This past Memorial Day’s weekend, one of the biggest and most influential films of the entire year released due to a mountain of both positive and negative circulation. To only a mere film fan, it is instantly recognizable that this film is Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest installment in Disney’s Star Wars anthology series. Coming off the divisive reception of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Solo needed to help resolve a community struck down to its core. And with such high expectations, the film quickly turned into a messy production even leading to its original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, being entirely fired off the project, only given credit as executive producers. Acclaimed director Ron Howard took over the project, leaving many fans somewhat confident and hopeful for the film’s release in May of 2018. And when that release date finally came and the review embargo was lifted, giving way to a series of moderately positive reviews, most box office predictions for the film shared in the positive warmth from the film, with early reports suggesting an initial 150 million Memorial’s Day weekend for the film, leaps and bounds ahead of what it actually achieved. However, when the film was finally released and fans around the world purchased their tickets and sat comfortably in their seats to view this supposedly hotly anticipated film starring one of cinema’s greatest icons, box office analysts slumped in their chairs knowing that both the reception and financial outlooks for Solo: A Star Wars Story were anything but positively warm.
Heading into the four-day holiday weekend, most predictions were beginning to scoff at the initial reports of a “150 million weekend,” but that doesn’t mean the predictions weren’t positive. Most outlets saw a potential 120 million for the Memorial Day weekend, with a 100 million haul for the normal three-day weekend. If this result were to have occurred, the financial perception of Solo could have been far better. Instead, as the weekend progressed and the daily totals from Thursday advance screenings and Friday came in, the industry effectively became nervous and began publishing financial reports preparing audiences for the worse, an action that ultimately proved to be both accurate and necessary.
Solo: A Star Wars Story arrived with an opening weekend of 84 million for the three-day weekend and 103 million for the four-day holiday weekend, barely itching past the century mark for that value. An 84 million opening weekend for any other film would be hard to criticize. That value in 2017 would have placed any other film as the eleventh highest film domestically for their opening weekend. However, with the astronomical expectations set for the film, this final result is devastating.
Its 2017 predecessor, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opened to what is now the third highest opening weekend of all time domestically, 220 million. In the year before that, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first entry in the anthology film series of Star Wars at Disney, it opened to an impressive 155 million. This is ultimately where Solo: A Star Wars Story should have ended up if the reception was as positive as it was for Rogue One, a film that received both a better critical and audience reception seen in the Rotten Tomatoes and CinemaScore results. Having a three-day opening weekend of 84 million for Solo, a film centered around one of cinema’s greatest and most popular characters, Han Solo, is shocking and would have been laughed at if the notion was introduced several years ago. Solo: A Star Wars Story should have easily been able to surpass Rogue One, a film that had little nostalgic connections to the original trilogy other than the film meant to explain a pivotal plot hole of the original film.
Many defenders of the film have leapt to note that these two films, Rogue One and Solo, have some markedly different attributes. Firstly, and most notably, these two films were released in entirely different areas of the calendar, with Rogue One releasing in mid-December and Solo opting for the Memorial Day weekend that the original Star Wars films all released in. Recent Memorial Day’s weekends have proved to be stringy and weak for blockbusters, with films like Pirates of the Caribbean 5 being unable to set a proper footing domestically. Secondly, the fan reception of the two films were very different when heading into its release. The buzz from the fans for Rogue One was positive, with many excited for the film due to the how riveting the trailers were. The situation with Solo is that fans were exclaiming that they didn’t want or need this film. They argued that instead of releasing a prequel to a character that is iconic thanks to Harrison’s Ford performance; they should have progressed with an anthology film for Obi-Wan starring Ewan McGregor who has expressed interest in reprising his role. Ultimately, while this second point may have had a vocal impact on the industry, it probably had little impact on the general market.
The public usually does not see controversy in the film industry, simply because it is never reported on in the general media unless it involves heavy political topics such as the Harvey Weinstein situation. There simply is no reason to suggest that they would have been aware of this issue unless they followed the film industry closely, identifying them as film fans. Against most reports, it wasn’t the fan reception that killed the film financially. It was the marketing campaign that did.
Lucasfilm received major blows regarding the latency of the marketing campaign for the film. Only starting in February with the Super Bowl LII with a one-minute TV spot and a weak teaser, the film wasn’t able to spark public interest out of the gate, a mistake that most likely caused the failure of the film. Most movie theaters only display the initial teaser trailer when promoting a film in their previews, making the general public’s only knowledge of the film through that one, weak teaser. This issue, in face of the accusations of poor fan reception, is what destroyed Solo: A Star Wars Story and turned a wondrous icon into an unmitigated financial disaster.