See “Solo”, a Star Wars film that says much about America

Summary: Whether you are deciding whether to go or planning to go, this review of Solo, the latest Star Wars story, can help you.

Solo: a Star Wars film

Solo is not a bad film. It is not a good film. It is a manufactured product. It is to the cinema as a Twinkie is to food. As critic Locke Peterseim said about Guardians of the Galaxy, films from Disney’s “production line all feel the same: all just slightly above mediocre, all carefully packaged so you don’t so much notice the mediocrity but instead smile contentedly, dazzled by all the sparkly familiarity.”

Emilia Clark as Di'ra

Solo rolls along smoothly, each scene designed by a competent committee that stamped out any sparks of creativity. The CGI was, as always, excellent. The cinematograph always professional crafted. Only the parts requiring imagination were lacking.

First, the script is boring. Without the visuals it could be a “guaranteed to put you to sleep or your money back” CD. The characters are cardboard cutouts, 2-d stereotypes, so it would take a master writer to make them seem real.

The second is a more serious weakness, one common in modern films. The lead is miscast. Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo) is pretty but unconvincing as a serious criminal. Nobody would trust him as more than a flunky. At key points he gives this childish, goofy grin – after which people trust them with their lives. It has more of Spaceballs-like feel (i.e., a parody) than that of a Star Wars film.

Donald Glover botches the role of Lando Calrissian. Although a talented actor, at inappropriate points he plays the role as comic relief – probably due to inept writing or directing.

Woody Harrelson as Beckett

Some of the actors do a fantastic job. Especially Woody Harrelson (Haymitch in the Hunger Games films) as Solo’s mentor, Beckett, and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen in the “Game of Thrones” series) as Qi’ra, his first true love (and much more than that). They give convincing portrays, as if these are people we know.

The plot is the usual gibberish seen in “tent-pole” productions these days. Hollywood knows we will buy any glossy product. Spending effort make the plot sensible is a waste, like feeding haute cuisine to your dog. The bad guys have only toy guns (I waited for one to say “my kingdom for a grenade or machine gun”) and can’t hit anything. The leads run thru blaster fire as if it was a Spring rain, and hit the bad guys as they were clay ducks at a shooting gallery. Han can inexplicably speak one of the million languages in the Galaxy, when required by the plot. In a key scene, all the characters are disarmed – except one who inexplicably has two guns when they are needed. Etc.

Not really a spoiler

Solo has a double-barreled grrl-power ending. After all, Kathleen Kennedy (President of Lucasfilm) says “the Force is female.” Hillary Clinton told us “the future is female.” Disney helps to make it so.

See a better version of this story

Joss Whedon’s TV series “Firefly” dealt with many of the same themes as Solo. It even had a similar train heist using a spaceship (“The Train Job“).

“Firefly” was superior in every way. The writing and direction were first rate. The cast perfectly fit their roles. For example, Nathan Fillion nailed the role of a charismatic, powerful, conflicted space outlaw. By comparison Ehrenreich looks like posing male model. Fillion does the role better than Harrison Ford. “Firefly’s” cinematography clearly displayed the characters and action, unlikely the dark murk in which much of Solo takes place. More money does not make better cinema.

Conclusions

These blockbuster films are like America: vast resources, both material and intellectual, expended wastefully. They are missed opportunities on a historic scale. The reason is simple and obvious. We have a free market system. Hollywood produces what we want. Look at the screen and see our moral and mental depth magnified for all to see. When we demand more depth and vision, the people of Hollywood will provide it.

Kitten and partial reflection in mirror-Wikimedia

For More Information

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If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Disney films, of film reviews, especially these…

  1. A philosopher reviews “The Phantom Menace”, a great film with hidden depths.
  2. The Force Awakens is a film for Boomers. It’s about us.
  3. The Last Jedi is a finely manufactured product!
  4. My review, part One: passing the torch between screw-up Boomers and great Millennials.
  5. My review, part Two: girls rule, giving a New Hope to the galaxy!

