Since the early ’80s, Star Wars fans have ranked among pop culture’s most ardent, voluble, and, in all the most classical modes of the term, geeky movie devotees. They recite chapter and verse of the stilted dialogue; they inveigh against the very existence of Ewoks with an irrational rage; they nod in solemn agreement that Han—not Greedo—shot first; they name their children Anakin and Leia and even “Arturito” (as R2D2 is known in several Latin American countries).
But increasingly, Star Wars fans are also known to rain down righteous scorn whenever confronted by a perceived affront to their cherished IP. To wit: the recent backlash against The Last Jedi for being too “jokey,” for Luke Skywalker being insufficiently Obi-Wan Kenobi-ish, and for straying too far from the franchise’s established tone, even while the film received no small number of critical raves. The upshot: The Last Jedi got the lowest Rotten Tomatoes audience score of any movie in the series and, taking in $1.3 billion in global box-office receipts, came up about $200 million short of financial analysts’ predictions.
Leading into Sunday’s Super Bowl unveiling of the first teaser trailer (and a full trailer reveal the following day) for Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is due in theaters May 25, the interwebs were again rife with fan discontent. At issue: Just four months out from the release of this stand-alone prequel that is set to fill in the backstory of Harrison Ford’s beloved space smuggler Han Solo, a veil of secrecy and bad buzz had enveloped the Alden Ehrenreich–starring “space Western.” Then, right around the time of the trailer drop, a curious thing happened. Star Wars fans began to actively root for the film to flop.
“Part of us wants this film to fail,” said Joe Vargas, host of the Angry Joe Show on YouTube (2.9 million subscribers) whose self-described purview is “Games, Movies & Geek Stuff.” “I was thinking maybe if it does bad, Disney will be smarter with how they do these future things.”
“Honestly, I didn’t want a movie about Han Solo!” added co-host Joe Lopez.
On the heels of months of anonymously sourced reports detailing the film’s troubled production, this fresh blast of bad press is almost certainly the last thing Lucasfilm wants. In June came the internet-breaking announcement that original co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had been fired from Solo (then known as Young Han Solo) after clashing creatively with studio boss Kathleen Kennedy. Two days later, journeyman filmmaker Ron Howard was hired to finish the film—which reportedly only had three weeks of shooting left. Then came the stories of internal chaos and budget overrun from the set: Lucasfilm execs were so dismayed by Ehrenreich’s performance, they hired an acting coach for him midway through production; and Howard had reportedly reshot up to 80 percent of the movie, cutting out the performance of Michael K. Williams in its entirety.
Matters weren’t helped by trailers and posters for the film being held back until this week, furthering the impression that Disney had something to hide. Or the unverified but widely circulated December 24 report on Screen Geek (attributed to a “source close to the film’s production”) that the Solo script was “unworkable,” and that “Disney is bracing themselves for the Han Solo movie to bomb. They were worried about it before all The Last Jedi controversy, but now they’re essentially writing Solo off.”
Somehow, that specter of financial underperformance caught fire within a segment of the fan community. And in a January 28 Forbesop-ed column entitled “Why I Want ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ to Fail,” contributing writer Dani Di Placido laid out in broad strokes both the main knocks against the film and a newly partisan outlook toward its floppage.
“I want Solo to bomb spectacularly at the box office, mercilessly mauled by critics. I want an army of furious Star Wars fans out in force, furiously Tweeting with their finger firmly on the caps lock button, launching wave upon wave of angry reaction gifs,” Di Placido wrote. “[It] doesn’t matter how good the film is, frankly, because I hate the idea. Solo is Hollywood at its most cynical, squeezing every last drop of blood from an iconic character until he’s nothing but a faded husk, played by Alden Ehrenreich.”
It is, of course, impossible to quantify what percentage of the Star Wars fan nation is actively wishing for Solo not to succeed at the box office—and that standpoint is not likely reflective of a majority of fans. But in the months before its all-but-inevitable promotional blitz, it’s fair to say the movie is already polarizing the franchise’s faithful like no installment before it.
“I think there was some skepticism from the very beginning,” says Brandon Rhea, manager of content of the Fandom Star Wars community and operator of the Wookieepedia Twitter feed. “I don’t think it’s an invalid question to ask, ‘Why do we need a prequel movie about Han Solo?’ So all the trailers and the marketing are going to have to sway people away from that skepticism and sell the idea that this is a story worth telling.”
Adds Rhea, who has been active in the Star Wars fan community since 2004: “It is a little strange to me, coming off of a movie like The Last Jedi where one of the biggest points that they made is—not that the past doesn’t matter, but—it’s time to move forward.
This feels like it’s immediately a step back. I think that’s something people are responding to.”
On Reddit, fans have spent weeks postulating that the troubled production will ultimately lead the studio to delay Solo’s release—which falls just three weeks after the rollout of another megabudget Disney-distributed film, Avengers: Infinity War, and is expected to cannibalize some of its ticket sales. Meanwhile, another (albeit more minor) fan freak-out greeted Lucasfilm’s release of Solo’s official synopsis—“Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes”—earlier this month. The main complaint? That everyone already knew to expect Chewie and Donald Glover as Lando. And that absence of fresh intel again compounded suspicions that Lucasfilm is doing its best to conceal a filmic turd.
But more trenchantly for many of the Star Wars faithful, Solo conjures up memories of previous prequel installments—namely Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones,and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith—which are generally understood as the franchise’s lowest creative ebb.
“Star Wars has a troubled history with prequel films,” noted YouTuber/cultural commentator Ryan—Straight Up! in a February 5 Solo trailer-reaction video. “And that, combined with the fact that Lucasfilm is telling a story that I don’t really think needs to be told leaves much to be desired about the film. And frankly, it gives it much higher expectations than it probably should.”
So is there any possible scenario in which Solo will indeed flop? Not likely according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore Inc. “In a way, Star Wars films are flop-proof,” he says. “Even if you hear it may not be the best of them, how can you be a fan and not go? If you want to talk about it, you have to go see it.”
“The difference between ‘love’ and ‘like’ could be a couple hundred million dollars—it could be more,” he continues. “By the way, the fact that people are pissed off is good. They’re passionate. They’re getting all worked up. They want more info and they’re not getting it, so they’re lashing out. Sometimes that mystery factor can be frustrating for fans who literally cannot wait for the next Star Wars movie. Very few brands can create that level of conversation. But if the movie comes out and everyone loves it, all is forgiven in an instant.”