The Real Reason(s) Solo Failed, by Tyler Smith
Much has been made about the box office failure of Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. Falling well short of the projections, Solo is considered the first official flop of the franchise. There have been several different theories as to why the film would fare so poorly.
Some have noted the troubled production, in which directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were taken off the film due to conflicts with the studio. Lord and Miller have become well known as comedy directors, responsible for The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the 21 Jump Street films. Many were excited at the notion that such offbeat directors would be in charge of the movie, only to feel let down when they were replaced with reliable journeyman Howard, who reported reshot around 70% of the film. With this much ink spilled over the problems of the film, it’s possible that many chose to stay away.
It has been suggested that the film was released too close to The Last Jedi, coming out a mere five months after the last Star Wars film, and that people weren’t yet clamoring to see another entry in the series.
There is also the fact that a well-known and beloved film character, Han Solo, would be played by a new actor; one unknown to the majority of moviegoers. Part of the appeal of the character was Harrison Ford’s swaggering performance, so to bring in somebody unproven to take up the mantle might have been too much for the audience to want to pay for.
Of course, there is also the fact that the film was released only one week after the immensely-popular Deadpool 2 and a few weeks after Avengers: Infinity War. With such tremendous box office competition, releasing what many could consider an inessential Star Wars film was risky. Had they held it until December, it likely would have done better.
Then, as always, there are those that blame the insertion of modern liberal identity politics into the general franchise. Entire Youtube channels have been devoted to denouncing Kathleen Kennedy for cramming SJW themes into these films, with The Last Jedi the most recent and apparently worst offender.
I think that all of these theories have merit, but I don’t think that any one of them are the sole reason for the film’s failure. While film critics and writers were well aware of the behind-the-scenes drama, there’s no reason to think that most moviegoers knew or even cared about it. The concept of the film coming out too closely to The Last Jedi probably has some truth to it, but such a thing didn’t stop Infinity War from destroying the box office a mere two months after the release of Black Panther. Alden Ehrenreich may be unknown to moviegoers, but Donald Glover certainly is. And, besides, the prequels did great, and they were full of both new characters and recast old characters. Box office competition will always play a role, but there’s no reason to think that the mere presence of Deadpool 2 or Infinity War would be enough to effect Solo’s box office this much. And, of course, while there are some that are bothered by the more complex politics of the newer films, that hasn’t stopped the last three from being box office smashes.
So, no, I don’t think any one of these theories would be enough to impact Solo’s popularity. But, if you take them all together, you’ll see that each one involves a different audience. Film geeks, Star Wars nerds, mainstream fans, and casual moviegoers each individually had a reason to be reluctant to embrace the film. Add all of those up, and you have a general audience that was collectively ambivalent about the film.
Film box office is a fascinating creature, mostly due to its unpredictability and complexity. To try to simplify why a movie unexpectedly fails is often self-serving, wrong-headed, and ultimately inaccurate.