By In Stuff


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.




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24 Responses to Solo

  1. Chris says:

    I loved The Last Jedi. For me it’s at least my 3rd best Star Wars movie. I went into Solo more out of a sense of duty then any real excitement. I came out thoroughly entertained. There are a ton of faults and I won’t give any spoilers away, but the highs outweighed the lows. I really liked the heist/noir aspect of it. Despite the poor box office I’m hoping they make at least one sequel.

    • DB says:

      I had the same reaction as Chris. TLJ is in my top 3 as well. I also enjoyed Solo. I like every once in a while a story that is just a little heist movie. Reason I also love Ant-Man in the MCU as well.

  2. Mike T. says:

    I’m a Star Wars fan. And, the response in fan forums for The Last Jedi are mixed, at best. For everyone that loves it, there is another hard core fan who hates it. Unsurprisingly, those who loathe The Last Jedi seem to love Solo and vice versa. In a lot of ways, it’s about the generation of fans. Those who found the franchise in the Disney era clash with those from the Lucas era and never the twain shall meet.

    For me, I loved Solo. I thought it was great. Alden was Han pretty much from the get go for me. I’m a bit different in that I didn’t like Lando. I thought that Donald Glover did a great job. But, the character in Solo came off more as a poser than a capable leader and fighter.

    Solo wasn’t Rogue One. But, not every movie needs to be centered around an epic event. Sometimes, it’s cool to see what made the people who will, ultimately, be involved in that event. I’ll see Solo again and show it to my kids when they’re old enough. I’m not sure I’ll do that with the sequel trilogy, though.

    • John R says:

      I also really liked Solo. And did not like The Last Jedi. Solo just felt “Star Wars-y” in a way that TLJ did not. Lots of inside jokes (Han shot first!), a light story with fairly clear good vs evil patterns, good enough acting. And I liked Donald Glover – in ESB, Han even remarks that Lando sounds like a business man, a responsible leader in a way he did not know him, so I thought that worked. That isn’t to say I hated TLJ, per se, but it felt as though in an effort to really remake the Star Wars universe for the new characters, they destroyed the old one so completely it was unrecognizable. A decent movie in its own right, but not really a Star Wars movie. At least to my sensibilities.

  3. larry shea says:

    Part of the problem with the narrative surrounding Solo is the cost. It cost an astounding $300 million to make. Add in marketing and it needs to do an astronomical $750-$800 million to break even.

    Now I would argue that isn’t relevant to my enjoyment, but it certainly does effect how the media covers it, and probably how it’s reviewed. It goes back to what Joe said, a $300 million dollar movie (far more than Force Awakens or Last Jedi cost) does raise expectations.

    My review: Solid movie, but instantly forgettable.

  4. Bill says:

    I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi lost me a little bit. OK, maybe a lot. The Everything Wrong With video helps get somewhat unlost! Ha!

    But Solo: A Sta Wars Story was a lot of fun, the plot was followable, and it (to me, anyway) seems like a logical precursor to the original film trilogy. I liked it, thought it was a great movie, and like Chris wouldn’t mind a sequel.

    How are they going to draw a story out of Boba Fett, though?

  5. Scooter says:

    My family very much agrees with Joe’s. Solo was great fun; we clapped at the end. The Last Jedi left us a bit flat — I had the same experience of walking to the car, the three of us not sure what to say about it, trying to find nice things to say. We didn’t hate it; we thought it was okay. Which, after loving the two prior movies, was a letdown.

  6. Dog says:

    I feel like picking apart Star Wars movies has become a cottage industry (frankly, it isn’t just restricted to Star Wars movies – “cultural credibility” (which is a sad concept) seems to be earned by hating things these days as much as liking things). There are logical flaws, bad dialogue, and cliche moments in EVERY Star Wars movie. If you choose to focus on those things, then you can’t help but to see them everywhere. Solo was a fun side-story set in the Star Wars universe; The Last Jedi made some disappointing decisions with how the mythology of the universe is moved forward, but in the end, it was fun, too. That’s what they are supposed to be and all the over-analysis is exhausting.

  7. Rob Smith says:

    I think Phantom Menace scared me off of the franchise. The prequels…. eh…. you know….. I’m considering going to see Solo, but none of my family are Star Wars fans. It’s a tough sell. I still remember how amazing the first Star Wars was…. and I was a teen when it came out. It’s been a long time since then & the franchise seems to be living off successes from a long time ago.

    • DjangoZ says:

      I remember how much I enjoyed episodes 4-6 back when I was a kid. I haven’t enjoyed a Star Wars movie since then. I even went back and watched the original in a remastered version and was surprised by how bad it was. Maybe none of the movies were ever that great.

      I feel like people aren’t even watching them as films any more, they’re watching nostalgic allusions to their childhood.

