How to Save 'Star Wars'
Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, "Solo: A Star War Story" is not doing well at the box office. Word is that it's performing poorly enough that Disney (owner of Lucasfilm) might be rethinking its All-Star-Wars-All-the-Time strategy.
The company's All-Marvel-All-the-Time strategy has worked out just fine, with twin hits "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War" dominating this year's global box office -- and those two movies sit near the end of an astonishing 20-movie run dating back to 2008's "Iron Man."
But Marvel's superhero movies have a hidden superpower: Producer Kevin Feige. He had the vision to do what no one else had done before -- produce big-budget blockbusters all in a row, like low-budget serials from the 30s and 40s. More importantly, he possesses that magic touch which no one in Hollywood can define, but everyone thinks they have.
Few, however, actually do. Hence big-budget misfires like "Solo."
I went to see it on opening day, not out of any huge excitement on my own part, but because I'm the father of two young boys and the husband of a woman who never lost her childhood crush on the real Han Solo.
The movie was OK, once you got past the now-obligatory (yet wholly unnecessary) origin story. After replacement-director Ron Howard got that out of the way, "Solo" turned into a decent caper flick, with a couple of yuuuuge action sequences and exactly one Han Solo-worthy bit of dialog:
Pretty Girl: What are we drinking to?
Han: [smirking] Let's drink two and see what happens.
It's always problematical having a new actor step into an iconic role, and I suppose Alden Ehrenreich did what he could with a script which did him (or the memory of Harrison Ford's original Han) few favors. One lovely touch however -- no spoilers! -- was a satisfying little scene where Han shoots first. Unambiguously, I might add.
The plot churned along well enough, with plenty of Easter eggs for us millions of longtime fans. Although for whatever reason, the filmmakers felt it necessary to throw in some extraneous stuff from various SW novels and TV shows -- which even a fan like me had no clue about. Again, no spoilers, but there's a cameo at the end which came completely out of left field. Er, apparently it came out of a Star Wars cartoon show which my kids don't even watch. I had to get on the internet after the movie so that someone even nerdier than I am could explain it to me. I guess the cameo was supposed to set up "Solo II: Another Damn Star Wars Story," but after this weekend no one would be surprised if Disney gave it the ax.
Overall, aside from a couple of bright spots -- like Donald Glover's scene-stealing take on Lando Calrissian -- the film was OK. Not great, not awful... just kinda there.
So if I were a Disney exec, the question I'd be asking is: "Where the hell did our quarter of a billion dollars go?"
Seriously. Supposedly they spent $250 million making a semi-OK movie, yet couldn't find the money for enough rewrites to bring the dialog up to George Lucas-level.
Worse, Disney seems likely to wear out a galaxy-sized franchise before we get a single planet's worth of entertainment out of it.
So what should they do, you ask?
I have an answer. But Disney won't like it.
ASIDE: Before we get to my New Idea, I need to re-submit an old idea of mine, so you'll know I'm not just venting here. My dream Star Wars movie would be a Lando caper/con/heist flick, written and directed by the master of caper/con/heist flicks: David Mamet. I've been making the case for this picture ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm, and surely the Star Wars universe is big enough to let something like this happen. But few in Hollywood -- aside from Mamet Himself -- have the brains or daring to make it so.
But back to my point...
Disney seems to think that the secret to Star Wars is big budgets, big marketing, big releases, big special effects, and big toy sales. But there's only so much big to go around, and it's clear that Disney doesn't understand that. Did they learn nothing from the prequels?
Instead what I'd like to see is this: A sort-of "Project Greenlight" approach. Disney should announce a "Star Wars Story" project with a small budget -- say a "mere" 30 or 40 million dollars. They should ask young-and-hungry writer-directors to submit their scripts, pick one, and then let the young auteur run with it.
You can't lose money on a $40 million Star Wars movie, so there's very little risk to Disney. Hell, Lucas shot "The Empire Strikes Back" for 40 million bucks -- in 1979 dollars, and out of his own pocket, too. A small budget would force our unknown auteur to rely on little things like an engaging story, sharply drawn characters, and memorable dialog. You know, the things which actually put butts in movie theater seats long after the opening weekend. Even better? Instead of another retread of the Giant Galactic Good vs Evil story, we might get a smaller and more relatable tale from an unexplored corner of the galaxy. The fate of the universe doesn't have to hinge on every story told.
As an added bonus, the buzz generated by a Project Greenlight-type show about the making of the movie would save the studio on marketing costs, too.
I love Star Wars. I grew up on Star Wars. But right now I'm exhausted by big budgets and small imaginations. Let's turn that around and save the galaxy from the evil empire in Burbank, California.