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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

For better or worse, we are seeing a bit of a change in the world of Star Wars. No longer is it the invulnerable juggernaut that it’s been for the past few years. We first saw the franchise bleed with the controversial Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and for Solo: A Star Wars Story, the sharks seemed to have found their way into these blood-infested waters.

But what is the reason behind this flop? That is today’s hot debate between four LRM contributors.


Joseph Jammer Medina (Editor-in-Chief): Oh, boy. Where to start on this one. I think despite what many fans think, there was no ONE thing that contributed to Solo’s underperformance. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that Star Wars: The Last Jedi — a film I adore, by the way — was a little more than controversial. It was a film that epitomized everything certain fans hated about the current regime of Lucasfilm (with some even looking back at the prequel era of the franchise with rose-tinted goggles, if you can believe it), and its subversion of expectations left a bad taste in some fans’ mouths, who had hoped for different answers to certain questions than the ones they were given.

But I do think many fans overestimate just how widespread this sentiment was, and ultimately overestimate how this may have influenced the numbers for Solo. This failure for Lucasfilm wasn’t something that happened because of a single problem. The problems with this film were many — the blockbuster-laden month, the fact that we just got a Star Wars film five months back, the controversy behind that film, the drama behind-the-scenes of Solo, the fact that many don’t really care to see a Solo backstory, the absence of Harrison Ford, and the seemingly-limited marketing the film had seems to have created a perfect storm of failure for the franchise.

Cam Clark (Staff Writer): Yes, I think there were many factors involved in Solo’s poor box office performance, one of them was that the film just wasn’t that great. It was vanilla, just what I expected from it and I suppose that could be a factor in fans deciding they could wait for home release this time? I think my biggest criticism of Solo is that Alden Ehrenreich was…fine. He really did not have the charisma and charm with which Ford played the character. As such I didn’t dislike him, I just thought other characters such as Lando and L3 were better cast and written.

However, I also still think the fan reaction to TLJ was a huge factor in Solo underperforming. When we look at social media and our own comments section here at LRM, we see fans telling us that after TLJ, they just lost interest. I wonder if Jammer recalls a piece I wrote as part of my first coming on board with LRM. In it, I predicted that Episode 8 as it was then known, would be a major turning point for Star Wars. For me, fans were not in love with 2015’s The Force Awakens, they were just so happy it wasn’t as bad as the prequels, it actually felt like Star Wars again. But as I said back then, the next one has to be brilliant, it has to hit it out the park and wow fans. I predicted if it was in any way a dud, then people would lose interest quickly in the Star Wars brand.

When we consider the dropoff as word of mouth spreading TLJ and the poor showing for Solo, I think what I predicted has come to pass. Star Wars isn’t special any longer, it’s just another space franchise pumping out movies annually of varying quality. It also to be fair didn’t help that it followed Avengers: Infinity War, what a movie. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through Infinity War. Instead in Solo I was waiting for the ending and predicting what would happen next all the way through. With The Last Jedi, I was on the edge of my seat at first and slowly sank back into the fetal position as the movie progressed. For me, Marvel is getting it so right and Star Wars so wrong right now it’s unreal.

Nick Doll (Staff Writer/”Breaking Geek” Columnist): I agree with Joseph that it was multiple factors, but think it comes down to three main things, and I don’t think general audiences hating The Last Jedi is one of those (though it is a more minor factor). As Joseph said, general audiences were fine with it, nearly all the dislike for The Last Jedi I have heard has been online in a community like this. A larger community, more precious with their Star Wars than general audiences.

First, Star Wars fatigue. Some of it has to do with people being tired of Star Wars overall, but mostly releasing Solo too close to Last Jedi. Despite all the comparisons people like to make with Marvel, this isn’t Marvel. The Star Wars franchise is unfortunately stuck in one genre (Space Fantasy), whereas Marvel incorporates many genres into its films, so they feel fresher with three movies a year than Star Wars feels with one a year. I don’t think it’s that Disney or Kathleen Kennedy who don’t have vision, I think the franchise is played out, mainly the trilogy format. I don’t even feel we need one a year, let alone six months. It has definitely gone from being an “event” each release to being just another blockbuster. That’s not speaking to the quality of Last Jedi and Solo, but all Star Wars movies look the same if you put their trailers side-by-side, while comparing some Marvel trailers is like comparing apples and oranges, even if it is all the same universe.

