Solo box office fizzle: What should Disney do next with Star Wars?
Solo didn’t just come in a little rough around the edges at the box office. The latest Star Wars spin-off opened to only an estimated $101 million in ticket sales across a four-day holiday weekend. That’s not only a lower opening weekend earner than the three previous Disney Star Wars films but also softer in terms of the number of tickets sold compared to the three prequels (yes, even Attack of the Clones!).
Director Ron Howard admitted on Twitter that the film underperformed expectations, along with some characteristic optimism:
Howard also gamely endorsed positive reactions to the film all weekend while also retweeting a reporter who slammed Disney’s Memorial Day weekend release date:
But remember, Black Panther was released in February — a month when studios tend to dump weak performers — yet was still a massive hit. That title exceeding expectations suggested to studio bosses that any release date can be a success if there’s enough excitement about the film.
“We came into the beginning of the year with this one of the most anticipated films,” Disney’s head of worldwide distribution, Dave Hollis, told Deadline. “We gotta spend some time looking at the exits and get a better handle on all the questions.”
Reviews of the Han Solo prequel story were generally positive, though its box office reception has observers wondering if Disney should slow their roll on Star Wars films. After all, Solo opened just five months after The Last Jedi. In retrospect, pushing the film to the end of the year in retrospect seems like a smart idea (the other, more successful Disney Star Wars films all opened in December). But it’s also easy to see why Disney thought they could get away with a five-month gap when they sometimes release three Marvel titles in a single year and all of them are hits. Disney pushed it and the box office hyperdrive sputtered.
The Tuesday morning hot take among pundits is that “Star Wars is no Marvel” — this is not a galaxy that lends itself to aggressive expansion like the MCU. As CNET pointed out, Disney was trying to do with Star Wars the reverse of what Marvel did with its universe — starting with epic stories about groups of characters together and then telling individual stories (it’s like if Marvel had made The Avengers first and then did Thor and Iron Man, instead of vice versa). The result is arguably feeling like we’re getting thinner and thinner slices with each new movie, storywise.
But another issue with Solo and Rogue One in particular — and the Obi-Wan idea — is that they’re very different from Marvel’s standalone tales. They’re all prequels, which, in general, tend to drain some of the narrative life out of a story. You know going in certain characters aren’t really at risk, and the tale invariably becomes about filling in backstory rather than moving the ball forward.
Solo at least concluded with an intriguing ending, however, and it will be a little bit of a shame if we — spoiler alert — never find out what happened next with Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who was an engaging wild card in the film.
So looking forward you have to wonder: Do we really need a Boba Fett movie? (Probably not). And should popular Star Wars characters even get standalone films? (We’re still admittedly curious about that Obi-Wan Kenobi movie that’s in development). Disney’s development of an entirely new Star Wars saga from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss is probably the most exciting current project on the board because it’s presumably a new story, with new characters, from writers who know how to make epic fantasy and aren’t afraid of taking risks.
In any case, now we indeed get a Star Wars release date gap, and a significant one: Star Wars: Episode IX, which returns J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair, isn’t coming out until Dec. 20, 2019. And perhaps that long wait isn’t such a bad thing.