Disney Played Hardball With Solo
Lucasfilm discovered a goldmine by releasing Star Wars films in December. The three installments that premiered over Christmas collectively earned more than $4 billion worldwide, recouping what Disney paid for Lucasfilm. It was curious, then, when Solo remained embedded in its summer (the traditional home of Star Wars) date, where it would open on the heels of Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 - two highly-anticipated sequels. Especially when Solo's production woes took hold, many felt Lucasfilm would benefit from delaying it, allowing Howard more time to fine-tune the picture. But that wasn't their call to make.
Knowing the severity of the situation, Lucasfilm proposed to push Solo back to December 2018, but Disney rejected it, citing frustration with the numerous other Star Wars delays. It's worth pointing out that the Mouse House had Mary Poppins Returns on the schedule for this Christmas long before anything bad happened with Solo, but they still could have reconfigured things (perhaps finding Solo a less-competitive fall window). As the debut of the spinoff drew near, there was a stark contrast between how it and its Disney brethren were perceived. Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Last Jedi were all the holiday moviegoing events of their respective years, while Solo was just another summer tentpole. If it had came out during a different time, it might have been able to monopolize the marketplace and capitalize on the demand to see a genre film.
Related: No, Disney Isn't Killing Star Wars
Arguably, what really did Solo in (more than franchise fatigue, Last Jedi backlash, or anything else) was an uninspired marketing campaign. Disney reportedly informed Lucasfilm there would be no "preferential treatment" in regards to Solo marketing so it didn't interfere with Infinity War. The first look at the spinoff wasn't unveiled until the Super Bowl in February 2018, about three months before release. Previously, Disney-era Star Wars movies saw promotional campaigns that spanned eight months, slowly building up over that prolonged period. At the time, the trailer delay seemed genius, but all it did was reinforce the negative narrative surrounding the project. Casual viewers felt Lucasfilm was hiding Solo from the public and had largely checked out.
When marketing did rev up, it did little to get people excited. Disney, under the impression fans were completely onboard for a young Han Solo movie, kept star Alden Ehrenreich in the shadows for a while. It was telling when Donald Glover's Lando Calrissian became the most talked-about aspect of the Super Bowl spot. Ehrenreich delivered a strong performance as Han and is perhaps the best part of the movie. Lucasfilm should not have been so afraid to display him front and center from the beginning. TV spots (most notably the one featuring the sabacc game) did their part to sell viewers on Ehrenreich, but by then it was too late. Most viewers were disinterested in Solo, instead turning their attention to Infinity War and Deadpool - both of which had excellent marketing campaigns. Star Wars, for the first time in its existence, was merely an afterthought and lost out. Solo always looked like a fun heist film in space, but there was never a greater hook to it than that.
Funnily enough, Lucasfilm and Disney got the opportunity to apply the lessons they learned from Solo very quickly. Kennedy moved on from original Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow well before filming began, and Disney agreed to move the film from May 2019 to December 2019 once J.J. Abrams was hired as a replacement. With Star Wars back in its Christmas window, the marketing campaign should emulate the other films of the sequel trilogy, meaning Episode IX will likely be a major hit. Hopefully, Solo is just a one-time bump in the road all franchises go through, and when Lucasfilm reveals their next Star Wars slate, they can move forward without any hinderances.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019