Trailer for Solo

22 thoughts on “See “Solo”, a Star Wars film that says much about America

  1. (It’s Whedon not Wheldon.) Haven’t seen Solo but loved Firefly. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why it wasn’t more popular. I don’t think people found out about it before it was cancelled. Also the name didn’t communicate anything about what it was about. (compare to Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another Whedon project, communicated a lot from the title. (Dollhouse also was another interesting Whedon show that failed to find an audience.)

    The Expanse (on Syfy and Netflix), currently in its third season, has a Firefly feel to me… a small crew that is tight yet struggling to get along with each other, trying to somehow balance their desperateness and cynicism with their idealism in a big space opera storyline.

    1. Agree, Firefly was good. Agree with the conclusions in the write-up – movie goers want to be entertained, but not think. Probably why I felt dumber after watching the latest Star Wars movie.

    2. The Iconoclast,

      “Firefly” — or perhaps Whedon (thanks for catching the typo) — was hated by one or more powerful people in Fox. They did not promote it. Worse, they wrecked the continuity by airing the episodes out of order. Since “Firefly” told a story about characters evolving, that was devastating.

      I like “Firefly” but dislike Hollywood’s embrace of nobel criminals. It’s a sign of their wealth and security. People on the bottom consider criminals the scum that they are. They were killed on sight. Only in the 19th century did governments take large-scale steps for more orderly enforcement of laws.

    3. “It’s a bit of a mystery to me why it wasn’t more popular. … Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another Whedon project, communicated a lot from the title.”

      As I heard it explained, Buffy is the reason. The studio expected Firefly to be like Buffy (they didn’t think Whedon would stray from a proven formula) and sold the commercial airtime to companies marketing to teenage girls. Firefly ended up popular with male nerds but not teenage girls. This meant the show was popular but unprofitable.

      Faced with the choice of either completely rebooting the advertising sales or dropping Firefly for a show that would be popular with teenage girls, the studio took the easy way out.

    4. Gunner Q,

      I don’t know where you got that story, but it is factually incorrect. Elements of Fox hated the show, fought Whedon on key points, put it in a unfavorable time slot, marketed it as a comedy — and most importantly, aired the episodes out of order (a commonly used tactic to kill a show). The first 2 hour episode introduced the characters and setting. Also, Flyfire was a developing story. It made less sense out of order,

      There are many articles explaining all this. Such as this at Business Insider.

  2. Joss Whedon’s schtick is “buttkicking babes” to borrow a phrase from Steve Sailer. I’ve gotten really tired of seeing uncoordinated 90 lb chicks defending men. Whedon’s’ writing would benefit from a squat rack and some time in the ring. His masculinity never developed.

    Gunner Q’s take is about right – the goal is to maximize profits. It’s sad that Hollywood is killing film as a medium. Even the music scores are formulaic and the good composers are mostly old men.

    1. PRCD,

      (1) “Joss Whedon’s schtick is “buttkicking babes” to borrow a phrase from Steve Sailer.

      Whedon’s schtick is making films/TV that makes money. He does that well.

      (2) “I’ve gotten really tired of seeing uncoordinated 90 lb chicks defending men.”

      Me, too. But nobody in Hollywood cares. What matters is that tens of millions of guys love this stuff. For example, the circulation of “Thor” when up when he was replaced by Jane Foster. When any of these kick-ass girls shows any signs of femininity, the fans scream in horror.

      (3) “Gunner Q’s take is about right – the goal is to maximize profits.”

      How often do you and Gunner Q not do so? “No, thanks boss. I don’t want a raise.” Our system is free market capitalism. There are many nations with artists regulated to produce PC right-wing or left-wing “art.” I’ll bet those nations welcome immigrants!

      (4) “It’s sad that Hollywood is killing film as a medium.”

      What’s killing America is American filled with people who blame everybody but us for the consequences of our actions. We should make “It’s not our fault” the new national motto and put it on the $1 bill.

    2. Gute,

      Whedon is swimming in his pool filled with money thinking “But Gute believes I should be lifting weights to become buff like him!” (Assuming that you are a guy.)

