There’s been a disturbance in the force at the box-office.
After nine consecutive Star Wars hits, Solo: A Star Wars Story will likely be the first failure of the franchise. It’s not floundering at the box-office á la John Carter or Cutthroat Island, but it did endure a steep drop after a disappointing debut, so far garnering $264 million worldwide on a budget reported at over $250 million, despite positive reviews and encouraging word-of-mouth.
Over the five-year marriage between Lucasfilm and Disney, most of the ire has been directed at Kathleen Kennedy. The Lucasfilm chief – who even boasts her own LEGO character, much to the chagrin of haters – has been a divisive individual since the opening of The Force Awakens. Because of the high expectation associated with the franchise, Kennedy has been swimming upstream since she was hired, and has done a solid job considering the monolith of the assignment.
History has a tendency of repeating itself, especially with ardent fans of the Skywalker saga. Throughout the run of prequel films, many called for the removal of George Lucas from the franchise, inspiring a documentary appropriately titled The People vs. George Lucas. Now, four movies and a TV show post-Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, fans have flip-flopped from the dark side back to the light in terms of their feelings for the Star Wars creator. We salivated over his work on the Solo script, revising a scene where Han threw a coat from his lover’s hands, instead of hanging it up like a space gentleman. Just like it was with Lucas, most have soured their views of Kathleen Kennedy, and have demanded her involvement be marched to a sarlacc pit and consumed.
Similar to devoted Cheese Heads publicly owning the Green Bay Packers, most Star Wars fans feel like their personal investment earns them a portion of the Star Wars brands, with their purchased stock coming in the form of owned merchandise.
So far, Kennedy has satisfied every want of the demanding fan base — an impossible task considering the volume — and has earned $4.5 billion at the box-office with the preceding three films:
The Force Awakens met anticipation after over a decade passed since the last Star Wars offering. Episode VII successfully introduced new characters to the canon, but suffered from being a glorified reboot of A New Hope – essentially turning into the Lucasfilm re-release version of the 21st century. Awakens proved a financial success, becoming the highest domestic earner of all-time and the third largest internationally.
Rogue One immersed itself in fixing the biggest error of Lucas lore, address the bantha-sized architect faux pas in the hull of the Death Star. The exhaust vent in question that Luke filled with a quick blast to wipe out the space station was put there on purpose by an engineer sabotaging the Empire. The first spin-off introduced new characters that showed the possibilities of future trilogies; although they were on screen for a mere instance, each left their own distinct impression on the universe; having stormtroopers commit genocide to the new space crew was a ballsy move for a Disney machine intent on churning out action products for generations to come.
Likely listening to the dissatisfaction of fans turned off by The Force Awakens taking little risk, Kennedy allowed writer/director Rian Johnson to rewrite The Last Jedi’s script from scratch and incorporate his own vision into Star Wars [I don’t recall there being a script written for VIII before Johnson came on…is there a source for this?]. The results divided fans like no other sci-fi opus; some applauded the twists and turns, others demanded Disney to erase Episode VIII from canon. So far, a petition has compiled 13,000 signatures to abolish the film. Even with the Porg hatred, pre-sales for Episode IXwill be through the roof. Even if J.J. Abrams presents a carbon copy of Return of the Jedi, with Porgs wiping out the First Order on Ahch-To like Ewoks ending the Empire, fans will turn up in droves to witness the end of the latest trilogy. Though regardless of the hate, The Last Jedi still made solid money.
So what went wrong with Solo: A Star Wars Story? Some point to Disney’s bone-headed decision releasing it so close to Avengers: Infinity War, where its box-office numbers vanished with Thanos’ snap. Others note the film’s troubled production history; directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced by Ron Howard, the move adding fresh stacks of dough to an already ballooned budget.
The move emphasized a problem Kennedy has consistently struggled with: hiring the right talent to helm SW features. Following the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, numerous directors were brought onto projects in quick succession. Over the past four years, three different films have seen the mantle passed onto a replacement. Besides Lord and Miller, directors Josh Trank and Colin Trevorrow were replaced over what was originally reported as creative differences. However, both endured box-office failures with their respective releases prior to their shoot date, which could have given Kennedy pause. Trank has come forward recently and admitted the failures of Fantastic Four forced him to reconsider fronting blockbusters. There has been no official explanation for Trevorrow’s firing, but he’s been nothing but gracious when reflecting on his time developing the project.
Even with replacements, the movies have all been well-reviewed, and made a hefty profit, with the exception of Solo.
Despite this admitted shortcoming, what can’t be criticized is what Kennedy has added so far to the SW mythos, and what fans will get to see in the future:
The original trilogy was continued post the battle of Endor, like we wanted; a live-action Star Wars show from Jon Favreau is currently in development; new trilogies divorced of the Skywalkers will premiere post Episode 9; despite most of the extended universe being erased in favor of new timelines, elements of the stories — including Easter eggs in Solo and Thrawn serving as the principal antagonist of Rebels — survived Disney’s wreckage of lore. Even the most useless bounty hunter Boba Fett will receive a solo film to satisfy fans unwarranted obsession with the Mandalorian, likely making him the badass that has only been hinted in the extended universe.
One picture coming in under expectations doesn’t warrant Kennedy’s dismissal. If Kevin Feige was axed following the underwhelming debut of some of his Marvel offerings in the ‘00’s (Or even The Incredible Hulk), we would never have Infinity War or the MCU — a juggernaut that currently churns out billion dollar breadwinners roughly thrice a year for the studio.
Give Kennedy a chance, and the galaxy far, far away will continue to thrive.