on board.
There are plenty of fans who feel that the actors who made these roles so iconic should be the only ones to hold the reigns. Lucasfilm got a chance to experience that first hand with casting Alden Ehrenreich as a younger Han Solo in the second Star Wars Anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Here is what Kathleen had to say about their experience with Solo and the idea of recasting in Star Wars:
There should be moments along the way when you learn things. That may have certainly been a learning moment. Some people have talked about how, well, maybe Solo should have been a TV show. But even doing Solo as a TV show without Harrison Ford as Han Solo…it’s the same thinking. Maybe I should have recognized this before. We would never make Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford. Having just finished the fifth movie, I can tell you, there wasn’t a day I wasn’t on set where I wasn’t like, Yes—this is Indiana Jones.
Maybe I’m closer to the DNA of Indy, and always have been, than I was when I came into Star Wars, because now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that. You get excited by these things, and you want to revisit things you want. You want to have that feeling again, and you’re trying to resurrect that. I think that’s what we do even with our new characters. With Star Wars, everybody talks about a “feeling” they have about Star Wars. That’s that intangible idea that you’re looking for.
With the success of Rogue One, Kennedy’s gamble made sense. Solo seemed like a surefire way to add to the success and create a fun new adventure to hold fans over until the next Skywalker Saga installment. It would also give Lucasfilm the ability to continue to flush out gaps in the timeline to expand the Star Wars Anthology series into its own standalone saga. Together or apart, each film could fuel the fervor and give fans something unexplored, while staying safe and playing in an established universe.
Yet, the gamble came with risk. Though Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in the canon, part of what makes him such a draw is Harrison Ford’s unforgettable performance. Similar to his other iconic persona, Indiana Jones, Ford’s DNA is intertwined with Han Solo. It’s very hard for fans to separate the man from the character.
To add fuel to the fire, Han Solo’s backstory is also very vague; which in turn creates a mystique and gateway into a fan’s imagination to fill in those gaps with whatever stories and ideas they can conjure. With that build up, comes expectation, which as we have seen in my previous discussions of the Star Wars fandom, can lead to a dangerous mix.
Solo was a mixed bag with fans and critics alike and considering the back stage drama, delays, and change in directorial vision, it’s hard to go into a film feeling as motivated and excited as we had seen with past Star Wars releases. From the very beginning of the project there was fan backlash with the recasting news and from that backlash, the studio decided to keep the project under wraps and essentially destroyed any opportunity to market the film in a way it deserved.
The confidence in the film was low on all sides, making it hard not to wonder if the film’s poor reception could have been avoided if the studio spent more time selling the idea of Solo to fans.
The lack of trailers, the minimal marketing material, and overall lack of details leading into the summer release really hurt the film. It’s clear that Solo failed to capture the same warm reception that came with Rogue One, but things could have been very different if Lucasfilm backed it with assurance and confidence. The message taken goes beyond recasting: When you want your fan base to believe in a project, you have to believe in it too.
It’s a real shame when thinking back on the initial release of the film, because Solo: A Star Wars Story is not only a good film, but hits a lot of the right marks for a quality Star Wars flick. Alden Ehrenreich is not Harrison Ford, but he still provides a great performance that is full of charm and swagger.
Ehrenreich also adds a more fresh, less cynical approach to the character, which is perfect considering Han has not endured a lot of the scrapes and setbacks that might make him a little more callous and hardened by the time we reach Harrison’s version of the character in A New Hope. You go from “I’ve got a really good feeling about this” to “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and that polarity alone shows character development that really adds even subtle layering into an already loved character.
Ehrenreich wasn’t alone though, since the entire casting of Solo was superb, giving off a chemistry that is hard to miss. Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian was met with critical praise and has fans rooting for Donald to return to the character in future Star Wars projects. Even when looking at the Vanity Fair piece, it’s clear to see that though Glover also had big shoes to fill with Billy Dee Williams’ iconic connection to Lando, that a recast can work just fine if you are willing to give it a chance.