      Free markets, dude. People in America vote using free markets. Whedon gives them what they want.

  3. I want to say I was disappointed that they didn’t follow The Han Solo Adventures for making the Solo movie but well, free market free market, and free market, give the people what they want, and oh, free market.

    1. Der Maiden,

      I too believe they could have done better. But Disney has chosen to build films as roller-coaster rides. Plots, characters, dialog are secondary to thrills and CGI. Since they’re rapidly taking over the world’s film industry, how can we say that their business judgement is wrong?

      Critics are casualties of this evolution. The professionals seem dispirited. For good reason. As if elite corps of Michelin restaurant reviewers were reassigned to review fast food outlets. There really isn’t much to say about these. Hence their resort to evaluating the political correctness of the films. Wonder Woman and Black Panther are historical awesomeness, the man and woman in Passengers violate feminist values — so the film is terrible. Etc, etc.

    2. “how can we say that their business judgement is wrong?”

      The score of Solo at the box office? From an expectation of 170 million dollars for the opening WE on the domestic market to, now, possibly under 100 millions, and a top expectation of 115 millions…. Over a 4 days WE. For a SW film, that is really sad…. And what tends to happen when you put ideology (and the usual committee with ready made “recipes” supposed to guarantee mathematical success) in the control room rather than actual professionals. When you think that a story is just the addition of ingredients.

      Studios, like TV networks and other fiction-producing industries (and the news media, worryingly) seem to have adopted the PC/diversity/intersectionality thinking as a business model, with a rather militant stance to enforce and sell it. I am not that impressed by the results, even on a commercial standpoint. The story of what is a success on the movie market is very different than what is advertised as a success (the magic of cinema arithmetic); remember for example that the soooo feministically vaunted Mad Max: Fury Road…. was a flop in theaters that barely broke eve over time with ancillary incomes. Here with Solo, we have a 250 million dollars production, with an unknown investment in marketing (rule of thumbs: for that kind of movies, it’s an extra 60 to 100% of production cost) that is already underperforming despite the expensive hype around it.

      So yes, Disney is buying everything, and the Marvel franchise is killing it for now. But they are also damaging (and fast) the SW franchise (the biggest and most profitable movie franchise… Ever. Before Disney) and, with that new special brand of polarizing, divisive and politicized/militant marketing strategy, have insulted and also damaged the fandom, which was, until recently, the most potent weapon of the franchise (free marketers and cultural influencers, big buyers, repeat viewers, systematic consumers of everything SW….).

      I am not sure:

      – that this constant insistence on politics/politicized culture is a very effective strategy to maintain or augment viewership. It divides, it doesn’t attract the hypothetical audiences productions claim to target (the imaginary SJW mass consumer), and it seems based on a lot of false premises, notably that a movie,a fictional universe, must have an audience exactly representative of the population (and, as often seen in such people’s discourse, the population as they fantasize it: 70% female, 90% minorities, 60% LGBTQ). This doesn’t seem a sound business strategy: more of a unicorn that a small but well positioned way of thinking is chasing after. And that search seems to assume that traditional and current audience are an acquired thing, will not be warded off by the new products. Spoiler: many are leaving the ship. As I have said not long ago in another thread, this has happened to comics, now a very small industry with ridiculously small audiences.

      – that the impact of this politicized/ideologized strategy for cultural products has any form of meaningful impact on audiences: even the vaunted Wonder Woman and Black Panther are, first and foremost, action movies, and my two cents is that 90% of their viewership went to see an action movie, at most, for a small-ish percentage, an action movie linked to a superhero universe (additive one) and with a peculiar gimmick (additive two). And, especially considering the supply side of this market today (overflow of productions, constant hype put on this or that movie) and the standardization and pasteurization of such productions (big budgets = artistic license does not exist, and committees rule), most of these movies are forgotten the day after. Despite what MSNBC and Huffpo will say as to what is a generational cultural landmark” that will “resonate through the ages” and “impact a whole generation” (they constantly say stuff like that…. And nobody hears or read).

