Star Wars, Solo, and the Culture of Big, Meaningless Reveals
For years now, Lucasfilm has been developing a prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy about the adventures of a young Han Solo. This project, like almost everything labeled “Star Wars” nowadays, has been shrouded in mystery this whole time, with very little revealed about the production and its story. Heck, Lucasfilm wouldn’t even tell us the TITLE of the movie, forcing everyone to just call it something boring like Solo, under the assumption that that would change at some point down the road.
Then, today, the announcement finally came. Ron Howard revealed the title, the one that Lucasfilm had been keeping from us all along.
And it’s… Solo.
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) October 17, 2017
There’s nothing wrong with that title. There’s also nothing newsworthy about it, other than that it’s official now. It’s not revealing, it’s not exciting. Heck, Solo is so obvious that everyone defaulted to calling the movie Solo as soon as the project was announced. This is only news because they hadn’t told us yet, not because it’s interesting in any way.
It’s a frustrating turn of events. It’s a perfectly adequate title, again, but it’s banal adequacy calls even more attention to the fact that there’s something very insidious about how studios are manipulating fans into thinking that everything is important, simply because we don’t know it yet.
If Lucasfilm had revealed that the title of Solo was Solo when the movie was originally announced, the only thing that would be different today is that “Solo” might not be trending on social media. Except it’s Star Wars, which trends almost every day anyhow, so maybe there would be no difference whatsoever.
Lucasfilm and Disney’s approach to Star Wars has been to treat everything like a potential spoiler, to build buzz for a franchise that – let’s be honest – already has more market penetration than any other film series in the world. It’s a successful business model for them because we keep falling for it. We treat every tiny, relatively meaningless revelation like it’s important news, even though it’s often not.
Be honest here: if you knew that Daisy Ridley was the protagonist of Star Wars: The Force Awakens before you saw it, and not (as many were led to believe) John Boyega, would that “spoil” the movie? Meaning, would you be unable to enjoy it anymore? Probably not. The movie makes this information clear pretty early on. The news wasn’t withheld to preserve the moviegoing experience, it was withheld to make that moviegoing experience more monetarily valuable for the studio.
In other words, holding back information for the sake of holding back information helps the studio, and arguably no one else. When you tell us so little that the meaningless title of a movie feels like a headline, it’s a calculated manipulation. It ensures that Star Wars will always feel like an important event, even though a new one comes out every single year.
That’s a BRILLIANT marketing strategy. Don’t get me wrong. It makes audiences with even a casual interest in Star Wars want to see every film in a theater, on opening weekend if possible, so that their experience won’t be spoiled. Never mind that the whole experience would probably only be spoiled because we’ve been tricked into thinking that every little thing about Star Wars is, by definition, a spoiler.
[Not that there isn’t a line to be crossed, of course. The fact that Kylo Ren (spoilers) his own (spoiler) was obviously a secret that deserved to be kept. But not every part of a movie qualifies a dramatic twist. Indeed, most don’t.]
The only movie franchises we see doing this successfully are the ones that are potentially getting too big for their britches, the ones that produce at least one movie a year by studios who are probably living in absolute terror that these tentpole releases are going to wear out their welcome. When smaller franchises try this they shoot themselves in the foot. Just look at Blade Runner 2049, a movie with a marketing campaign so shrouded in secrecy that they never told audiences who haven’t seen the original what it was about or why they should care, which probably has a lot to do with why it is tanking (tragically) at the box office.
What’s more, studios are making us complicit in these shenanigans by making it seem as though the slow trickle of minuscule news items, which only exist to generate anticipation, is now, suddenly, the whole damned point of moviegoing.
When you watch a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie or a DC Extended Universe movie or Star Wars movie, it only lasts a couple hours. But the anticipation lasts years, and some of us really enjoy that anticipation. We protect ourselves from spoilers to preserve our enthusiasm, to relish in our sense of suspense. Even though that sense of suspense is, again, a calculated marketing ploy. We’ve been tricked into spending more time consuming the marketing than we do consuming the actual movie.
I mean, HAVEN’T we? There are multiple podcasts, web series and web sites dedicated to dissecting every piece of information about Star Wars, concocting fan theories and building up buzz. That’s totally fine, heaven knows the audience is there, but isn’t it strange that we’ve turned the anticipation for movies – in the context of Star Wars, the MCU and the DCEU, in particular – into something more valuable and time-consuming than the movies themselves?
We’re not patiently waiting around to find out if these movies are good. We are actively hoping they are good, every single day of the year. We are investing an exorbitant amount of our own personal time and energy into the idea that these movies will eventually be worth watching. And that might not be the case, when all is said and done, but if you’re subconsciously trying to justify your own significant personal investment, you might not be in the right frame of mind to judge the movie honestly one way or the other.
Again, that’s a BRILLIANT marketing strategy. It makes fans so emotionally invested in these expensive products that we unironically celebrate holidays that only exist to advertise promotional tie-ins. It makes us define ourselves by our love of something, even though we haven’t seen it yet, which in turn skews us towards an affection akin unconditional love.
I’m honestly curious to see how long Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. can keep pulling this off. It’s fascinating.
So, to recap: the revelation that Solo is the title of the Han Solo prequel isn’t interesting or meaningful in itself. If anything, it’s obvious. What IS interesting, and what DOES have meaning, is that we’ve been collectively convinced that it was worth turning into a big reveal in the first place.
Top Photo: Ron Howard / Lucasfilm
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.