What Went Wrong with “Solo: A Star Wars Story”?

Matthew Loffhagen
Lucasfilm
(Photo: Lucasfilm)

The Han Solo movie has had the worst theatrical opening weekend of any “Star Wars” film in history.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” has made $150 million worldwide in its opening weekend. This may sound like a lot of money, but it’s important to bear in mind that “Rogue One” made $155 million in its opening weekend in the United States alone.

Considering that word-of-mouth for “Solo” isn’t great (it’s not terrible either, but that apathy isn’t really helpful), it’s unlikely that this movie is going to survive without a big drop-off now that all of the big, hardcore “Star Wars” fans have already seen it.

Solo Emelia Clarke
Source: Lucasfilm

(Personally, I still haven’t made the journey to the theater, and that in and of itself speaks volumes about my own level of interest in the movie considering that I went day one for “The Last Jedi”!)

This is even worse considering that “Solo” is possibly the most expensive “Star Wars” movie to date. That’s what you get for filming the entire thing twice!

So why is “Solo” suffering so badly at the box office?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

In all honesty, it’s not hard to see what’s happened here. This movie is the victim of pride, as Lucasfilm and Disney overlook their audiences’ needs, instead trying to sell something that nobody really wants.

Right from the start, “Solo” was met with apathy. When the movie was first announced, many “Star Wars” fans grumbled. They didn’t want to see the famous smuggler from “A New Hope” recast as a younger character.

A big part of the appeal of Han Solo has always been Harrison Ford, and seeing someone else take over the role didn’t feel right.

There was also a general attitude among “Star Wars” fans that could be adequately summed up as Prequel Fatigue. We’ve been through this particular rollercoaster three times already, and the tired tropes of foreshadowing that are present in each of these movies are at a point of saturation.

Nevertheless, Lucasfilm stormed ahead, casting an actor that everyone universally dismissed. No matter how good Alden Ehrenreich is in “Solo”, he has always faced an uphill struggle in getting people to take him seriously. He doesn’t look the part, and for many people, that’s enough to discredit him as a Harrison Ford replacement.

Solo Movie with Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Source: Lucasfilm

Then came the next problem: the public firing of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

These two directors seemed eager to bring life and fun and joy to the “Star Wars” universe with a more comedic film, and their removal made a lot of people question whether this movie was now going to be anything more than a generic Hollywood action film.

Poor Word of Mouth

To make matters worse, rumors began to circulate that the pair were fired because the movie was in shambles. Some people argued that Lucasfilm was displeased with Ehrenreich’s performance because he was such a wooden actor.

Considering that this is literally the character arc of Ehrenreich’s most famous role up to that point, it’s hard to take this rumor seriously, but it certainly didn’t help.

New director Ron Howard rushed through re-filming most of what Lord and Miller had already committed to film, leaving people wondering if this heavily edited abomination would be the new “Suicide Squad” or “Fantastic Four”.

Lucasfilm didn’t exactly allay fears of this nature when the studio point blank refused to share any official images of Ehrenreich as Solo, let alone any footage from the movie.

Alden Ehrenreich
Source: Lucasfilm

Too late, the marketing campaign for the movie began. With just a few months between the release of the first teaser and the debut of the movie in theaters, the hype train wasn’t given time to pick up steam.

It didn’t help that the trailers where underwhelming to say the least. Fans’ first glimpse at “Solo” looked for all the world like a fan-film rather than something official; only the presence of big name stars made it clear that this wasn’t the work of a team of enterprising amateurs.

Timing is Everything

Perhaps the biggest blunder, though, came from Lucasfilm’s insistence on sticking to a summer release date, just one week after the release of “Deadpool”, and less than a month after “Infinity War”.

This is a very crowded summer season, and it seems that Disney assumed they could knock big chunks out of their competitors’ movies by releasing a “Star Wars” movie in the wake of “Deadpool”. This move backfired.

Many of the other missteps in releasing this movie flow from its awkward release date. The rushed promotional campaign wouldn’t have been so bad if the studio weren’t trying to push for a May release, and the trailer’s special effects would have looked more impressive if they weren’t being rushed to completion in the midst of a panicked season of reshoots.

Lucasfilm had a good thing going with the control of the festive movie release window. It all fitted perfectly: Christmas meant a new “Star Wars”, and that also meant a bunch of topical merchandize in stores for audiences to buy for their kids (and bigger kids).

Solo A Star Wars Story
Source: Lucasfilm

The biggest mistake made in producing “Solo” was to try and push the movie to a summer release.

This informed the decision to fire Lord and Miller, as (if rumors are to be believed) a big part of the problem was the fact that their improv-heavy directing style was taking too long to fit with the aggressive production schedule.

It also meant that we didn’t see anything of “Solo” until long after “The Last Jedi” had finished in theaters, leading to a truncated marketing campaign.

Plus (and this is the big problem), “Solo” has released less than six months after the highly controversial “The Last Jedi”.

Too Much “Star Wars”?

Audiences are tired. There’s been too much “Star Wars” in such a short period of time. While it’s fine for Marvel to release movies back to back every few months, that studio has built up audience expectations, and delivered consistent quality. Sadly, Lucasfilm isn’t managing the same level of fan satisfaction.

When the majority of moviegoers hear about “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, the instinctive reaction is to ask, “What? Another ‘Star Wars’? Didn’t we just have one?”.

Solo L3-37
Source: Lucasfilm

I can’t help but wonder what lessons Lucasfilm will learn from this movie. I wonder if it’ll affect future plans for the Boba Fett standalone film at all, or if they’ll quickly rush back to December release dates for their films.

This is all a shame, as “Solo” could have turned out to be a lot more popular if the movie had been handled better.

At least this should have a solid second life as a digital release in a few months’ time. Once a “Star Wars” movie is released, it never truly leaves the public consciousness.