Hundreds of people smarter than me and more in tune with the movie market have tried, with various success, to explain why Solo became the first seriously underperforming Star Wars movie. I will, most likely, bring nothing new to the discussion, but I’ll attempt to summarize the reasons for the movie failure as presented by others and throw in my personal reason why I didn’t go see Solo yet.
Myth: Solo is the worst performing Star Wars movie ever
When looking at the box office, it indeed appears that Solo has the lowest box office results, from all original releases. Adjusted for inflation, even the Star Wars Special Edition re-release scored higher than Solo. However, this movie is still far from being the worst performing live action Star Wars movie. That honor goes to the two Endor movies: Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor. Both were TV films, and then went straight to VHS. It is important to remember this, in further discussion. (Also note that I qualified the group as live action movies, as The Clone Wars animated movie had a massively lower box office than even Solo.)
Is Solo truly such a massive bomb?
Financially speaking, it is. And this is not a function of box office, but of expectations and costs. Depending on which source one believes, the total cost of the movie, including marketing, was between $450 and $500 million. With a worldwide box office of around $350 at the time of writing this article, Solo will be hard-pressed to break even after DVD sales and toy tie-ins. And this is where the Endor movies reference is relevant: those movies were made with a vastly smaller expectation, and thus a much smaller budget. As a result, box office returns are not the only metrics that matter; they need to be compared to the cost. And the cost shows enormously inflated expectations. So, the primary fault with the movie results lies with the management who signed off on such high expectations.
Why movie fans didn’t flock to Solo
According to most sources I’ve read, there are three objective reasons why Solo didn’t sell many tickets: production woes, market saturation and timing. I would add a fourth one, marketing.
The movie had its share of production issues, which were well documented and known to the fan base. The two original directors didn’t so much direct as to take multiple shots of scenes, and they planned to stitch them together in the editing room. The set and actors had no direction, to the point where the Han Solo actor didn’t know how to act his role. When a new director took over, up to 80% of the scenes were reshot, and the lead actor got an acting coach. This not only increased the budget significantly, but Star Wars fans, the primary audience for the movie, were left in distress. Many of them approached the movie cautiously and may have stayed at home for the first few weeks since its release.
Many commenters claim saturation with Star Wars movies as the reason why people avoided this one. The previous three movies were released once per year, in December, and this came only six months later. People may have gotten tired of Star Wars movies, and didn’t wish to see another one. While this may be true, Star Wars tie-ins are made mainly for existing fans, and many of these were dissuaded by the production woes. In addition, other comparable franchises, especially the frequently mentioned Marvel Universe, don’t seem to suffer from oversaturation. So, the saturation argument is not valid, in my opinion.
Solo was released four weeks after the latest Avengers movie and a week after Deadpool 2. Those two movies combined to 70% of Solo’s box office returns in its opening weekend. The next movie, Book Club, made over 10% of Solo’s box office. By comparison, Rogue One outsold no. 2 movie on its opening weekend, Moana, by a factor of twelve. All in all, Solo took 52% of the box office for the top 5 movies for its opening weekend, while Rogue One took 82%. Timing was certainly a large factor in the relatively poor performance of Solo during its opening weekend.
Solo had similar issues with marketing as with the production. The original character posters had to be pulled after Disney had been accused of plagiarizing the work of another poster author. Teasers and trailers mimicked the changes in production, and at the end I was still confused what the movie was about, and what was its tone. Was it a heist caper, a space adventure or a romance flick? Or all at once? I like to believe there were other confused fans, like me, who didn’t feel the marketing was compelling enough to make us see the movie.
Why I didn’t go see Solo: A personal take
I wish I could say I’ve been a fan of Star Wars all my life, but that’s not the case. I was too young when the first movie was released, and so the first Star Wars movie I’ve seen was Return of the Jedi. I was still a kid then, watching it in English with Portuguese subtitles, even though I didn’t speak either language. At around that time, I was far more impressed by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Slowly, however, Star Wars grew on me and by college years I became such a huge fan that shortly after finishing college I became part of the Star Wars Line that camped out in front of the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City to purchase tickets to the first showing of Episode I. It was glorious…
While many fans were disappointed with the prequels, I still went to see all of them to the theater, and didn’t find them all that offensive. I even bought the DVDs, which I’m only doing for movies I intend to watch multiple times over my lifetime. Then, after another hiatus, The Force Awakens came out. I was freshly married and wanted my wife to share the joy of Star Wars, so I sat down with her and we started watching the original trilogy. We made it through the first two movies; then she got bored. We still went to the cinema together, and we loved the movie. I found renewed excitement of the series, and she fell in love with Star Wars for the first time. A year later, we went to see Rogue One. She felt that there was too much action and not enough story, but I liked the movie so much that in my mind I ranked it as second best, after The Empire Strikes Back.
Then came The Last Jedi. When we left the theater, we were talking about the need to vacuum our house and what we’d have to buy in our weekly grocery run. We couldn’t care less about the movie. I personally found it very weak. It was like three movies spliced into one, with too many false endings and logical gaps that even a fictional universe couldn’t hold. I still believe that any of the three movies contained in this one would be great, and had Disney created a worthy Episode 8 and two spin-offs, I’d probably go see them all. As it was, though, I felt that the movie didn’t have an artistic direction, but instead adhered to a corporate decision chain. And I was afraid that Solo was following the same path. I didn’t want to be disappointed again, so I decided to wait for the reviews. They turned out to be lukewarm at best, so Solo had become my first Star Wars theatrical release I skipped.
Ultimately, I believe the movie failed due to the wrong expectations by its creators. The first expectation was that Solo would attract new fans of Star Wars or non-fans. With Han Solo getting only a bit part in The Force Awakens and being completely gone from The Last Jedi, new fans didn’t know him and weren’t interested. The old fans, who remember Han Solo from the original trilogy, were dissuaded by the production woes, and maybe a few like me by the artistic trajectory the previous Star Wars movie took. The second expectation was about the box office, which let Disney sink nearly half a billion dollars into a movie that may have worked as a Netflix release, on a much smaller budget. Let this be a lesson for future spin-offs. Both Obi-Wan and Boba Fett movies are designed to appeal to the same group of fans as Solo. They should be much more tightly managed, and released with realistic box office or TV license expectations.