    3. Tancrède,

      “The score of Solo at the box office?”

      That’s not a valid measure of Disney’s business judgement. A .400 batter is a star, but misses the ball 60% of the time. Disney is a manufacturer. They measure success by the product line, knowing that not every film will be a hit.

      “The score of Solo at the box office? …the opening WE on the domestic market to, now, possibly under 100 millions, and a top expectation of 115 millions”

      I assume you’re kidding. Most studios would die for a product line whose least successful open with $115 million.

      “Over a 4 days WE. For a SW film, that is really sad”

      This film was a production disaster — which happens sometimes, even to the best of studios. Estimates of the production cost are very roughly $250 million, with total costs (by the bogus Hollywood accounting, in which “breakeven” means “good profit”). So they will get 1/5 of their money back in the first weekend. I don’t believe you understand the economics of running a studio.

    4. “So they will get 1/5 of their money back in the first weekend.”

      And nowhere near as much in the following days. The first WE is by far their best shot. After that, even in the best conditions, there is a steep decrease, modulated by the legs the movie has, market conditions…. And the word of mouth, which conditions repeat viewers (extremely important in such fan-fueled franchises and for such big budget movies) and overall audiences. And the word of mouth has been very bad since the first pre-release projections for this one, getting worse by the day now it had its wide opening. And the reception in China is bad. Really bad. Despite the big marketing investment Disney continues to make there.

      A 400-450 millions+ budget (some say 500) is a big cost to cover: even if the WE brings the top estimate of 115 millions, Disney will keep 55-60% of it (tops) for the domestic market (and that is the best WE for the producer’s share of the booty: it decreases fast afterwards in favor of the exhibitor/theaters), and often less in other markets (in China, the producer/distributor’s share is ludicrously low, for example). The break even point for that movie may well be over 850 millions at the box office. By the end of next WE, we will have a pretty good idea of the whole picture, as far as financial results in theaters are concerned.

    5. Tancrede,

      You’re missing the point, again. Nobody hits a home run on every hit. There is zero basis for your belief that one film discredits the model. Disney’s past 12 months have been among any studio’s most successful, ever.

      Also, it is silly to declare a film a bust on the morning of the second day. You’re getting exciting about rumors, and missing the big picture about how Disney operates.

    6. I get the workings of something like Disney very well, thank you. My point, and sorry if I haven’t been explicit enough about it, concerns the management of the intermediary level (or one of them) between the overall company (or its video entertainment division, or its film division) and one particular movie. And that level is that of the franchise, which is, in nowadays cinema/entertainment business as it is, and for the level of investment consented in such tier one franchises, the rare commodity. The non replaceable kind; which is why Disney tries to buy them at any cost, considering that creating new ones is a very hazardous and costly business (and management of such companies is risk averse), with very little guarantee that one can manufacture something of that nature on demand, via a corporate task force (hard to create emotional attachment for a big segment of a population via a paint by number scheme).

      And my criticism goes to the overall management of the Star Wars franchise, of which this particular movie is a typical incarnation. So here it is, I wasn’t pointing out Disney’s management (grand strategic level) or that movie’s project management (tactical/small tactics level), but the brand management (“operational” level?), via this present production, and the strategies and choices it has evolved from (finger pointing: Kathleen Kennedy did it all!).

  4. “How often do you and Gunner Q not do so? “No, thanks boss. I don’t want a raise.” Our system is free market capitalism. There are many nations with artists regulated to produce PC right-wing or left-wing “art.” I’ll bet those nations welcome immigrants!”

    I’ve turned down opportunities to make more money for ethical reasons. I think what you’re saying is he’s just another pig feeding at the trough because he can.

    “What’s killing America is American filled with people who blame everybody but us for the consequences of our actions. We should make “It’s not our fault” the new national motto and put it on the $1 bill.”

    Completely agree here. It’s like reforms in the military: the officers could lead the charge but they don’t really have the moral fiber to do so, in my opinion. Most are there to go along to get along. Many are there simply because they just wanted a job and didn’t study anything worthwhile in college.