The smoothness and bold presence of Lando was felt, and Glover was the perfect choice to follow up on Billy Dee Williams’ portrayal. So yes, it may have been a tough pill for fans to swallow, but both carried the burden of these legacy characters well.
What is also missing from the conversation is how the revisit of these legacy characters gave us a chance to get acquainted with new characters and shining performances. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 is by far one of my favorite on screen debuts in Star Wars. Her level of sass can rival that of Obi-Wan, falling right in line with the very familiar humor from the likes of K2S0 and C3P0.
L3 also gives Star Wars a chance to continue to build on its legacy of social commentary, giving a voice to challenge the status quo and call for equality and understanding. Though a staple part of Star Wars, droids directly reflect society’s struggle with identity, being treated very often as secondary citizens. Even when rewatching A New Hope, R2 and C3P0 are very rudely asked to wait outside of the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Flash forward to modern civil rights movements, L3 acts as a perfect reflection of our current struggles and continues to carry the torch from her predecessors at bringing attention to the very core themes that makes Star Wars such an enduring part of modern society.
L3 is joined by plenty of other star studded performances, bringing in inspiration and new understanding for Han. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra gives us an opportunity to explore the depths of the criminal underworld of Crimson Dawn, as well as give Han his first major lesson in trust. Woody Harrelson’s Tobias Beckett also provides a role model for young Han, drawing parallels to a young Indiana Jones vibe that fans got a chance to explore in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Beckett provides the example and romanticism of what a smuggler can be; someone Han can emulate and look up to. All the while, Beckett also gives Han a chance to see where he needs to stray in order to survive in the seedier side of this dangerous lifestyle. Both Clarke and Harrelson pair perfectly with Ehrenreich, creating a dynamic that really sells the base of who Han Solo will ultimately become, as well as remind fans that no matter how hard Han may try, that capacity for good will always define him in the moments where it matters most.
All tied in with a great classic film plot that mixes old heist and mobster movies with that of the spaghetti western area, Solo really was a movie that deserved a lot more recognition than it got. There are also so many fun little parallels, from Chewbacca’s ripping off of a guard’s limbs on Kessell (Remember, it’s not wise to upset a Wookie!) to Han’s approach of Lando at the end of the film, putting up Lando’s defenses as he rushes towards him.
You see that Lando uses the same approach to Han in The Empire Strikes Back. There are a lot of fun little moments that any Star Wars fan would appreciate. Ron Howard and company put a lot of love into this film, honoring the franchise history and little moments that build into these characters story arcs.
Thankfully, there are plenty of fans of the film out there, inspiring the trending movement #MakeSolo2Happen. Started by Star Wars News Net’s “The Resistance Broadcast” , the campaign has amassed a very loyal legion of Solo fans from across the globe, all hoping that Lucasfilm not only recognizes the demand for Solo, but gives the new tale a chance to be further explored in the Star Wars Mythos.
This demand is validated by the fact that Solo left a lot of open ended ideas at the end of the film. There are so many unexplored elements that could lead to some exciting content. If handled with care and confidence, both tales that follow Han and Lando, but also arcs tied into the criminal underworld would open the door to some very entertaining tales. From Qi’ra’s ascension to leading the syndicates to Darth Maul’s larger role in the criminal underworld, there is way too much there to simply toss aside.
Was Solo the best Star Wars film? No, but blaming the movie and the cast on its failure is dangerously ignorant and not the right approach. Whatever the case may be, Solo: A Star Wars Story still soars. Hopefully in the future the film will get the same opportunity for redemption that we are seeing for Ewan and Hayden’s work in the prequel trilogy.
Let Solo be a hard lesson not only for the Star Wars fan community, but also for Lucasfilm to be more open minded and receptive towards the type of content that may not be expected or fit within certain fan expectations.
Though Kennedy’s vision of moving beyond the Skywalker Saga is great, especially since the future of Star Wars will come down to creating new worlds, characters, and universes for us to explore, it shouldn’t come at the expense of projects that did their jobs well.
There’s plenty of room for different types of content in a galaxy larger than life itself, and if done right, maybe Star Wars can thrive in ways we can’t possibly imagine for future generations.