Boycott v. Fatigue: The real meaning of Solo’s box office failure

Solo: A Star Wars Story has been released and the reception has been…not that great. The film’s poor opening weekend has left many onlookers confused as to what happened. The answer to that is not as one may think.

Star Wars, up to this point, has given off a reputation of being a near-unstoppable giant, guaranteed to attract business and love everywhere it goes. From its conception in the 70s to its now-billion dollar worth in 2018, Star Wars is a global phenomenon that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything it failed at doing. How could a Star Wars film fail at making money when it’s the one thing guaranteed to do?

Unfortunately, for Star Wars and Disney, that question was answered in example with the incredibly lackluster release of the spin-off prequel, Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Solo

Han Solo, Star Wars photo via Walt Disney Studios Media File

Solo: A Star Wars Story, the spin-off that focuses on the younger days of Han Solo’s life, earned devastatingly low numbers its opening weekend, with estimates claiming that the film has currently earned around $83 million and Monday’s returns will only help Solo break the $100 million mark domestically over the Memorial Day weekend. The film’s international numbers are worse, with the film only garnering around $65 million, making for a worldwide total of just about $165 million.

The numbers for Solo certainly aren’t what Disney and company want to hear, given that Rogue One, another spin-off/prequel to the original franchise, made close to Solo‘s worldwide numbers in the United States alone in its opening weekend (this is also over the course of a normal 3-day weekend). What exactly happened? Why has Solo failed to gain a sizable audience for its opening weekend? Is it Star Wars fatigue? Are fans just not happy with the product? Let’s discuss!

A rocky start

Anyone who has paid attention to the production of Solo: A Star Wars Story knows that the production was troubled right from the start. For starters, the current director of the film, Ron Howard, wasn’t even the film’s first director. That job belonged to the filmmaking duo, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directors of such films as the Jump Street franchise, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and The Lego Movie. The duo, known for their fast-paced comedy and penchant for buddy films, apparently wanted to make Solo a “gritty” space adventure, fitting well with Solo’s humble roots.

Lord and Miller were also known to constantly experiment with the material to see what could be used for the film. This apparently didn’t sit well with Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, who allegedly wanted the duo to stick to the script that had been written for the film. The tension between the two parties reached a breaking point and as a result, the duo left the project. Considering Lord and Miller’s popularity in the filmmaking industry, this didn’t sit well with many onlookers, who felt that the duo would’ve been perfect for the film. Even though Ron Howard, a likable filmmaker in his own right, replaced Lord and Miller, the general consensus among Lord/Miller admirers is that Disney and Kennedy chose business and their own agendas over creative freedom for the duo, beginning to sour some people’s perception of Disney.

The case of The Last Jedi

The sour taste didn’t end there, as the curious case of The Last Jedi only added to the fire. While The Last Jedi‘s numbers weren’t as abysmal as Solo‘s numbers, the film still performed well under expectations, not even coming close to matching The Force Awakens‘ $2 billion-plus numbers. A large part of this was the film’s controversial artistic decisions, such as the surprisingly anticlimactic reveal of Rey’s lineage, the treatment of Luke Skywalker’s character, and the film’s meddling mid-point, which may have prompted viewers to not return for another viewing.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi..Rey (Daisy Ridley)..Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd. via IMG Press

The Last Jedi suffered as a result of these decisions. Many fans felt that the creators betrayed their vision of Star Wars by pulling the rug out from under them, all for the sake of shocking the audiences. Rey had been the center of much speculation over whether she was a Skywalker or a Kenobi and given the franchise’s history of pulling together threads for a twist (i.e. Darth Vader being Luke’s father), it seemed like the most obvious choice. But Disney and company didn’t do that, ultimately leaving Rey to be a simple orphan girl. That decision, while it can open up new possibilities for her character, was just the tip of the iceberg of decisions that angered many Star Wars fans. This anger may still be felt during Solo’release, which certainly didn’t help it out in any way.

Other choices out there?