    I suppose the market is asking for more “buttkicking babes.” WOuldn’t it be, like, awesome if my wife/girlfriend defended me but still found me attractive as opposed to those awful jocks who got all the chicks in high school?

  5. Tancrede,

    I think the fan base finally realizes they’re being treated like milk cows.

    Like you said about politicization: it alienates one half of your customers (isn’t “Han” about 50% below targets already?) and the other half doesn’t double their spending on your product.

    Disney is the Danaher of entertainment: it buys companies, strip mines them of value for short-term profit, and puts them out of business.

    1. Their strategy might not pay off that well, at least not every time. of course, they can afford losses, but having problem with what normally should be an easy cash cow like Star Wars could induce serious turmoil inside Disney, considering the size of the franchise, the enormous investments devoted to it (movies, series, video games, theme parks in construction….), and its initial cost (north of 4 billions to acquire Lucasfilm). The merchandising has not been good since the aftermath of episode VII, the new characters have failed to please, the new movies don’t seem to have developed a new fanbase and have divided the existing one, and the overall trajectory of SW movies box office results seems to go steeply downward (since the great hopes given by The Force Awakens). I have no doubt that, overall the initial investment will be recovered, but when compared to what all the money invested could have produced otherwise (with a competent management for Lucasfilm…. Or by putting that money in an index fund;)). things seem more problematic.

      Which is in itself a problem, even for Disney: franchises with established fanbases and audiences don’t grow on trees, and most production companies are desperate to have at least one, invest crazy amounts of money to create or acquire one (and creations are most often gigantic failures), and the current availability of masses of easy cash (desperate to find a destination and susceptible to pipe dreams and gold mine tales) does indulge in these vices.

      As a reminder: last year, the two main sources of profits for Disney, by far, were the theme parks…. And the Trump tax cut. Movies (including Marvel) and their ancillary incomes were far behind. And SW was not a profitable item on the list, though it is complicated to get a full picture of course. So overall, and of course not reducing the whole economic analysis of the current trends in entertainment to the political/PC/diversity aspects (though we tend to insist on that particular factor), because of the complexity of the matter as well as because of the actual results (viewership sizes, sales, profits), I would not be so keen on asserting that “the market wants butt-kicking girls”, “the market wants POCs”…. The diversity debate is interesting in that one can argue with a lot of factual arguments (and commercial ones) that we are facing more of a lobbying effort in large parts disconnected from market realities and trends, but by well positioned individuals and groups that share a similar mentality, creating a “localised zeitgeist” among a certain elite in media, entertainment, academia and management. People that are not really accountable (at least not in a satisfactory timeframe) for their mistakes and parasitic behaviors, people that tend to be more often in a position to influence rather than to make actual decisions (and carrying the official responsibility that goes with it), and/or people well ensconced in social and organizational networks that tend to lessen any blowback brought by failure or less than optimal performance. The failure of such trends, of such groups, takes more time to be seen and really taken into account.

      But in the meantime, I’d like to see what will happen, or not happen, to Kathleen Kennedy if Solo is a bomb (by cinema standards AND Star Wars standards).

  6. You’ve made many points and I don’t understand show business very well. I think what you’re saying is that Disney is in trouble since their way of making money off of films requires them to buy a franchise off-the-shelf (Marvel, Star Wars) and profit off of it. People are tiring of the Marvel movies and their diversity tweaks and now appear to be tiring of the Star Wars franchise. The moguls running these businesses are insulated from their failures for a time.

    Personally, I can’t take my sons to any of these Marvel or Star Wars movies since it costs a fortune and the movies don’t portray role models or heroes my sons might be interested in. The Star Wars fan base lasted two generations. My parents watched it and I watched it. My kids are less interested. Are all kids less interested? I don’t know. Liberals seem to like it. That’s half the population. Only half. Conservatives AND liberals liked the original Star Wars.