That’s why I loved Solo, even in telling a story we mostly know, with a character we really know, it felt far more original than anything else from Disney’s Lucasfilm. (To be fair, the prequels feel the “most original,” but that’s why we hated them back in the day, remember?). But, at this point, over a decade since the prequels ended, I am tired of the Skywalkers, the Jedi, the Sith, the Rebellion/Resistance, and especially the Force. I loved Solo because it dared to avoid all these “cliches” that have honestly made the trilogy/saga movies feel bloated. The Empire wasn’t even the villain, just a presence, which was amazing. I’d rather see Solo 2, or really any “Star Wars Story” than Episode IX… and I loved Last Jedi! And I hope Rian Johnson — the best screenwriter Star Wars has had since Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Empire Strikes Back — avoids the Force and Jedi all together in his new trilogy. Jedi are a part of the universe, and yes, we all love lightsabers, but where are the tales of the other billion people without Force sensitivity, that live in sectors or time periods that have never heard of Jedi? I don’t think Star Wars needs to be limited to stories of the Force-sensitive.

Long story short, I think Episode IX will actually gross more than Last Jedi with a year and a half break combined with it being trilogy closer. Star Wars fatigue is all too real, but now that we have over a year wait, so theaters may get busy again in December 2019.

Jammer: I want to address Cam’s point in regards to Last Jedi‘s reception being poor as a reason for Solo‘s failure because I think that’s a conversation that’s mostly happening among very specific fans. It’s easy to live in a bubble. We talk about movies non-stop online and interact with other people who are passionate enough about the medium to comment. As a result, I think most of who we interact with tend to be the die-hards — the ones who put film and Star Wars high up on their hierarchy of needs. And because we spend so much time discussing this stuff, and all our friends discuss it as well, we tend to assume that this attitude permeates the web and the entire world. It usually does not. Yes, a lot of people have had problems with these films, but I also think it’s blown out of proportion by fans, who tend to be louder than Johnny Plumber who went to check out The Force Awakens with his family on Christmas Day.

I point to CinemaScore as a barometer to look at. For decades, they have essentially polled viewers on their experiences — normal, everyday viewers (though I guess it could be argued that their demo could skew towards passionate fans, as it is an opening weekend survey). All of the Star Wars films, with the exception of Solo: A Star Wars Story (which got an A-) received A’s. This means that, by and large, these general audiences were incredibly pleased with the end results of these films, despite part of the hardcore fan base freaking out about it. And I do think it’s worth stating that the mainstream audience is what really drives the box office, as much as we like to think the hardcore fan base does.

This all goes back to the ultimate question: What is the problem? Doug Creuntz, media analyst at Cowen points to marketing as the primary suspect. The problem with it? It showed up too late — only 100 or so days before the film hit, giving the audience little-to-no time to adjust to a brand-new take on Han Solo. Perhaps even worse, though, is that the marketing didn’t focus enough on selling Han Solo to this mainstream audience. To them, Harrison Ford is Han Solo, and given that we just saw a Star Wars film, and this one has sort of a poor man’s Han Solo, why even bother going? It all seemed to incite apathy, and at the end of the day, the apathy of the mainstream is more detrimental to a film than the hardcore fan base’s anger.

 

Seth McDonald (Staff Writer): I think all of us can agree that it was multiple factors that led to Solo underperforming at the box-office, but as Cam pointed out, it cannot be ignored that a large part of the fanbase did not like The Last Jedi, and that film made those fans lose interest in the franchise, which I think carried over to Solo. After The Last Jedi, Star Wars is no longer an automatic opening day experience for many fans, a group of fans I think is underestimated in size.

The problem with CinemaScore is that it catches people on opening weekend, upon their initial viewing. I think many people are still riding the high of new Star Wars, and are more prone to giving a positive review. I think the Rotten Tomatoes audience score more accurately represents a large portion of the fanbase. While I do agree that apathy is a factor, I would say most of it comes from the, as Jammer said, hardcore fan base, which again I think is larger than it is assumed to be.

