So the results are in, and it’s an incredible and depressing first for a Star Wars film – Solo is a box-office bomb. The franchise and name recognition failed to save the movie, with middling reviews and a lack of fan enthusiasm. The previous Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, also proved controversial with audiences, despite being critically acclaimed. This led to rumours that ‘Lucasfilm’ president, Kathleen Kennedy, may step away from her position. Although there will be a number of articles defending her and what she has tried to do. They all share a common explanation for the issues – it’s the fans’ fault. But is that a fair judgement?
The implication is rooted in sexism and racism – that the Star Wars audience is comprised primarily of white males who are harassing female and black actors for daring to exist, let alone taking a starring role. This is an element that does exist – look at the horrendous trolls attacking Kelly Marie Tran (‘Rose’ in The Last Jedi) for proof of this), but it simply isn’t a large enough contingency to have caused the underperformance of Solo. Additionally, the fact that fans have been clamouring for films about Lando Calrissian and Mara Jade suggests that this isn’t what’s turning them off. In his piece defending Kennedy, Marc Bernardin wrote that some fans hated The Last Jedi because they saw it as ‘a social justice warrior remix of the Star Wars they grew up with’– is the issue then?
a lousy device to generate conflict and beat-down a hot-headed man for what seemed an entirely appropriate response to the situation
‘Rose’ and Laura Dern’s ‘Vice Admiral Holdo’ (not-so-affectionately nicknamed Admiral Gender Studies in many a review) were the ones that really came under fire. Holdo seemed used solely to antagonise ‘Poe Dameron’. She kept dismissing his concerns about the First Order while working on a secret evacuation plan to save the rebellion – a plan that she had no narrative reason to not tell Poe about which seemed like a lousy device to generate conflict and beat down a hot-headed man for what seemed an entirely appropriate response to the situation.
Poe’s plan helped lead to the Rose storyline, which was essentially a huge waste of 40 minutes in the longest Star Wars film to date. It was slated as reminiscent of the prequels, and out of step with the rest of the film (despite being in a massive race against time, Rose finds time to save some mistreated animals in what was assumedly intended as characterisation). Added onto this was Rose preventing ‘Finn’s heroic sacrifice on the planet of Crait, because she’s in love with him – something which wasn’t built up to in any way, and seemed completely unnecessary. The criticism of Rose was more down to her character being underdeveloped and a massive waste of time.
the film was simply too unlike a Star Wars film
Fans had many other complaints – the underuse of ‘Snoke’, the portrayal of ‘Luke’, the failure to carry some of the plot threads from The Force Awakens, and the general feeling that the film was simply too unlike a Star Wars film. In fact, the films have been so underwhelming that it has led to many fans claiming they have given up entirely on the franchise. After The Force Awakens, everyone was very excited to see what came next – after The Last Jedi, a lot of people simply do not give a damn.
This leads to some questions – how far should the studio go to cater to fans? But, more importantly, what do they actually want? It’s easy to suggest that it’s more white male characters, but we just saw a Star Wars film with a white male lead (and one of the most popular film characters in history, no less) flop hard. Rather, I would suggest, it’s simply a demand for interesting stories and well-written characters, and the two do have to go hand-in-hand. Fans have always hated the unnecessary fluff and boring stuff in the Star Wars franchise (Ewoks, ‘Jar Jar’ and trade talks, I’m looking at you), but it seems like there’s so much more of it recently.
blaming the fans for failing to respond positively to poorly-written characters and dull narratives is lazy
There are loudmouth trolls criticising the series and its cast, but they’re not the reason that it’s running into trouble. Blaming the fans for failing to respond positively to poorly-written characters and dull narratives is lazy and it ignores the real problems in these recent Star Wars films – they just aren’t very good or original. Burning bridges with the audience you want to watch your films is a suicidal marketing strategy, and hopefully one that the studio will ditch prior to Episode IX.