At any point during Star Wars did you wonder about Han Solo’s origin story?
Origin stories in franchises tend to be notoriously unnecessary. How many times have we seen Bruce Wayne’s parents shot down in front of him? Peter Parker bit by a radioactive spider? Kal-El plummeting to Earth? Origin stories are often full of flabby exposition that keeps us from getting to the business at hand. Even the necessary Wonder Woman origin story, seeing as she’s hardly familiar to mainstream audiences after being cruelly sidelined for years, was bogged down by exposition. Then there are Star Wars’ previous origin stories: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Boxed in by the constraints of the original trilogy, these prequels simply weren’t fun and lacked imagination.
So why would Star Wars go down that road again, particularly with Han Solo?
Han is popular because Harrison Ford is likable. He has the charisma to draw in audiences and make them care about the smuggler turned Rebel Alliance leader. Attempting to replicate that seems unwise, but at least Alden Ehrenreich’s breakout performance in Hail, Caesar! made him a promising candidate for the spinoff. Sadly, the irony of Ehrenreich nailing his turn as a film star who can’t act in Hail, Caesar! is not lost on any of us as news broke that he’d been assigned an acting coach while filming was already underway for Star Wars’ Han Solo stand-alone. Acting coaches aren’t uncommon on film sets, but bringing one on this late into production clearly meant something was rotten in the state of Lucasfilm. This isn’t to place the blame solely on Ehrenreich, however—it was always going to be next to impossible to find someone who could portray a young Ford.
In addition to the leading role woes, the film also went through the very public ousting of its directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord. This wasn’t the case of two inexperienced directors being handed the keys to the kingdom, though. Miller and Lord have had success with the 21 Jump Street franchise and The LEGO Movie. They were also scheduled to direct The Flash for Warner Bros. before they dropped out to helm Disney’s Han Solo spinoff. But their experience lies in directing comedic films and reportedly, their penchant for going off-script and improvising (a benefit in comedy, less so in a heavily planned-out franchise) was one of the reasons they got the boot. Ron Howard will be stepping in to direct the remainder of the film, but again, it all begs the question: Why is this movie happening?
It’s happening because Disney and Lucasfilm are devoted to raking in profits and releasing a different Star Wars film every year until they stop making them coins. But creatively, questions remain as to whether this is the direction the franchise should be going in. So far, The Force Awakens was an enjoyable retread of the original trilogy and Rogue One, while exciting, still felt like something we’d seen before until its dark ending. The most intriguing element of the Han Solo spinoff is the inclusion of Donald Glover as a young Lando Calrissian, but, and bear with me on this… couldn’t he have played Lando’s son in the current trilogy? Couldn’t Glover have been spun off into a film with new possibilities rather than trapping him in a franchise that can’t truly go anywhere we haven’t heard of or speculated about already?
But that would of course mean Glover has a film of his own and isn’t merely playing second fiddle to a white guy. For a company with an eye toward the future, much of Star Wars’ actions are fairly traditional. They rely on the lure of a popular black actor like Glover in a supporting role rather than giving audiences the next-generation star they would shell out money for. It’s akin to Kevin Feige teasing Miles Morales in the Spider-Man films without actually producing the goods.
It’s strange because franchises are indeed very popular at the moment but so is diversity, as global box-office revenue accounts for a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. But so many franchises, save for The Fast and the Furious, are banking on traditional nostalgia instead of providing something that modern audiences actually crave.
Perhaps audiences would’ve responded to a straight-up comedic Han Solo film, rather than one that will stick to the tried and true Lucasfilm formula. We’ll never know—especially with the addition of Howard, who produces reliably serviceable yet largely boring studio films. This Han Solo hullabaloo also comes at a time when Warner Bros. is looking to cut down on the influence of “auteur directors” who they feel could detract from the streamlining of their franchises. But how long until audiences are tired of more of the same and demand deviation? The lion’s share of these franchises are adapted from books and comics yet possess wildly different stories and genres depending on who’s writing them, and they’ve managed to succeed for decades. Will films ever take that leap? There’s a reason Tim Burton’s kooky Batman films are more beloved than Zack Snyder’s current one-size-fits-all approach.
But back to Han. Ford’s iconic character deserves a film worthy of his legacy. The attempts to sanitize the film are oddly reminiscent of the whitewashing of Han shooting Greedo first in A New Hope: a lame attempt to make something that is family-friendly and appeals to everyone, but ends up pleasing no one. Maybe we don’t really need this film. But as a lifelong fan I know I’ll be there opening weekend. I just hope one of my favorite franchises is looking for ways to engross me while also taking my money.