Four years after Disney bought Lucasfilm, we’re already two films into the Mouse House’s great Star Wars revival. After launching a sequel trilogy set within the Skywalker family saga, the studio has now kicked off the anthology series with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The first in what should be a long line of standalone spinoffs, the movie was something of an experiment for Lucasfilm, since it tried to bring a new approach to the classic franchise. Fortunately, critics and fans responded well to a gritty war drama in space, and Rogue One grossed $155 million (second-highest debut in the series) during its opening weekend.
One of the reasons why Rogue One and The Force Awakens before it were able to post very high numbers commercially is their release window. In addition to being a Star Wars movie, both projects also came out in the month of December, where competition for moviegoing business isn’t quite as intense as it is during the summer months. The two were essentially the only blockbusters in town and set up for long, lucrative runs – though Rogue One will have to deal with Assassin’s Creed and Passengers in its second weekend (even with both earning negative reviews). Star Wars 7 ended up with $2 billion worldwide, and Rogue One is a serious threat to cross the $1 billion mark after getting off to a $290 million worldwide start.
When Lucasfilm first planned out their release slate, they originally scheduled next year’s Star Wars: Episode VIII for May 2017. But after The Force Awakens stormed through the box office record books, they shifted Rian Johnson’s film to December. Not only does that give the creative team an extra seven months to fine tune everything, it also allows the studio a chance to more or less replicate the success of Star Wars 8‘s direct predecessors. Their fourth film planned, the young Han Solo movie, is currently on tap for a May 2018 premiere, but should that spinoff be moved to December as well? And will Lucasfilm ever do that?
By now, the financial motivations for such a change are well known; one only has to look at the box office hauls for Force Awakens and Rogue One. As we’ve written before, Han Solo being a summer release presents a marketing conundrum for both Lucasfilm and Disney. If things stay the way they are, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Star Wars entry will be arriving in theaters just five short months after Episode VIII, meaning the studio will have to begin revving up promotional efforts when anticipation for Star Wars 8 is at its peak. Additionally, Han Solo is slated to premiere a few short weeks after Avengers: Infinity War, so Disney currently has installments for their two big cash cows right next to each other. Moving the Star Wars spinoff to December would give the Mouse House some breathing room and allow Lucasfilm to stick to their established advertising routine.
Unfortunately for them, they may never get that chance. James Cameron’s Avatar 2 is penciled in for a December 2018 premiere, and there’s no way films from two massive sci-fi properties are going to go head-to-head with each other (for several obvious reasons). However, Sigourney Weaver recently stated that she’s unsure the first Avatar sequel will be able to make its planned date, seeing that they have yet to begin production on a monumental undertaking to shoot four films at once. That, of course, does not account for the necessary reshoots and extensive post-production work to render the digital effects. On the flip side, Han Solo is ready to start rolling the cameras in February 2017, so it might be further along in development than Avatar 2. Depending on how things shake out, the December 2018 window may be up for grabs, and Disney would definitely be wise to snag it if that opportunity presented itself.
The bottom line is that based on the history of the most recent Star Wars films, Han Solo should definitely be another December release for the galaxy far, far away. Having a year between Episode VIII and the spinoff would allow Lucasfilm to focus on one project at a time, a strategy that has paid off in spades so far. The question of will it have a December premiere is a whole other animal, since right now there is a high-profile blockbuster there that’s crawling along through pre-production. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, since Lucasfilm had no qualms about slotting Star Wars 8 to December 2017 when Cameron had initially pegged Avatar 2 there. Rogue One‘s box office intake is quite impressive, and with Han Solo supposedly the first in a trilogy, Disney wants it in a position to thrive. If Avatar 2 still struggles to get off the ground early into next year, don’t be surprised if December 2018 brings about another Star Wars Christmas.