Ever since ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ opened to unusually soft box office returns (for a ‘Star Wars’ film, at least), much hay has been made over just what that means for both the film and the future of ‘Star Wars’. But just what is the deal with the movie’s performance? Was ‘Solo’ just that bad? Was the movie released too soon after ‘The Last Jedi’? Is this the result of some sort of sustained fan backlash to ‘The Last Jedi’? The answers, if you ask me, are “no,” “probably not,” and “hell no,” in that order.
But even assuming I’m right, what then is the explanation? Well, the movie’s well-documented production woes probably didn’t help, but it’s hardly unique among Disney-era ‘Star Wars’ movies in that regard. But according to an investor report from Doug Creutz, a veteran media analyst at Cowen, we may all be overthinking this a bit. With regard to the supposed backlash to ‘The Last Jedi’, Creutz points out that “if the franchise was able to survive ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones’, we have a hard time believing ‘Last Jedi’ could have done that much damage.” According to Creutz, the most logical answer might actually, be to paraphrase the Clinton-era political slogan, “It’s the marketing, stupid!” To illustrate this point, he contrasts the early teasers for both ‘Solo’ and the previous anthology film, ‘Rogue One’.
“We think the movie’s biggest problem was its marketing. To illustrate, here is the original teaser trailer for ‘Rogue One’. It came out 247 days before the film. The first 35 seconds of the trailer almost exclusively focuses on Felicity Jones as the protagonist Jyn Erso, selling her as a new franchise hero. The second half is dominated by the Imperial alert klaxon and Forest Whitaker’s voice over, and practically screams “EPIC” at the viewer, before closing on another hero shot of Jones.”
“Now contrast that to the original teaser trailer for ‘Solo’, which came out just 108 days before the movie, offering a far shorter hype window. Disney’s marketing department, in our opinion, had one job: sell audiences on Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo (who we thought did a creditable job in the movie with very tough shoes to fill). The teaser, by our count, only had about 10 seconds of screen time where Ehrenreich’s face was clearly in the picture – not, in our opinion, nearly enough. In general, we felt like the ‘Solo’ marketing campaign didn’t fully get up to speed until about a month before the movie came out, and that is simply too short of a window for a big franchise picture.”
To be sure, it might actually be underselling it to say that there was a dearth of advance hype for ‘Solo’. Some have suggested that Disney was hesitant to promote the movie while ‘The Last Jedi’ was in theaters, but that sort of thing hasn’t ever exactly been a problem for the Marvel films, which have maintained a much more brisk release schedule. Personally, I found it difficult to escape the perception (fairly or not) that Disney was just trying to cut their losses after a troubled production.
Additionally, it’s worth remembering that we’re a little under three years and four films into the Disney era of annual ‘Star Wars’ releases. That being the case, we’re likely still figuring out what the “normal” or baseline box office looks for ‘Star Wars’ films that are simply a thing that happens every year (or even every couple of years, a la the James Bond movies) rather than a generational event for movie audiences (as was the case with the original and prequel trilogies). ‘The Force Awakens’ was an event in every conceivable sense. So was ‘The Last Jedi’, though not to the same degree. ‘Rogue One’ was in many ways an experiment. ‘Solo’, by contrast, just sort of is. Between this and the marketing (which, I would tend to agree, doesn’t do the best job of selling Alden Ehrenreich in the title role – though he ultimately acquits himself well enough), there simply wasn’t much to get more casual fans to get excited about the movie. Combine that with stiff competition in the form of ‘Deadpool 2’ and Disney’s own ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and you have a recipe for exactly this.
Creutz does suggest a solution, though: promoting Dave Filoni “to a higher level of importance at Lucasfilm.” Filoni, of course, has masterminded both the ‘Clone Wars’ and ‘Rebels’ animated series (the latter of which is widely seen as “redeeming” the prequel era) and is serving as executive producer on the upcoming series ‘Resistance’. Creutz ultimately expects that ‘Solo’ will prove to be an outlier, also notes in closing that “assuming Disney can execute on quality and marketing,” ‘Episode IX’ will likely do at least as well at the box office as ‘The Last Jedi’, with future anthology films averaging closer to the numbers ‘Rogue One’ pulled.
What do you think weighed ‘Solo’ down at the box office? Do you agree with Creutz’s suggestion of promoting Dave Filoni, or do you have another solution? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on ‘Solo’ and other ‘Star Wars’ projects as it becomes available!