Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The mellowing of our Star Wars expectations

Solo: A Star Wars Story opens this week.

Ho hum.

Han Solo is arguably one of the most popular characters in movie history, yet a movie devoted to him is not causing the stir we have come to expect, especially from Star Wars movies.

I think this says more about the state of Star Wars movies than it does about Han Solo.

Forget the “troubled production,” about which the average person likely knows diddly squat. Also forget whether the previous movies have been good, because some people have loved each of the three newest Star Wars movies and some people have loathed them. There isn’t one that can be acknowledged generally as a turd, the way the prequels were.

But we are now in our fourth straight year with a Star Wars movie, and we’ve just mellowed out on all this hype and other tangential buzz. Which is both inevitable and a bit disappointing.

Even 18 months ago, when Rogue One was released, I made sure I was there at a midnight screening. Actually, I think the midnight screening was necessitated by the fact that I needed to record a podcast about it two nights later, and had to be sure I’d get to see it before then. If something terrible happened and I missed the screening, I’d have time to compensate with another showing before the podcast recorded. But I suspect I would have been drawn to that midnight screening anyway.

What Rogue One and Solo have in common is that they are both prequels, meaning certain characters were guaranteed to escape them alive. Spoilers were not the big factor they might be in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

What they don’t have, or seem to have, in common is the hype leading up to them.

For one, I noticed that they already screened Solo for critics. My editor has already written and posted his review, even though the first public screenings are still nearly 32 hours off as I write this. For the previous three movies, they wouldn’t show anybody the movie until about six hours before those midnight screenings were set to happen. My editor beat the rest of us plebes to the screening, but only by a short time, barely even enough to brag.

Then I noticed the relative paucity of midnight screenings tomorrow. At the Village Cinema at Crown Casino, where I have started to go for my big budget movies on large screens, there’s only a single midnight screening, and it’s actually at 12:15. Hoyts, the other option for big screens, does have three screens showing the movie at 12:01, but only three, and only once each. When The Last Jedi came out last year, I’m pretty sure it played a good 20 times before weary Hoyts theater staff got to go to bed that night.

Again, I don’t think it’s the fault of Han Solo. But I do think Rogue One makes a good point of comparison, as these both have the “A Star Wars Story” label on them. Just 18 months ago, people were hungry enough for more Star Wars, any Star Wars, to line up for a midnight showing, even when they knew that nothing they didn’t already basically know would happen in the movie. Now, not so much.

You could argue that the narrative of stealing the Death Star plans is inherently more interesting than watching Han Solo on just some random adventure, though I’m sure the movie will do its darnedest to convince us of the stakes of this particular adventure. But I really don’t think so. Solo allows us to explore a beloved character – three beloved characters, actually – while Rogue One focused on characters we didn’t know and only hinted at a few we already did. (We knew Darth Vader was going to be in it, and we probably thought that was going to be cool, but I don’t think it could be described as the film’s primary draw.)

What I really think is that this is the first sign of our Star Wars fatigue, the fact that a new movie is coming out this week and only in the past day or two did I even start to think about my intended strategy for seeing it. Basically, I don’t think I’ll need one. It’ll be playing enough, with few enough total people seeing it, that I’ll probably be able to just roll up to the theater on Thursday night and use my critics card to snare a ticket. (I am going to see it in its first 24 hours – I haven’t mellowed that much.) But I also am not that worried if I go and it’s sold out. A need to see it does not feel desperate. Too bad, because it should.

I guess I partly blame Rogue One, as I didn’t really care for it and it demonstrated to me that the characters I knew probably played more of a role in my affections than I wanted to acknowledge. Or maybe these particular characters were just lame. Or maybe they turned the stealing of the Death Star plans into an epic battle the likes of which would be discussed in history books, when it should have been a cloak and dagger mission. But now I’m getting sidetracked.

I blame Rogue One more as the first sign of the new normal in the Star Wars universe, where after 2019 we will continue to get Star Wars movies but they will each be a bit more shrug-worthy than the one that preceded them. Once the Skywalker saga is (presumably) over next year, each new Star Wars movie will be a Solo, with increasingly fewer midnight screenings, increasingly less urgency over how soon we see it, and increasingly fewer characters we care about.

I don’t totally mind the mellowing, mind you. That day after the midnight screening is always rough, and my this Thursday at work thanks me in advance.

But there’s something I’ll miss about the excitement of Star Wars, which reduced my capacity for rational thought and just turned me into a fanboy.

I guess I’ll get one more shot with Episode IX next year.

In the meantime … Alden Ehrenreich, eh? I still wish they’d gone with Anthony Ingruber.