Cam appears to have been spot-on with his prediction about The Last Jedi being the most important Star Wars film (I’m betting he has the time stone hidden away somewhere). The film had a huge drop from its first to second week. The Force Awakens was, as Cam said, new Star Wars, and most were happy enough with it. The film laid nice, safe groundwork for the franchise to rebuild, but The Last Jedi tossed aside most everything set up by The Force Awakens, and again, I think that straw broke the backs of many a Star Wars fan.

As for Solo, I enjoyed the film. It was predictable but entertaining enough. Really I was just happy to enjoy Star Wars again. I agree with Cam, Ehrenreich wasn’t exactly the Solo we all know and love, but perhaps, as Ehrenreich is signed up for three films, he would become that Han Solo over the course of the next two movies, which are probably in jeopardy at this point.

Jammer: Okay, so I feel the need to address one thing…The Rotten Tomatoes audience score — or any audience score online — cannot be seen as reliable sources of legitimate reactions. Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB have no means of gatekeeping, and virtually anyone can go in and rate the film, even if they haven’t seen the film. If a film got enough bad press, it wouldn’t have been difficult to get a bunch of people to vote down a film, and it’s happened in the past. On many occasions, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB have incredibly negative ratings BEFORE films even hit theaters. Sure, CinemaScore may not be perfect, but it’s a far cry better than audience scores on sites, as it cannot be gamed.

In regards to The Last Jedi being an incredibly important film in the franchise (as Cam said in his initial point), he isn’t wrong — at least not as far as I can tell. I will say the slight difference is that Cam said the movie needed to be good, and in the eyes of many critics, the film was fantastic. Readers obviously know I adore the film, and it ended its run with a 91% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes from reviewers. There’s obviously a disparity between critics and loud, vocal fans, and in that sense, it was an important film in bringing that to light, but as far as its overall impact on Solo…I’m not so sure.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. It is possible that the film impacted Solo somewhat, but this may be one of those “correlation is not causation” scenarios. Solo is a film that was doubted by many from the get-go. No one wanted it — fans and non-fans alike. Alden Ehrenreich was in a no-win situation with it, and none of the drama helped. In short, I think there are too many factors to concede that fan reaction to The Last Jedi is the main reason, especially since it’s a concern that really only applies to the super hardcore Star Wars fans who probably don’t make up as much of the fanbase as we’d like to think.

Cam: The hardcore fan base may not make up the majority of the box office, but they are the fans who keep Star Wars in the public eye, buy the merchandise, attend the conventions. Also, I think the hardcore fan base for Star Wars is far larger than for other franchises, save perhaps Harry Potter. Star Wars was making $2 billion a year in merchandising prior to the prequels when there had been no movies since 1983.

Either way, they are part of the audience and if you can’t please the Star Wars fans and decide to make movies that frustrate them, then you still run the risk of losing some audience. I know we all disagree on The Last Jedi, in truth, it’s not a bad film, it’s just not a good Star Wars film to some of us. The excitement I want watching a new Star Wars just wasn’t there for me like it was watching Avengers: Infinity War. I can’t say I’d ever have guessed I’d be obsessing over Marvel more than Star Wars.

Overall, time will tell on this, but I think for many fans, Star Wars has just lost a bit of magic. I can’t believe I’ve only watched The Last Jedi twice. I just have no desire to watch it again because it’s just got no rewatchable factor to it. My excitement levels for Episode IX, Boba Fett, and the Rian Johnson’s trilogy are non existent. The one that does interest me is the project Game of Thrones showrunners are working on. The reason I say that is because Thrones has probably overtaken Star Wars as my most loved visual story in recent years. My worry is Star Wars is no longer special amongst film franchises. Very soon, it’ll be just another Star Wars film, though hope I’m wrong.


So, there you have it! Clearly, there were many factors that could have contributed to the film’s disappointing box office haul, but at the end of the day, it’s very difficult — or impossible — to measure which one is the true culprit behind it all. One big test will be Star Wars: Episode IX. Will fans come back for it, or will it be all too evident then that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was indeed as important of a film to the longevity of the franchise as Cam claimed? We’ll have to wait and see!

What do you think of all this? What was the main culprit for Solo: A Star Wars Story failing at the box office? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.