The ill-advised young Han Solo prequel is a Death Star-sized miss. Following much behind-the-scenes melodrama, the now-$250 million sci-fi caper earned decent reviews but bombed here and abroad. It’ll end up with a final global total of over/under the $371 million gross of 2009’s Terminator: Salvation.
As much as I wouldn’t want any company panicking and doing a 180 after one flop following three straight $1 billion hits, this is good news for the Star Wars brand. As reported over at StarWarsNewsNet, Disney refused to move Solo to December after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced by Ron Howard (because I would argue Mary Poppins Returns was a more important release) but gave Lucasfilm an additional $80 million to reshoot 70% of the film on a time crunch. They also refused to give the Star Wars story, already opening in the "lesser” Memorial Day slot, any marketing advantages over Avengers: Infinity War.
This means they aren’t automatically going to prioritize Star Wars over their other big franchises. It also means that they will also throw money at a troubled project to ensure a decent movie and thus protect the brand. Assuming all of this is true, it all make sense in terms of where
Perhaps Disney left money on the table by opening Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Avengers: Infinity War, Solo and Incredibles 2 almost on top of one another. Yet they have amassed a terrifying 42% cut of the domestic market share. The next biggest are Fox (15.3%) and Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. (13.8%), although ask me about Universal/Comcast Corp. (currently 8.9%, with Jurassic World 2, Skyscraper and Mama Mia 2 on tap) at the end of July. Since Disney is about to acquire Fox for $71 billion in cash and stock, that gives Disney a 58% market share in 2018 domestic box office. That’s one reason Comcast tried so hard to get Fox.
Assuming the Disney/Fox deal happens, there will be no justification for Disney to churn out Star Wars movies on the regular. If the MCU doesn’t take a sharp post-Avengers 4 drop, audiences continue to enjoy Walt Disney and Pixar animation, and Disney gets Deadpool and Avatar among many other Fox properties, Star Wars can be one big cog in a massive machine. The key to maintaining the Star Wars brand is making sure it remains a major theatrical event. The key to Solo’s box office failure was that it was not special and not an event even with the Star Wars branding.
This apparent focus on one Star Wars item per format (Episode 9, the animated Resistance and the unnamed live-action Star Wars show) doesn’t mean that Star Wars will stay forever vibrant. As Vision once said, a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. The prequel Star Wars trilogy was successful partially because it had a beginning and end. Even folks who didn’t like Phantom Menace still showed up for the next two films. Part of the appeal of the new trilogy is that it is the end of the Skywalker/Solo mythology. After that, it’s just a bunch of big-budget sci-fi actioners with the words Star Wars attached.
More importantly, both George Lucas’s prequel trilogy and the new round of Walt Disney Star Wars films arrived when folks thought that the franchise was finished in theaters. The prequel trilogy was a bonus, arriving when a movie on the scale of The Phantom Menace was still a huge event movie. The Rey/Kylo series came a decade later, when no one would have expected new Star Wars movies, let alone direct sequels to the original trilogy with Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher returning to take a bow. Thus, Force Awakens, Last Jedi and Episode 9 were/are events even in a tentpole-saturated landscape.
The idea that there will always be another Star Wars trilogy dilutes the specialness of the brand. The best way to delay the inevitable is to not drown consumers in Star Wars theatrical content, especially since Disney has plenty of eggs in plenty of baskets. Star Wars isn’t Marvel. It is still viewed by the populace not as an interconnected series of stand-alone franchises but as a singular series. As such, the best thing Disney could do is make a point not to bleed it dry, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?-style, and keep it as a somewhat rare event for as long as possible.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the exception to the rule, a topical blockbuster that offered something of-the-moment that happened to be a Star Wars movie. But going forward, Disney and Lucasfilm should commit to, at worst, maintaining the Star Wars saga as something akin to the James Bond series, with a new offering (as part of a trilogy or a stand-alone) every two to four years that offers the kind of blockbuster sci-fi thrills that are unparalleled even among other tent poles. The wake-up call that is Solo: A Star Wars Story is just what the franchise needed to … sorry … live long and prosper.
Scott Mendelson, CONTRIBUTOR