Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) made a mistake in picking Han Solo for a standalone movie. That error shows bad judgment by executives who decided to tell a story that few people wanted told. It is not a sign that consumers have tired of the Star Wars universe.
Solo failed at the box office because few Star Wars fans cared about the background of a character who was interesting partly because he was mysterious. The audience knew how Han Solo entered the Star Wars universe, his role in saving it multiple times, and even how he died.
What he did before that just wasn’t that interesting; there’s no mystery when you know the ending. Disney’s mistake was simply in thinking that anyone cared about what Han did before he met Leia and Luke.
The expanded universe
While the original set of Star Wars novels are no longer considered canon, I’ve read every single one of them. In most cases, I enjoyed them because they advanced the story and revealed new details about the “galaxy far, far away,” and what happened to the characters from the films.
The exceptions were the Expanded Universe (EU) novels that looked back on Han Solo’s past. Those always bored me, because the films gave away all the backstory fans needed on the rogue hero. Learning how he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs (covered both in the EU and in Solo) added nothing to the character.
Rogue One was a hit because it took a tiny piece of Star Wars backstory and built something entirely new around it. Aside from Darth Vader’s cameo, it was a story full of unknowns, and a pretty good heist film that stood on its own. Solo filled in details few people wanted to know for a character whose fate was already tragically sealed.
What happens next?
Disney should tell Star Wars stories that advance our understanding of the characters and what happens to them after the films. In the EU, Boba Fett survived the Sarlacc pit. If that ends up becoming canon, then his continuing adventures would make for a good film idea. Nobody wants to learn about young Boba’s adventures, but how he survived and whether he engaged Solo again (as he did many times in the EU) would be tales worth telling.
The best EU books showed the ongoing adventures of everyone from Luke and Leia to lesser players like Wedge Antilles. Some also focused on characters like Grand Admiral Thrawn (canon through the Star Wars Rebels TV series) who played no part in the original films.
An endless appetite
Star Wars fans will almost certainly have an endless appetite for movies that advance the story and reveal new details that are surprising. The company should not scrap its anthology films; it should focus them on telling stories that consumers are interested in.
In addition to a Boba Fett movie, there’s 20 years’ worth of Darth Vader’s personal torment and hunt for the Jedi: already comic-book fodder. There are also countless parts of the galaxy impacted by the events we’ve seen in the films that are not part of the story of the characters we know.
As a Star Wars fan, I want to learn new details. Give me tales of ancient Sith, or let me see shocking details about characters I know that change how I see them. I don’t need to see what Chewbacca was like as a young Wookiee, but his ongoing adventures outside the tale told by the core trilogy might make an excellent film.
Disney has endless tales it can tell in the Star Wars universe. Solo was just not the right one. His origin story wasn’t relevant to an audience that saw a rogue become a hero as he said: “You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home.”
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