A disappointing Solo outing does not mean the end for Disney’s elaborate Star Wars plans.
A Disney film equals money at the box office. There are only a few occasions where the films they have released haven’t been up to financial snuff; movies like A Wrinkle in Time, Tomorrowland, John Carter, and The Lone Ranger come to mind. More often than not, a Disney film will hit the multiplexes and make a ton of money. Especially with the name Star Wars attached to it. That makes it even more surprising that Solo: A Star Wars Story didn’t connect with audiences. Was it box-office fatigue? Elaborating on a story few cared to explore? A messy and public changing of the guard? Whatever the reason Solo failed to earn the big box office return of its predecessors, one thing is for certain: Star Wars isn’t going away soon.
Hot on the heels of the second weekend at the box office, pundits announced that the $250 million Solo film would cause a write-off of $50 million for Disney. With the wild success of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, not to mention the upcoming Incredibles 2, Disney is in no position to be worried about a disappointment of this measure. More damning is that perhaps Solo shows the first sign that the onslaught of Star Wars material has become too much for audiences to stomach. This is more alarming for Disney seeing they have monumental plans for future Star Wars movies, merchandise, theme parks, and the success of their new streaming service. Star Wars is central to all of that.
“It does make you a little bit nervous,” said Barton Crockett, a media and entertainment analyst with B. Riley FBR. He told The Los Angeles Times that, “Disney is putting a lot of money into this brand. It’s crucial that this brand feels fresh and relevant.” Before Solo, Star Wars was proving as strong as ever for Disney. The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and The Last Jedi crushed box office records and brought the franchise back into the spotlight. Despite some hate and vitriol from a minority of voices, all three movies were well received and highly acclaimed.
So what went wrong with Solo: A Star Wars Story?
A few explanations come to mind for what might’ve happened to this latest entry in the Star Wars canon. The biggest of which might be box-office fatigue. The Last Jedi launched in theaters around Christmas time and that meant only five months between the release of Star Wars features. Never in the history of the franchise have movies released that close to one another. Star Wars has always been positioned as an event film. When you make it a common occurrence, it becomes less exciting. Disney might have thought they could get away with it, given how their Marvel movies have been released, but it doesn’t work for Star Wars. The series’ next entry, Episode IX, won’t launch until Christmas 2019. By then the fever for a new Star Wars feature will be higher than right now for sure.
Solo: A Star Wars Story felt like an adventure few audiences wanted to take. Littered with up-and-coming actors and a few recognizable faces, Disney was hoping to sell the feature on brand recognition and the hopes that people loved the character of Han Solo enough to see his earlier adventures. The biggest issue is that the story wasn’t so hot. The script suffers from wanting to conceptualize all the minutiae of the original Star Wars trilogy. Audiences don’t care how Han got his name or how Chewbacca got his nickname. Leave that to the imagination. Forget about the big reveal that will confuse 70% of the audience that doesn’t follow Star Wars cartoons. The movie felt like a love letter to the most hardcore Star Wars fans and few others. That made word of mouth a disappointment and general interest waned.
The last reason is one that has plagued the Disney Star Wars films for a while now. Kathleen Kennedy is the true general behind this vision of the Star Wars universe and if you aren’t willing to play ball with her, then you are out. Lord and Miller made the casting decisions and were involved with the early look of the picture. Ron Howard came in and steered the ship. What we are left with is a film that feels like the vision of a collective rather than an individual. Most audiences might not even notice this, but there are some noticeable moments when you can tell the gauntlet changed hands during the movie.
So does a bad box office return mean a stoppage of Disney’s Star Wars plans? Not a chance. Including the aforementioned Star Wars: Episode IX and a streaming series penned by director Jon Favreau, there is word of a few more projects. Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been hired to write a new series of films, as has The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. This doesn’t even include the Boba Fett or Obi-Wan movies that are reportedly in early development. Unless we hear about the cancellation of one of these projects, that means that there are at least nine new movies and a television series in the works. Disney is all in on Star Wars.
Given the initial investment Disney made in buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, they’ve made back their money and then some, not only with the movies but with tons of merchandising and the upcoming Star Wars theme parks. Disney will not let one film change their projections. There need to be changes in how Lucasfilm management works with directors and how these movies are shaped. Star Wars will be around for a long time, but the audience perception of the brand is vital for continued success.