“Solo: A Star Wars Story” premiered to an estimated $103 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Now, ordinarily this wouldn’t be considered a bad number. Plenty of films would kill to have this kind of opening weekend. However, it’s fair to say this is still a lot less than Disney had hoped for, especially considering the project’s reported $300 million budget and additional advertising expenses. Original projections were closer to $130-150 million for the opening weekend.
So, what happened to “Solo,” and what does this mean for the franchise going forward? There are lots of narratives flying around the internet theorizing what happened; some of the questions people are asking are valid, though this isn’t the harbinger of the demise of Disney Star Wars, by any means.
I personally wouldn’t call “Solo” a complete flop, despite what some are claiming. Still, the film has underperformed, considering its budget — which is a real shame, because “Solo” is a fun film and I thought Ron Howard did a good job salvaging the movie. It could have easily been a disaster with all that behind-the-scenes drama, including the director shake-up, reshoots, and casting controversy.
One of the phrases I’ve heard tossed around is “Star Wars fatigue.” Do I think that has anything to do with “Solo” underperforming? Yes and no. “Solo” came out about five months after “The Last Jedi,” and I think Disney would have been much smarter to hold this until late fall. Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe can sustain several releases a year but A) Star Wars is a different animal and B) not all Marvel films are the billion-dollar hits people seem to expect Star Wars to be. Star Wars movies have always felt more like event films — something that comes up every once in a while and people get really hyped for. As much as I love Star Wars (and believe me, I do love Star Wars), I really only want one Star Wars movie a year. Plus, I think people have kind of gotten used to Star Wars movies around Christmastime, and the summer movie season is so crowded these days. “Solo” wasn’t helped by being released so close to “Infinity War” and “Deadpool 2.”
Others argue “Solo” is underperforming due to the supposed fan backlash to “The Last Jedi.” Although critically well-received and financially successful, the film proved divisive amongst the fan base for some of its surprising narrative choices. As someone who really, really loved “The Last Jedi,” maybe I’m biased, but I just don’t think the majority of people (particularly the general public) completely loathed “The Last Jedi” with the passion of a thousand simultaneously-firing Death Stars. ? It absolutely inspired debate, and I totally respect the opinions of those who had a different reaction to the film than I did. However, I don’t see “Solo’s” underperformance as a direct tie to some kind of post-“Last Jedi” boycott, although that may have played a small role. I feel Disney doesn’t need to be concerned about Episode IX.
I think overall, people just weren’t as hyped to see a Han Solo origin story. The premise didn’t have the same intrigue as “Rogue One” or the buzz of the main “episodes.” People were skeptical about the re-casting of Han Solo, even though I think Alden Ehrenreich did a pretty good job. As I’ve mentioned before, even though we didn’t strictly need a Han Solo movie, the final product is a lot of fun, and I’m glad it’s part of the Star Wars canon. However, if Disney can’t motivate people to buy a ticket, how good the movie is or isn’t doesn’t matter. Maybe people didn’t view this as a “must see” film. Maybe some weren’t even aware it was coming out due to the delayed advertising and hype over “Infinity War.”
I wish Disney had just gone with Ron Howard as the director in the beginning and stuck with a more modest budget. Because if that was the case, “Solo” would be a moderate hit instead of an underperformer. I don’t think Disney should expect every Star Wars movie to be a billion-dollar hit. Not every Marvel movie is one of those, and that’s perfectly fine. The first Captain America and Thor movies both premiered under $70 million, and I think Disney should have been expecting numbers closer to that for “Solo.” It’s easy to treat Star Wars as an established franchise, like the MCU, but really the Disney Star Wars universe is its own thing (separate from the original trilogy and the prequels), and should be compared to the early days of the MCU, not the MCU as it is now (if it’s even fair to compare it to the MCU at all). Especially for these anthology films, Disney has to be prepared to tell smaller-scale stories and get a smaller box office gross. Also, for whatever reason, Star Wars just isn’t as big a hit internationally, and Disney will probably have to factor that into its future calculations as well.
Now, I will be really interested to see how “Solo” does its second weekend, because word of mouth for this film has actually been fairly positive (at least judging by what I’ve heard from fans). It doesn’t have a lot of competition the next two weeks, so hopefully more people will give it a chance. As a fan of what Disney has done with the Star Wars brand so far, this isn’t the result for “Solo” that I was hoping for, but hopefully this will simply help Disney adjust its budgeting process, release strategy, and expectations, and keep producing great Star Wars content for many years to come.