‘Solo’: Into the Black Hole of Star Wars McMerchandising

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Follow the money down any rat hole and you’ll find a Disney executive gleefully counting ticket sales with cheese-stinking paws. Given its pedigree, Solo: A Star Wars Story should be a fun addition to the Star Wars film series. Director Ron Howard is a competent filmmaker who, when given the right script, can deliver movies like Apollo 13 (1995) and Cinderella Man (2005). Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan is Hollywood royalty for writing three of the most memorable movies of the 1980s: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and The Big Chill (1983). Pair two seasoned professionals together on Solo and you’d expect two hours of solid entertainment. Unfortunately, Solo has Disney’s greedy tongue smeared all over the project. Initially, Disney got off on the wrong foot by handing Solo to the creators of The Lego Movie (2014.) Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller fucked up Solo so bad they got shitcanned while shooting the movie and escorted off the lot. A new rudeness, extreme even for Hollywood.

Ron Howard was brought in to salvage the film but the damage was already done. Purging all of Lord and Miller’s bad ideas proved impossible. The result is a movie with only one goal in mind: Feed unwitting fans a fast-food film that motivates ticket sales and stimulates Star Wars merchandising towards the forthcoming Star Wars theme park at Disneyland. In other words: sell, sell, sell.

Despite the essential sell-out, Howard and Kasdan gallantly try to craft a coherent movie out of the mess left behind by Lord and Miller. Despite the few sequences that rise to the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy, there is nothing awe inspiring in Solo. We’ve seen it all before. Like a sputtering Western made when the Western genre was falling out of fashion, Solo has all the too-familiar moments of a Star Wars movie. How many more times can we see a variation of the famous cantina scene? How many more beeping droids can we free from slavery? How many quirky non-human characters must we endure? We get it. The Star Wars universe is a diverse place, a fantasy that Disney supports because they want to market Disney products to everybody everywhere, from Beverly Hills to Kathmandu. The entire movie is comfort food shoved down our throats in the form of nostalgia so Disney can sell us Chewbacca dolls and toy Millennium Falcons and sleepwear featuring the latest Star Wars token sex icon, Emilia Clarke. Repeating characters and moments of past movies is a pure sales strategy. Feed us the same old shit; don’t risk any new flavors.

What’s worse, in Solo, the creative deficit is so grave, Disney has to steal the plot from their Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MacGuffin everyone fights over in Solo is (yet another) glowing blue energy source. In the Marvel films, glowing “infinity stones” and glowing “arc reactors” have powered 18 movies. With Solo, glowing blue shit drives a plot where nothing is at stake, except the lives of characters. Unfortunately for us, since Solo is a prequel, we already know the key characters will survive to more ticket sales. There are no greater narrative objectives, themes, lessons, or morals — other than the exchange of entertainment for cash. Solo is transparently honest about only this one issue: the characters in the film are all thieves, and all anybody really craves is money. No matter how murderous or criminal a person may be, we can all respect their desire to make shit tons of cash. In this, we see the film echoing the morals of a culture that elected Donald Trump, billionaire.

Movies have always been a business, but in the past there was also an effort to treat big studio releases as an art form. Studio executives such as Robert Evans best exemplified this approach to filmmaking by producing such classics as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Godfather (1972), and Chinatown (1974). Not so with the Disney empire. There is no room artistic vision in the current incarnation of the Star Wars universe. When J.J. Abrams was hired to write and direct the first Disney Star Wars reboot, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015), he wanted his Star Wars movie to be set on a planet where all the original Star Wars characters existed only as myth. Disney said: “No way, we just paid George Lucas billions for the rights to use his characters. Get your mind right, J.J.” They didn’t want art, they wanted commerce. Lots and lots of fucking commerce.

The irony is, Disney likes telling us stories about scrappy rebels who do battle against a vast authoritarian empire. In Solo, we are rooting for criminals, the ultimate rebellious outsiders. Yet the Disney organization most resembles a vast tyrannical dynasty. Disney is chock-full of lawyers, accountants, managers, marketers, and executives all charged with squeezing control of the Disney dominion all the way down to the tiniest mouse. If you work for Disney, you can’t have a Batman figurine on your desk because Warner Brothers owns Batman, so get that damn disloyal plastic piece of bat-shit out of sight, or else. Disney is deeply authoritarian. They are the evil empire, a superpower that will only become more evil and controlling when Disney purchases 21st Century Fox and gobbles up their library of films and intellectual properties for cost-effective rebooting. Disney will possibly, if successful, ruin everything that was once great in American cinema and replace it with colorful, safe, cheap plastic crap made in China.

What’s a true Star Wars fan to do? Maybe you can’t resist indulging in the Han Solo creation myth, but realize it’s going to be like a midnight trip to McDonalds for a Double Quarter Pounder® with cheese. You remember how good this burger tasted the last time you ate one — but actually you will feel kind of sick and ashamed afterward. Solo is like that.

Eric Coyote earned his Master of Arts degree in critical theory from the University of Southern California. He writes about movies, Hollywood, and culture.

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