Something strange has happened lately with us and Star Wars movies: We as a family seem to have fallen entirely out of step with the critics. This isn’t true of most movies. It isn’t true of superhero movies, for instance. The critics said we would love Wonder Woman and we loved Wonder Woman. They said we would love Black Panther and we loved Black Panther. They said we would not have any use for Batman vs. Superman, and, yep, we loathed it with every fiber of our being.
This is the general pattern in movies. We — and by “We” I’m talking about me, Margo and our daughters Elizabeth and Katie — don’t always agree with the critical consensus of movies. We like some movies more than the critics, like some less than the critics. But we are usually talking the same language.
We’re just not talking the same language when it comes to Star Wars movies.
I first noticed this when we saw “The Last Jedi.” Boy did the critics love “The Last Jedi.” Stellar! Fantastic! Best Star Wars movie! Innovative! Reinvented the whole genre! The core Star Wars fans loved it too. They raved about it. It was a sensation. Two billion dollars worldwide! Wow were we excited when we went to see it.
Then we saw it, and as we walked out of the theater and to the car we didn’t quite know what to say to each other. We were having a hard time — especially Katie — admitting that we kind of hated it. What was that? “The Last Jedi” seemed boring. It seemed illogical. It made bizarre plot choices. It deadened some of our favorite characters and introduced others who didn’t seem to add anything at all. Plus it was confusing. Why did they go to that Casino planet again?
I can’t speak for my wife and daughters, but I wanted to see it again because I don’t trust my instincts on Star Wars movies. I read more rave reviews. I saw more glowing comments from the Star Wars literati. This was like “The Empire Strikes Back,” they said. This gives us a clearer view of the Dark Side than any Star Wars movie before, they promised.
We all saw it again. And this time we were not indecisive. It had nothing to do with inflated expectations or trusting our feelings. We flat hated it.
This video has become a favorite in our house: We watch it over and over.
OK, so we were out of step with the critics and many core Star Wars fans on “The Last Jedi.” Big deal. It’s just one movie.
But over the weekend, we went to see “Solo.” This time, the buzz was the exact opposite: Critics and core Star Wars fans were really down on it. Stories about the problems on the “Solo” set had been leaking out with regularity for a year. Supposedly Alden Ehrenreich, who played Han Solo, couldn’t act at all. Supposedly, the story was convoluted, the purpose confusing, the directing uneven. Ron Howard was brought in to basically save the movie, and it’s Hollywood canon that when you bring in a famous director to save a movie, well, that’s how you make a bomb.
And, we were assured, “Solo” was just such a bomb. Critics called it a whiff, a cliche-filled dog, a mess, bloated, silly, derivative and, in the unkindest cut, as bad as the Star Wars prequels. Star Wars fans seemed to agree. It’s been less than a week but “Solo” already seems to be a box-office debacle, even with the enormous ad campaign that swamps the timeouts of NBA playoff games.
So, yes, I will admit that all this was on our minds when we went to see Solo; I’ve written at length here about my Movie Plus-Minus system which makes the case that most of us really judge movies by how the match up to our expectations. If I go in expecting a five-star movie, like I did for “The Post,” and come out thinking it was a four-star movie, like I did for “The Post,” then it is an ultimately unsatisfying experience.
If on the other hand, I go in expecting a three-star movie, like I did for Tom Cruise’s “American Made,” and come out thinking it was a four-star movie, like I did for Tom Cruise’s “American Made,” then it is a wonderful experience. Two four-star movies. Two very different feelings.
We went in thinking Solo would be kind of blah — a two-and-a-half star expectation.
And we loved it.
I don’t say that lightly. We LOVED it. This is an unqualified raved. We applauded when it was over (admittedly, we were the only ones in the theater to do so). We thought it was a blast. It was funny. It was light. It had a couple of cool twists. It had several good villains.
Mostly, it was fun. Mindless fun? Sure. But that’s still fun. It has been a while since we’ve gone to the theater and seen a movie that we just happily enjoyed like “Solo.” Of course the plot was illogical, and the dialogue had more than a few clichés, and Alden Ehrenreich didn’t really look or feel like a young Harrison Ford. But we liked him. We liked a lot of the characters. We rooted for them. We rooted against them. We thought Donald Glover’s Lando was thoroughly wonderful. We thought hid droid was wonderful. We thought the Chewbacca-Han relationship thing worked. We liked the forbidden love thing. We liked Woody Harrelson’s slightly crazed rogue.
No kidding, we absolutely loved “Solo.”
And now it’s clear: We simply don’t see Star Wars movies the way critics and many fans do. I can’t tell you what caused the break. I suspect it’s because we’re just not looking for the same things. There are a million reasons to like or dislike a movie in a series as beloved as Star Wars. And I guess we only have one. We just want to leave the theater happier.