In the wake of Solo‘s lackluster opening weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Released in, 1969 OHMSS was the first “flop” of the James Bond franchise and there are marked similarities between the 6th official Bond film and the 2nd Star Wars spin-off. OHMSS replaced beloved Bond star Sean Connery with an unknown younger actor named George Lazenby, the production was plagued with bad press regarding on-set drama and the script was laden with ham-handed references to previous entries. The story also portrayed a softer side of James Bond. We saw him experience a moment of heartache that helped us understand why he would grow into such a cynical womanizer as the years went on.
Audiences balked at the idea of a new actor portraying cherished character and OHMSS under-performed at the box office. Critics rang a death knell for the James Bond series and predicted the character would drift into irrelevance in the 1970s and beyond. The producers panicked and orchestrated a quick course correction. Sean Connery returned for the following film which doubled down on the tried and formula for the series. OHMSS became known as the black sheep of the Bond saga and Lazenby disappeared into obscurity.
As the years wore on Lazenby’s solo turn as the world’s greatest secret agent was re-evaluated by critics and fans alike. Eventually it became regarded as an underrated classic and one of the best in the series. By the time I became interested in James Bond there were some hardcore fans who went as far as to say it was the best Bond film.
I hope that someday Solo will be regarded as an underrated entry in the Star Wars saga. It’s far from a perfect film and an ultimately an entirely unnecessary one. And yet it tickles a place in my heart that I haven’t felt since the first entry in the series. The criticisms leveled at the film are precisely what I enjoyed about it. I like that we see a fully-formed Han Solo rather than see him become Han Solo. We saw how that approach went down with Anakin in the prequels. I enjoyed that the film checked off all of the boxes one would expect in a Han Solo film. I loved that it fixed the Kessell run parsec problem and we see Han shoot first. I like the little references to the old expanded universe lore. Fundamentally I just enjoyed Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. He’s cocky, funny and charming. Like Lazenby he has big boots to fill. No one will ever be Harrison Ford just as no one will ever be Sean Connery but Ehrenreich does a better job than anyone expected and I think anyone else would have been able to pull off.
I’m not worried that one flop far far away will tank the Star Wars universe or ruin anyone’s career. I am worried that Disney and Lucasfilm will learn the wrong lessons from taking a loss on this entry. I’m worried they will make an illogical course correction and steer the franchise in the wrong direction. It’s debatable whether OHMSS is the best Bond film, but history has been much kinder on it than the next entry, Diamonds are Forever. Diamonds was regarded as a welcome return to form for the superspy but now routinely ranks among the worst films in the series. Whereas Lazenby’s bond was youthful, athletic and energetic, Connery is doughy and disinterested in Diamonds, thoroughly phoning in his performance. While OHMSS is a tightly-plotted hard-nosed adventure film, Diamonds is a bloated self parody that lazily drifts between set pieces. The style of OHMSS maintains a timeless quality whereas Diamonds is a dreadfully tacky exercise in 1970s excess. James Bond remained successful for decades to come but in retrospect it really lost its way after their first flop. One need only look to Moonraker or Die Another Day for that reality to sink in. I hope that the next Star Wars film will not be the Moonraker of the series.
The reputation of OHMSS as a flop is actually misleading. Although not a box office phenomenon like its predecessors, the film did make money. And I’m confident that as the years go on Solo will eventually roll into the black on Disney’s ledgers. I hope that Disney chooses to move forward with another Solo or Lando film despite this disappointing take, much in the same way Warner Brothers continues to churn out DC movies despite horrible reviews and mediocre earnings. But even if Solo turns out to be the George Lazenby of the Star Wars universe I will always cherish this charming but troubled $300 million disaster.