Solo's box office failure is unprecedented for a Star Wars film, but there's one major reason for it: Lucasfilm forgot to try. The film grossed just $83.3 million in the domestic box office in its opening weekend, and only $65 million at the overseas box office. There are reports that the second weekend has seen a drop of 77%, steeper than the divisive main series entry The Last Jedi. It looks as though the movie's total gross will fail to match the opening weekend of The Force Awakens. There's simply no way to spin these numbers as positives; given extensive reshoots, Solo will probably fail to break even in the box office.
On paper, Solo should have been a hit. It's the latest Star Wars film, after all, and it has the weight of the "Han Solo" brand behind it as well. But somehow, the film has completely failed to perform. No doubt Lucasfilm and Disney execs are current conducting a post-mortem, trying to work out just what went wrong. So far, the only official comment has been from Disney's distribution chief, Dave Hollis, who's suggested that Solo simply released in too competitive an environment. "There's a question of frequency," he explained, and how many times people will go to the movies. Is this too much and too soon for a third time in a five-week period?"
Related: Solo Could Never Be A Box Office Hit
It's true that Solo released in a crowded box office, competing against both Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2. But, while that no doubt played a part in the film's dismal box office performance, the most important reason is a failure of marketing; Lucasfilm simply didn't try.
Even A Star Wars Movie Can Fail
There's a crucial scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker stands before the Emperor. Everything has happened as Palpatine foresaw, and the young Jedi has been brought before him. But Luke stands resolute. "Your overconfidence is your weakness," Luke tells the Emperor. There's a sense in which that statement was true of Lucasfilm with Solo. Supremely confident of the Star Wars brand, Lucasfilm barely tried to market the film. They assumed viewers would be interested in anything carrying the Star Wars brand, and that the movie would essentially market itself. Clearly, they were wrong.
Solo's lackluster marketing was really a result of Lucasfilm's scheduling. Other studios, such as Marvel, are happy to market multiple films at once. Lucasfilm chose a different approach, instead holding back the first trailer for Solo until they'd finished promoting The Last Jedi. Marketing for most blockbusters kicks off seven or even eight months before theatrical release; in the case of Solo, the first trailer didn't even release until February, just three months before the film hit the box office. Lucasfilm didn't believe a Star Wars movie could actually fail, and so didn't recognize that failing to market Solo would have an effect.
The Marketing Didn't Sell The Film
Even when the marketing did finally kick into gear, the approach was still flawed. Overconfident in the strength of the Star Wars brand, Lucasfilm assumed that there was already an appetite for the film. As a result, the trailers and TV spots really didn't seem to sell it. There were occasional flashes of brilliance - Donald Glover's video tour of the Falcon, and the 360 degree experience set around the Sabacc table. But they were few and far between, and failed to make a dent on wary viewers.
A good trailer is essentially a sales pitch for the film, telling viewers why they should care about the movie. Solo's trailers failed to do so. The main sales pitch should have been Alden Ehrenreich's young Han Solo, but the trailers were almost reluctant to show him. It was as though Lucasfilm believed there was already an appetite to see him, and that by holding the "reveal" back for the film they'd excite viewers. In reality, far from being curious, the majority of potential viewers were unconvinced.
Solo is a far better film than its box office takings indicate. In reality, it wasn't the behind-the-scenes drama over the directors that led Solo to become a box office flop; it was a failure of marketing. Lucasfilm's overconfidence really was their weakness.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019