Why has ‘Solo’ been so disappointing at the box office?

Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story | Lucasfilm

Despite positive critical reception, Solo: A Star Wars Story has underperformed at the box office in its first few weeks. That could be due to several factors, including opening behind the major success of Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Most movie-goers typically don’t see three movies in a month, given how expensive it is these days.

There is also “Star Wars fatigue,” a concept that is contained in the notion that Solo followed The Last Jedi a bit too closely into theaters. While Marvel gets away with seemingly putting out a new movie every three months or so, fans aren’t so used to Star Wars movies being bunched together. Remember when you have to wait three years for the next Star Wars movie?

But there are other theories as well. When reading through Yahoo I came across two side-by-side articles attempting to explain why Solo is actually on pace to lose money at the box office. One from Mashable suggested that the problem is that Star Wars fans want female leads, citing the excellent box office numbers of the previous three movies created under the Disney umbrella. Why make Solo when they could’ve made Leia?

On the opposite side is a piece from Express, which posited that the low turnout at the theater has to do with residual anger fans have over The Last Jedi, and an apparent boycott that has taken hold on social media. Fans, it’s suggested, are angry about them shoehorning politics that are a bit too close to home into the movies, and that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy needs to be fired.

In reality, both theories are somewhat right and somewhat wrong about Solo‘s financial struggles.

Rey in The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm
Rey in The Last Jedi | Lucasfilm

Mashable is misleading in citing their box office stats for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi. While people were mostly happy with the first two, The Last Jedi is the most polarizing movie in Star Wars history. Some love it, sure. But remember how big the audience is, and while many hated it for the wrong reasons – oh no, diversity! – others had legitimate gripes about Rian Johnson’s vision.

Now take into account that Solo is the movie nobody ever asked for. It’s about a beloved character that already had a widely known origin, coming from the planet Corellia, meeting up with Chewbacca, and winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian in a card game. Surprise! None of that was really changed in a meaningful way on the big screen.

The example of doing a Leia movie is interesting. Lucasfilm probably will never do one, because they already have an outstanding novel written about the character in the correct time period. Mashable suggests that Claudia Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan could serve as a screenplay, but that completely ignores how Lucasfilm has chosen to operate.

It should be pointed out that the author at Mashable makes other errors, including listing Solo character Enfys Nest as a “bounty hunter” when she’s really a freedom fighter. This happens while making the argument that this is the character fans are most excited about in Solo, and in general that seems like a subjective reach for the purpose of self-confirming.

Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story | Lucasfilm
Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story | Lucasfilm

Many fans certainly were excited about Nest because it’s revealed that she’s a young, red-headed, freckle-faced girl, but Lando and [that big cameo] probably were at the top of the list of characters that had fans talking.

But what about the notion that fans are boycotting Solo over The Last Jedi and the addition of political agendas? It’s complicated, but no doubt this is happening to some degree. Star Wars has always featured a political undertone, although admittedly it was a bit more on the nose with The Last Jedi‘s commentary on the 1% and Solo‘s feminist droid, L3-37.

This, in addition to moments of self-parody like Poe Dameron’s prank phone call, take the viewer out of their escape to a galaxy far, far away and into a world not too dissimilar from our own.

But again, politics have always been present in some form. The reaction to it might be more related to the political climate of 2018 than how Star Wars has changed. Imagine, for a moment, that Revenge of the Sith were released in 2018. How would the fans that hate politics in their Star Wars movies react to this scene?

Palpatine: The Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for safe and secure society.
Padme: So this is how liberty dies? With thunderous applause.

Seems like it would be taken as a clear commentary on American politics, right? In fact, the entire prequel trilogy is about the rise of Palpatine, the wolf in sheep’s clothing that cons his way into an important leadership position by preying on fear. Imagine what the boycott would be like if those movies were made now.

No doubt, all of this has played some role in why Solo is such a disappointment for Lucasfilm. Fans were skeptical from Day 1 about bringing in a new actor to play Han Solo, and the announcement of the anthology film came precariously close to seeing Harrison Ford’s character killed off at the end of The Force Awakens. This was a movie about an origin nobody needed to see brought to the big screen.

The fact that Solo actually was a lot of fun and a decent addition to Star Wars makes this whole thing even harder to swallow. It felt, for the most part, more like the Star Wars of old than The Last Jedi. This wasn’t Lucasfilm intentionally dumping on fan expectations of a beloved character, this was a celebration of that character – even if it came in wholly predictable ways.

Should Kennedy be fired? Maybe. The mismanagement of Star Wars since Disney purchased the company has been appalling, with early promises to celebrate the old characters seemingly broken. Han had been separated from Leia, only to briefly return and be murdered. Luke had become a jaded old hermit, and he died never even having left the island to take up the cause. Leia will unfortunately never get her moment in the sun, due to the passing of actress Carrie Fisher.

Then there is the lack of forward thinking, which has created multiple issues. George Lucas was the mind behind both the original and prequel trilogies, and while some of it was made up as he went along, it all came from one original source. Kennedy brought in different writers and directors to do the different Star Wars movies, opting to pass the baton to create the story. This caused maddening inconsistencies between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

Add in the fact that several directors have been fired, including Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with Solo, and really it has been a mess. Imagine how much less money Solo may have lost at the box office had they not had to re-shoot 70 percent of the movie after replacing Lord and Miller with Ron Howard?

No matter how you feel about politics, female leads, and Star Wars fatigue, there is a real argument to be made that the franchise has been mishandled in Kennedy’s hands. With Episode IX still well over a year away, maybe making a change at the top is what will get Star Wars back on track.

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