    It’s hilarious that Disney keeps putting this emphasis on China. Many people look at China and go, “Wow! Huge market! 1 billion industrious people! We’re sure to make money there!” only to lose their shirts. China has an industrial policy – one that seeks to put US industry out of business. The extent that China allows us to operate there is only to the point that the ChiComs want to learn what a particular business is and how it runs so they can copy it or take it over. That seems to be what they’re doing to Hollywood now. The latest (Paramount) Star Trek by committee (Beyond) was unwatchable. It had some Chinese director (Lin) and was a bad copy of the previous versions. There’s another franchise I can’t get my sons into.

    We can watch old movies though, if we can find them. The medium needs rebirth.

    1. “Disney is in trouble since their way of making money off of films requires them to buy a franchise off-the-shelf (Marvel, Star Wars) and profit off of it.”

      That would be normal business for a company that size, and there is nothing wrong about it in principle, though I would start to worry with that level of concentration in the entertainment industry and the homogenization/ pasteurization that ensues. It’s not good for variety in the supply, it’s not good for the culture unless a new form of counterculture finds a way to emerge on a viable commercial standpoint. And Disney is for the time being in no trouble at all overall (quite the opposite): that’s precisely what Larry was pointing out. Disney’s size and enormous production in all areas (films, series video games, parks, toys….) pretty much covers everything, and the group’s strategy is all-encompassing, whatever the management of one franchise, even one as big, visible and powerful as Star Wars may be. Even for the sole film division, things seem to be okay, even if said division hasn’t been a big moneymaker over the last years: big movies, especially the tentpole movies supposed to carry a franchise, constitute its high point in a multi-year strategy (cf Avengers and SW), can afford to lose money or not make much if the numbers are big enough and the movie makes a splash.

      That said, the durability of said splash seems to be the problem with the current SW movies, and the numbers don’t seem that big (overall, The last jedi didn’t make that big of a profit, and didn’t have a big carrying power for the merchandise), or destined to remain big, if current trends persist. If the movies divide the fans, don’t create enough new ones, there is trouble. And if the profits of the movies are limited, there is also trouble that may stop justifying the investment altogether: most movies (even many, if not most, blockbuster movies), including most Disney movies, lose a lot of money. And most of the rest break even or make very little. Everything relies on a handful of big budget movies and middle-to-low sure-things (many of them not going to theaters) that will make all the money and make up for the losses. What is hoped for is that some of them (1, 2 or 3 a year) will be the absolute jackpot, and that some of these will create, maintain or develop a franchise that carries along with it a gigantic source of other revenues (movies and series in the same universe, video games, toys…. The whole nine).

      I was just pointing out the mismanagement of the Star Wars franchise, which remains to this day the biggest of them all, and one with an enormous staying power (precisely the thing that seems to be thrown away these days). This franchise is big enough to be the kind whose problems are likely to end up quite quickly on Bob Iger’s desk: even if he is the CEO of a much larger company, these brands are prime assets, and they cost a lot of money to acquire and develop (around 400-500 millions per movie, 4 billions for Lucasfilm, the big merchandising deals, the big production video games, plus the mammoth investments being made for the parks), and, once again, they are RARE. And not easily replaceable. Studios are desperate to create such franchises, and each year is littered with the corpses of big budget attempt at launching one: see how the DCEU franchise still gets enormous investments despite a less than stellar record in theaters? How the DC “dark universe” tanked with The Mummy? How, despite Tomb Raider’s tanking, the producers are going ahead with propping a made up universe around it and other titles (Hitman, Just Cause….)?

      The franchise is the mythical goldpost, and the tentpole movie is supposed to be its cornerstone; while 15 years ago, it wasn’t so much of a concern to studios (if it happens, OK, if not, no need to pour vast sums in trying to make it happen), but, as it has been said over and over in Hollywood in the past decade, “we live in a post Avengers world”. The Marvel franchise is currently THE hot commodity, with no sign of Marvel/superhero fatigue, even if everybody has been predicting it since at least the second Avengers (Spielberg first…. Now he is scheduled to direct a DC movie).

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