\nSolo: A Star Wars Story opened this past weekend to mostly warm reviews, but a very un-Star Wars global box office, tracking well below the usual Billion dollar hauls of previous installments, including the premier standalone anthology film, Rogue One. Even with rosy predictions of $400 million for gross box office, the movie was made on a budget of $250 million, which does not include marketing.
So what happened? Given the history of both Star Wars and Disney, how is a movie about one of the franchise’s most beloved characters unable to kill at the box office like the derivative but long anticipated The Force Awakens? Is this the end of what has become the most lucrative film franchise in history? Market analysts, talking head entertainment pundits, embittered fans, and film critics have all been throwing out their opinions on the matter, so we’re here to help sort through the muck and get to the bottom of the situation, and what Disney might consider moving forward with the franchise.
1) Star Wars Fatigue
When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2014, they firmly believed that there was definitely more to be mined, resulting in a hasty production slate that included one movie per year starting with The Force Awakens and a Dave Filoni-produced TV series to replace the suddenly canceled Clone Wars series. Four years later, the production slate is even more crowded, with a Rian Johnson-developed film trilogy, standalone movies rumored for Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi, 2 live action tv series in the works, and another animated series from Dave Filoni. One can’t help but wonder, is this too much of a good thing? Traditionally, George Lucas gave us a solid space of three years before releasing more Star Wars, a strategy that seemed to work pretty well for 80s and early aughts crowds, with books, comics, and even some tv specials filling in the gaps and slaking fans’ thirst for more in the meantime. Has the oversaturation soured diehard fans without making enough new fans to overcome the difference? It’s hard to say for sure, but there are a couple factors that contribute to this. First, Solo comes out a brief 5 months after The Last Jedi, the franchise’s most recent offering. The first three films released by Disney were all released a year apart, in the cinematically Hoth-like cold waste of December. Some theorize having a longer recovery time between movies and a less competitive movie schedule worked in favor of the other movies, but against Solo.
Second, the poor fan reception of The Last Jedi may have turned many hardcore fans off from seeing Solo simply to spite Disney and send the message that they are unhappy with their direction. This brings us to….
2) A Fickle Fanbase
Star Wars has one of the most loyal, fanatical, and enthusiastic fanbases of any franchise. In fact, their very existence for over 4 decades is what makes it possible for Star Wars to exist today. If there was no interest in Star Wars, Disney would never have shelled out that kind of money to buy a played-out franchise. And even the most critical detractors to the much-maligned prequels received The Force Awakens, making it the most successful of the Disney films so far. But despite their enthusiasm for the initial installment, reception cooled for each movie afterward, and the movie’s direct sequel, The Last Jedi, proved to be even more divisive than Jar-Jar Binks, which is saying quite a lot. Overzealous fans who prefer to believe they know more about Star Wars, storytelling, filmmaking, and running an company than Kathleen Kennedy and Bob Iger than appreciate what they’ve been given have turned on the thing they claim to love the most. The fact is that many embittered fans, still sore after The Last Jedi, were actively wanting Solo to fail, to the degree that they were encouraging others to skip it. All because they love Star Wars so much.
3) A Troubled Production
Another factor that may have affected the movie’s reception could be the problems the production faced behind the scenes. Lucasfilm had initially hired The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord and Chris Miller to direct, but when their loose style clashed with Disney’s tight production schedule and Larry Kasdan’s script, they were quickly replaced by Ron Howard. Additionally, an acting coach was hired for lead actor Alden Ehrenreich, sparking rumors that he wasn’t up to task. Ostensibly, movies plagued by these kinds of production problems typically don’t turn out well, and the internet was soon alight with fan speculation that the movie was doomed. But these things can easily be blown out of proportion, especially in this age of connectivity, where fans are so closely watching the production process at every step and news articles pour out over the internet at the slightest whiff of a rumor. Ron Howard is a proven director and a Hollywood legend, and was probably hired to assuage fans’ fears as much as for his directorial abilities. And as for Ehrenreich’s acting coach, it turns out that they were hired not to train the established actor how to act, but to fine tune his Harrison Ford swagger. As I said before, these things can get blown out of proportion.
So What Can Disney Do?
Well, in this whole equation, there are a few things Disney can control directly. First, spacing out their movies could relieve some of the movie goers’ exhaustion and regain part of what made Star Wars so special in the first place—scarcity. Second, they could take a cue from the original trilogy and spend a lot less money on making their movies. Part of why there is so much pressure on these movies to perform is because of the money dumped into them, producers just want to make their money back, and a low-earning movie could spell the end of a franchise. Part of what made the first Star Wars movie so special was actually budget constraints. ILM had to figure out creatively how to bring Lucas’ vision to the screen and it quickly became the new standard by which all visual effects would be measured and ILM remains the industry leader for VFX. I’m not suggesting Disney slash the budgets of ALL Star Wars movies, but find some that could be made for a lot less, focus on story, and drop those between big-budget tent poles to keep cash rolling in.
What is certain is Disney and Lucasfilm are going to re-evaluate their business strategy, but what measures they decide to take are still up to them. In the meantime, I’m still going to enjoy Star Wars, and I may go see Solo a second time.