SOLO: When Easter-Eggs Go Wrong – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on Solo: A Star Wars Story!
Written & Narrated by: Helen Floersh
Directed by: Robert Timestra
Edited by: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Patron Executive Producer: Brent Krafft
SOLO: When Easter-Eggs Go Wrong – Wisecrack Edition
Hey guys, Helen here, Wisecrack’s resident science nerd. While 14-year-old Jared was waiting in line 7 hours early for The Matrix: Reloaded, I was playing with my Star Wars action figures, acting out weird love triangles between Qui-Gon, Jango, and Princess Leia and trying to convince my family that my home planet was actually Alderaan. So, I decided to flex my Star Wars Geekery for this discussion of Disney’s latest installment in the Star Wars Cinematic Universe: Solo. The movie fills in the backstory of our favorite smuggler-turned-hero, showing us how a young Han transforms into the legendary Han Solo… sort of. Given that the other films have been massive cash cows, Solo was expected to do pretty well, even considering the Last Jedi backlash and potential franchise fatigue. But Solo flopped. It’s on track to be the first unprofitable Star Wars film ever.
This should surprise you for one reason: everything about this movie is designed to be marketable and give you the warm fuzzies. So, what went wrong? Let’s take a look in this Wisecrack Edition on how even psychology couldn’t sell Solo. Thanks to our sponsors at Brilliant.org for making this video possible, and as always, spoilers ahead. Solo kicks off sometime around the year 13 BBY, that’s 3264 on the Lothal calendar, and ends roughly 10 years before Rogue One and A New Hope. The movie follows aspiring pilot and scoundrel-to-be Han, as he goes from a bright-eyed romantic to an outlaw who shoots first. “Sorry about the mess.”
Along the way, he picks up a lovable 196-year-old Wookiee, a notorious technosexual smuggler and the Millennium Falcon, though he doesn’t quite pull off the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs – unless you round down. Here’s Solo’s fundamental strategy: make us nostalgic for the good ol’ days of Star Wars by cramming in as many easter eggs and nods to the past Star Wars as possible. There’s the golden dice, the planet Felucia, viper droids, Mandalorian armor, Twi’leks, Jabba the Hutt, Bossk the Bounty Hunter, colo clawfish, and of course, Darth Maul. And that’s just scratching the surface.
The movie is one easter egg after the next, pulling references not only from the films, but also from the novelizations, the video games, and the animated series. The reference to Aurra Sing, Lando’s disguise from Return of the Jedi and Qi’ra’s impressive command of Teräs Käsi are great ways to make fans who know two generations-worth of Star Wars lore feel like they have a special connection to the film. But despite the outstanding fan service and some great deep cuts, the movie falls short because nostalgia alone can’t propel a film, and might even get in the way. While I can’t read Disney’s mind, the reason they relied on all this nostalgia seems pretty… obvious. Marketers use nostalgia to sell stuff all the time, and it’s no different in movies. Just look at the Force Awakens: besides bringing back the actual characters – and actors – from the original trilogy, the film paid homage to its predecessors in the form of things like trash compactors, podracing flags and that even that werewolf alien thing from the Mos Eisley cantina. Neuroscience has a possible explanation for why this trick could be super effective: it involves the brain’s reward system. Some imaging studies have shown that the parts of the brain tied to feelings like pleasure, motivation, and euphoria are activated when you’re experiencing nostalgia.
So, for long-time Star Wars fans, seeing things like Han’s dice and hearing the sound of the imperial fighters are like a jump to hyperspace for the feel-good pathways in your brain – which is exactly what Disney wants to happen, because then you’ll keep coming back for more. Or buy some Solo dice cufflinks and a Kessel run T-shirt. But nostalgia marketing aside, these easter eggs do something else. In the case of humor, being on the receiving end of an inside joke makes us feel more affiliation with the jokester and makes them seem more “socially desirable”. “I do not understand-” “I do! I understood that reference.”
And according to the encryption theory of humor, jokes are funny not just because of their superficial content, but because they broadcast shared knowledge between the funny person and their audience. So, if you caught yourself laughing in the scene where Chewie’s losing it over being beaten at dejarik or the one where he’s holding up the guard’s severed arms, the writers did their job – from a psychology standpoint, the fact that Disney shares your “inside knowledge” that Wookiees rip peoples’ arms off makes you feel like they get it. “But sir, nobody worries about upsetting a droid.” “That’s ‘cause a droid don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets if they loose. Wookiees are known to do that.”
But here’s where Solo lands itself in trouble. Plenty of movies have inside jokes and references while also giving us well-developed characters. But in the process of doubling-down on nostalgic easter eggs, Disney fails to give us a legit origin story. Solo’s fundamental problem is that Alden Ehrenreich has to convince us he’s Harrison Ford’s Han Solo from the very start: he’s got the arrogance, the wisecracks, the hustle — Han’s supposed transition is basically 75 percent complete right from the beginning. So, by the time he shoots Beckett at the end, it doesn’t seem like much of a change – he’s been acting like Harrison Ford the whole time. The film makes gestures of a transformation, but they seem half-hearted when crammed between 8,000 other nostalgia triggers. As a result, for a film that promises to showcase the development of one of the most beloved characters in sci-fi history, it feels more like a Buzzfeed top 10 list of Han Solo trivia.
Even significant plot points – like the way Han gets his last name, meets Lando or wins the Millennium Falcon – feel like easter eggs. Take Hans relationship with Chewie: Han’s only known him for a couple minutes before their relationship has the same dynamic as it does throughout the rest of the saga. Normally, we’d expect this kind of connection to develop and mature over time, but because Disney’s top priority was to trigger nostalgia and familiarity rather than truly show development, it ends up feeling shallow – the movie gets it out of the way and moves on to the next bit of trivia. The point of an origin story is to show us how a character we know and love comes to be who they are.
For instance, Batman Begins shows Bruce Wayne mastering his fears to become the legendary Dark Knight. Bruce starts out as a troubled, angsty, scared youth at the beginning, and by the end he is disciplined and unafraid. Doctor Strange starts off as a self-centered surgeon who only believes in cold rationality, and ends the film with him as a self-sacrificial mystic. But to be honest, I kind of get it. When you’re re-casting such an iconic role, you get stuck between a rock and a hard place. If Han’s antics at the beginning seemed completely different than Harrison Ford, the audience wouldn’t believe they were watching Han Solo. But if you have him act like Ford’s Solo from the beginning, you sacrifice a convincing arc for familiarity. If we were to try to give the film more credit, we might say that the arc is Han going from an aspiring scoundrel to an idealist when he decides to hand over the Hyperfuel to the budding resistance. But isn’t that the exact same arc from A New Hope? “Hey, I knew there was more to you than money!”
At worst, the film has no arc. And at best, it’s a retread of Episode 4. That’s not to say Solo doesn’t have moments of fun, but that’s really the best thing you could say about it. And hey, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a good time. But in our opinion, Disney could have done better by delivering an intriguing character rather than relying on cheap appeals to nostalgia in the form of endless easter eggs. But that’s our take – leave us yours in the comments below.