      • Rob Smith says:

        There’s no doubt that the early Star Wars movies have not aged well. No doubt that’s because, at the time, the special effects were cutting edge. Shocking even. If you didn’t like the movies, you were still impressed by the special effects. Now they look like something that was put together in a garage. Kind of like black and white movies vs. color. Technology moves on. The funniest thing for me in movies is looking at their mobile phones. In just a few years, the things they are holding in their hands dates them. I was watching a movie that was about 15 years old and the “cool” leads had flip phones. It was like “whoa”, that is really distracting. So imagine what technology advances have done to Star Wars in the last 45 years.

  8. Dennis says:

    Especially with movies like “Solo”, you have to take the critic’s reviews with a grain of salt. I always look to movies for quality entertainment and adventure, and if you watch these movies with the right equipment, it can really change your opinion. Using my DTS surround sound speaker system, many adventure movies that received negative criticism came to life in my home. I personally loved “Solo”, and I can’t wait to watch it again in my home theater!

  9. invitro says:

    Star Wars movies are children’s movies. So are superhero movies and cartoons. I miss adult movies. It’s been a really long time since more than half of the top box office movies were adult movies, though. Probably the mid-1980’s.

  10. Zachary says:

    I wonder if you aren’t a little too attached to your +- rating system. Gene Siskel used to insit on knowing as little as possible about a movie before he saw it in order to judge it fairly; it might make more sense to just go see movies that look interesting to you and not worry about what you expect of them.

    • Jaunty Rockefeller says:

      I think Siskel’s approach makes sense for a professional critic, or for someone who has the abillity to take in a large number of films. For me, a parent of young children, seeing a non-Pixar movie in the theater requires the planning of D-Day. Arriving at the theater with no expectations about what I’ll be seeing is a high-risk proposition.

  11. Dan says:

    I’m with you everything except Wonder Woman. I thought it was terrible: one note hero, insipid acting, one dimensional characters, and terrible villain.

    • Daniel says:

      I feel bad about it, but I have the same exact feelings about Wonder Woman. And my wife agrees with me, which at least gives me SOME comfort that I’m not subconsciously a sexist pig. It just seemed ridiculous, even for a superhero movie.

  12. Eric Haynes says:

    Star Wars and Empire were great movies but even Return of the Jedi was disappointing even back in 1983, they lost their mojo for sure. Phantom was a joke, I literally couldn’t watch it for more than 20 minutes. I heard Clones was even worse but I’ll never know because the combination of Jedi and Phantom was enough to scare me off forever.

  13. shagster says:

    Last Jedi, aka ‘jumped the shark’. In full leather jacket and swim trunks. Princess Leia, floating out into and then flying through space? I couldn’t watch anything with an expectant eye after that. HORRIBLE. WORSE THAN JAR JAR. How could they cheapen one of the main characters in such a poorly constructed plot line? HORRIBLE.

  14. Tim says:

    Solo was fine, I enjoyed it, except that it trades on fan expectation in a way that’s token-y — it seems like it was written by a focus group. And, in so doing, it manages to confuse periods in the storyline for the movie. It doesn’t really have to be at any particular point in time, but opts to be and then creates discrepancies within the films’ story line. (Apparently the empire is already a thing, fully-formed, army and everything (which means we are at least after Episode II…when the plot centered around creating such an army). but hey, for no particular reason, Darth Maul is alive (which wasn’t even true after Episode I). Or maybe some other identical twin Sith? Or maybe this is just a different empire?

    I loved Donald Glover in the movie. Did not like Alden Ehrenreich at all, but give him credit for not just trying to be Harrison Ford. And Woody Harrelson was Woody Harrelson.

  15. Daniel says:

    I have enjoyed Solo and Rogue One far more than I’ve enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. I didn’t hate The Last Jedi, but some of the plot choices were pretty sketchy. I really liked the end (although I know that was a big issue for a lot of Star Wars fans), which redeemed some of it for me. But the strangeness of the rest of the movie has kept me from watching it again.

    Meanwhile, I’ve watched Rogue One probably half a dozen times. And I would definitely watch Solo again. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, but it was fun and I thought it worked for what it was.

  16. Bill says:

    Really liked Solo. Left the theater wanting at least 3 new movies:

    I want to know Chewbacca’s story from the end of Revenge of the Sith to Solo.

    I want to know Lando’s story from Solo to Empire.

    I want to know Han’s story from Solo to New Hope.

    I’m sure Disney knows I’m willing to pay and already has plans.

    (If any of the above were in any of the animated series, please let me know).

  17. Lee Carney says:

    I always love your writing Joe, but this is the first time I think I can honestly say I agree with 100% of what you just wrote, from The Last Jedi (including not trusting my initial hate until a 2nd viewing) to your theory on expectations, all of it, and i especially love you used the exact same word I have used repeatedly about Solo, Fun, that is exactly what it was, nothing deep, nothing meaningful, just an extremely fun 2 hours

  18. M says:

    Like Joe, I Loved Solo and hated Last Jedi. Solo is FUN just like the original Star Wars (when it was 1 and not IV). Not some self-import, pretentious cinema. Last Jedi was the opposite of fun. I say more Ron Howard and JJ Abrams and and less Rian Johnson.

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