What lessons can Lucasfilm learn from the disappointing box office performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story? The second Star Wars spinoff had an underwhelming opening weekend. The film grossed only $83 million domestically, lower than Justice League. Overseas box office takings were even worse, with the film grossing only $65 million despite rolling out in every major market (except Japan).
On paper, Solo sounds like a surefire hit. The concept was one of several jotted down by George Lucas before he sold Lucasfilm over to Disney, and the script was written by Lawrence Kasdan, one of the franchise's most respected screenwriters, best known for drafting the script of The Empire Strikes Back, still viewed by many as the best Star Wars movie of all time. What's more, the character of Han Solo is popular enough to be a brand-name in his own right. This film should have been a tremendous success - and it simply isn't.
No doubt Lucasfilm execs are watching the debate about Solo with a concerned eye, desperate to learn what course-correctionsare needed to ensure future Star Wars spinoffs, such as the Obi-Wan and Boba Fett movies, don't share the fate of Solo. Here are our recommendations.
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A Solid Concept Is Crucial
We now know that Solo was greenlit because of a single scene. Shortly after the Disney purchase, Kasdan met with Lucasfilm execs and offered a simple pitch. "My presentation was, [Han] comes to an immigration spot and someone asks, 'What's your name?' It's not just that he doesn't have a name, which tells you a lot about his history. He says 'I have no people.' That to me is so forlorn and so isolating and rife, and the guy fills in his name." This pitch was enough to win Disney CEO Bob Iger over, and Solo was signed off.
Oddly enough, viewers have been divided on this scene. Reception aside, though, the reality is that a single scene does not equal a solid concept. Lucasfilm may have been proud of Kasdan's script, but at times it runs through Han's origin story like a checklist. There's nothing drastically unexpected. Earlier drafts of Solo's script were actually much more daring, with Han and Chewie meeting in very different circumstances, and certainly could have made for a better film. But the fact such different approaches could have been taken without affecting the scene that Lucasfilm believed to be its core is quite remarkable.
The most obvious contrast is Rogue One. That film's core concept isn't a single scene; it's a story, the narrative of how the Rebel Alliance got the Death Star plans. In terms of tone and style, the film is inspired by the Vietnam War, with director Gareth Edwards photoshopping rebel helmets on images from different conflicts back when he pitched the film. Everything was there in the initial pitch; the content, the tone and the themes were all visible. Solo, in contrast, seems to have only had the name "Han Solo" and a single scene.
This is a crucial lesson for both Lucasfilm and Disney. No film is a guaranteed success, not even if it features powerful brands such as Star Wars and Han Solo. In just the same way, neither the Obi-Wan Kenobi nor the Boba Fett movie is guaranteed to make bank at the box office; the studio should ensure the core concepts underpinning these films are strong. No pitch should be greenlit until it's solid.
Choose Your Directors Carefully
When Lucasfilm first announced Solo, the response from viewers was skepticism. The studio didn't truly start to win people over util the directors were announce, though; Phil Lord and Chris Miller, fresh from the success of The Lego Movie. Ironically enough, it seems that Kasdan himself was a major figure in their hiring, as he thought the directors were "great, funny and imaginative." Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the production to hit problems. Lord and Miller intended to push the boundaries of Star Wars, and there are reports they were aiming for a tone more akin to Guardians of the Galaxy than to Star Wars itself. The directors' improv style meant shooting was running late, the budget was ballooning, and the film was increasingly deviating from Kasdan's script. Finally, in June 2017 - with only 3 weeks of filming still scheduled - Lord and Miller were fired.
Related: Solo: A Star Wars Story's Director Problems - What Really Happened
It looks as though Lord and Miller had signed up to shoot a very different film to the one Lucasfilm had greenlit, and their way of working didn't fit with the studio's culture. Lucasfilm probably chose the wrong directors for the movie, and then were overly reluctant to course-correct during production. But the studio is developing a history of these behind-the-scenes problems. Lucasfilm hired Josh Trank off the back of his success with low-budget sci-fi filmChronicle; he was swiftly dumped after the poor box office performance of Fantastic Four and rumors of major behind the scenes issues. Colin Trevorrow departed Star Wars: Episode IX, with reports that he and Kennedy had clashed over the script.
The studio clearly needs to be careful not to simply sign up the "flavor of the month" in Hollywood, but instead to choose directors who can handle the pressure of a big franchise. James Mangold was recently brought on board as director of the Boba Fett spinoff, and that's a step in the right direction; he's proved himself with the X-Men franchise's The Wolverine and Logan.
But Solo offers other some other important lessons in this regard, too. In the 41 years of the Star Wars franchise, 91% of the writers and directors have been white and male. This lack of representation showed with Solo. Thandie Newton's Val was the second woman of color to appear in a Star Wars film not made up as an alien, and the first black woman. She was killed unceremoniously in the film's first act, and then completely forgotten. Much was made of L3-37 being the franchise's first female droid, and yet the script takes the time to ask whether or not she can have sex; a question that was never asked in four decades' worth of male droids. The systemic problem of under-representation in Lucasfilm is thrown into sharp relief by Solo's handling of its female characters. It's clear the studio cannot afford to make another Star Wars film with so little diversity at the top - whether this be a spinoff or part of the main Star Wars Saga.
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- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019