Warning: Spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story and Deadpool.
The summer blockbuster season is upon us once again, which means a brand new crop of big budget films featuring some of our favorite franchise characters. We’ve seen the arrival of brand new additions to the Star Wars and X-Men universes, and this summer will bring the latest installment to the MCU in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
There comes a point in all major franchises when they’ve told the stories they came to tell and are then faced the daunting task of continuing those stories with sequels and prequels and tie-ins and the like. When that point arrives, there seems to spring up one very big problem: supporting characters whose narratives are far more interesting than those of the star.
It’s already happened twice this summer, in both Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story. Both films were all but inevitable — the first Deadpool did insanely well at the box office, and Star Wars has been growing exponentially since being acquired by Disney — but both also introduced audiences to characters who seemed to have a lot more going on behind the scenes than even the protagonists of the films.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Solo’s Enfys Nest.
Nest is introduced to the audience initially as the dangerous and deadly leader of a band of pirates, and a thorn in the side of Han and his new friends. Her attempts to head off the crew’s theft of coaxium — the fuel which powers hyperdrives — in the first act of the film leads to the deaths of several of his friends and near death for the rest as they have to face their employer after having failed. When she and her Cloud Riders return, however, to once again stop them from getting the highly valued fuel to the crime boss Dryden Vos, her story takes on a brand new layer.
First, she is essentially a child. Moreso, though, she is a child who has been orphaned (or so we are led to believe, anyway) by the Empire. She and her Cloud-Riders are, in her own words, the spark that starts the rebellion.
Star Wars has always been a story about struggle. Whether we’re talking about the Sith or the Empire or the First Order, the characters of this franchise have always been people fighting an oppressive regime or, in the case of the prequel trilogy, failing to stop the rise of one. The purpose of these tie-in stories, so far, has been essentially to fill in missing pieces in Star Wars lore. Rogue One offered us a look at the mission to capture the Death Star plans, as well as the earlier days of the Rebellion and the kind of sacrifice required to save the galaxy.
Solo, however, doesn’t really add much to the larger story of Star Wars. It ties into the franchise only by providing backstory for fan favorites Han, Chewie, and Lando, but it’s main problem is the fact that, while it is a fine film and a fun heist movie, it doesn’t entirely justify its existence. There are few, if any, questions posed in the film that really, truly, needed to be answered.
The arrival of Enfys Nest, however, and the introduction to the people who would become the rebellion (later joined by Jyn Erso and Leia Organa) offers so much more meat to the movie that when their short time on screen has ended, you cannot help but wish to go with them, to see their story, and think that maybe seeing the tale of how a rebellion begins (perhaps intersecting with Han in the process) would've been time better spent than watching Han get his ship and his blaster.Deadpool runs into a similar issue, though his is a bit less blatant. In the follow up to his 2016 debut, Deadpool 2 tries to bring the fourth wall-breaking anti-hero a little closer to Earth, giving him a story with more emotion and greater stakes than were apparent in his first outing. It’s not a bad movie, but as with Solo, one of its greatest assets is also one of its biggest downfalls.
Deadpool 2 introduces us to Domino, the hero for hire with luck on her side. That’s her superpower. She’s lucky. It’s very weird but it works on screen in much the same way it works on the page. Her strange abilities, Zazie Beetz's performance in the film, and the fact that she was raised at the very orphanage villain Russell wants to destroy all make for an interesting character. Maybe, though, she is too interesting, as for much of the film you cannot help but wonder why the entire story doesn’t just revolve around her instead of Deadpool’s man pain. Much like Enfys Nest, Domino’s backstory presents a great deal more interesting questions which the viewer knows will never be answered, because Deadpool 2 isn’t a movie revolving around her character.
The original Ant-Man struggled with a similar issue. Hope Van Dyne was a far more interesting and capable hero than Scott, but it wasn’t her movie, so she never got a chance to shine, relegated instead to more capable sidekick, trainer, and resident girl. That might be, at least in part, why this summer’s sequel is called Ant-Man and the Wasp, elevating her character to the same place as her partner. But the question still remains as to why Ant-Man wasn’t about her to begin with.
All of these franchises seek to build upon an existing story, and each does so largely by creating new characters to fill out and color the universe, never realizing that those colors are brighter than the ones with which they’re already working. Perhaps a better way to go about creating these characters is to simply write your sequel, choose the most interesting background character, and then throw out everything else.
At the end of the day, we should ask ourselves whose fault it is that we’re not getting the most interesting version of the story. Are the writers, producers or studios not willing to take a risk? Or is it on us, the audience, to ask not that these studios and creators simply bring us more stories from our favorite universes, but that they bring us better, more interesting adventures featuring new, intriguing characters?