One of the clearer signs of Solo’s impending doom was it curious release date. Set to be released during Memorial weekend, the film already had an uphill battle, given that Memorial weekend isn’t known for its movie-going reputation. Even worse, Solo has a fight coming, with Deadpool 2 coming out a week before and positioning itself as a cheery and fun alternative to the spin-off. Deadpool 2‘s positive reviews only helped the film gain popularity and though its decision to release the week before Solo may have hurt its strong legs at the box-office, it still managed to strip away a large part of Solo‘s potential audience.

Han Solo, Star Wars photo via Walt Disney Studios Media File

Not only that, but the juggernaut known as Avengers: Infinity War is still performing strongly at the box-office. The film has currently earned close to $17 million over the three-day weekend, with estimates predicting the fourth day to close out with $20 million total over Memorial weekend. Though the numbers, as to be expected, aren’t incredibly huge, they’re still strong for a film that’s been in theaters for a month now. Infinity War‘s Marvel reputation, as well as its feeling of being a genuine epic, could’ve also taken away from Solo‘s numbers, as film viewers had other, more epic and fast-paced choices to watch.

Star Wars boycott?

All of this leads to one of the more interesting aspects of this situation: the possibility of a legitimate Star Wars boycott. The franchise, which has been coming down under hot fire thanks to The Last Jedi, among other variables, is seemingly starting to alienate its devoted fanbase, thanks to what seems to be a lack of consideration for their needs. Of course, not every company should need to bow down to every suggestion that their fanbase conjures, but the past year has begun to change the fans’ perception of Star Wars. Now, instead of looking at the franchise as a fun, personal adventure, the fans might now be looking at the franchise as a cynical space opera dedicated to killing off their favorite characters and pushing their own agenda into the films.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Han Solo, Star Wars photo via Walt Disney Studios Media File

Kathleen Kennedy, in particular, has garnered a controversial reputation for allegedly pushing a feminist agenda into the Star Wars films. She has maintained her ground, claiming that she doesn’t owe the male fans of Star Wars anything and pushes further for a diverse universe. The idea that the universe itself is diverse is understandable and honestly a brilliant idea. It can open up new possibilities for the Star Wars universe to explore. However, Kennedy’s words to the male portion of the Star Wars audience was interpreted as a thinly-veiled disowning of the previous Star Wars films.

In turn, fans feel that Kennedy has intentionally changed up the Star Wars universe to spite the original fans and push her own agenda into the franchise. This hasn’t always turned out bad, as Rey is currently one of the most popular new additions to the franchise, but Kennedy’s treatment of the material has led to further alienation between Disney and the fans. This alienation may have reached critical level with Solo, as fans are not turning in and making an otherwise fun space adventure film suffer in the process.

Han Solo, Star Wars photo via Walt Disney Studios Media File

Conclusion

Though it’s hard to pinpoint the main reason for Solo‘s lack of success, it’s hard to argue that the case of the fans turning on Kathleen Kennedy and the franchise, as a whole, may not have something to do with it. Kennedy, an outspoken producer, is bound to gain some enemies in the process, but at this point, the Star Wars fans are arguably her biggest enemies ever. The fans feel she is ruining the franchise and whether you are reading this and agreeing with either Kennedy or the fans, it’s becoming clear that the case for a boycott is an actual possibility for future films.

This, combined with the film’s risky release date, production troubles, the firing of Lord and Miller, and large competition, makes Solo a rare financial failure for Star Wars. At this point, Kennedy and company would be wise to regroup and figure out how to win their audience back. The feminist agenda doesn’t need to be removed at all, as Kennedy might think us fans are hoping for. Inclusion in the Star Wars universe should be a given, thanks to its large setting, but at the end of the day, keeping the fans happy is what will keep Star Wars and Disney thriving. The fans are the most important aspect of a film, in my personal opinion, so without fans, there will be no Star Wars. It’s tough, but when you’re running a billion dollar company, the fans are the ultimate priority. Here’s hoping the fans and Kennedy/Disney can co-exist in the future.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out now in theaters.