Disney’s Star Wars Problem

by Chris Wager
Disney's Star Wars

Solo released over the Memorial Holiday weekend to not as much fanfare as Disney had hoped it would. The newest Star Wars movie, and the second in the line of Star Wars Stories to release since Disney acquired the franchise, couldn’t even break $100 million in its opening weekend and settled for under $150 million worldwide. Comparing the numbers, the last three Star Wars movies grossed over billion dollars each worldwide, a number that Solo probably will not get anywhere near without a massive fan resurgence in the coming weeks.

So what happened with Solo?  Disney has stated themselves that they have a lot of analysis to do to see what went wrong, but is it too late to do anything about it without some serious restructuring? I don’t think it should be too hard to see what is happening to their lucrative franchise. Namely, will the problems that Solo encountered bleed into the rest of the franchise?

Troubled Production

It was widely reported that the original directors of Solo, Chris Lord and Phil Miller, exited the project roughly 75% through principal photography. They were then replaced by Ron Howard who made some changes and re-shot a lot of the footage. However, even before this replacement there was a lot of nervousness from fans about the prospect of this movie. How do you cast a young Harrison Ford? What kind of backstory can you put together to make Han Solo a more loved character then he already was? Was anyone even asking for a backstory? The fans that really wanted to know any backstory on the original trilogies characters had 30 plus years of extended universe fiction they could read to fill in those blanks (even if they aren’t canon anymore).

Then comes to who they cast as a young Han Solo: Alden Ehrenreich. Rumor has it that Lucasfilm had hired an acting coach midway through production just to help him get through the shoot. To be fair, no one has ever stated what he actually needed the coaching for, but it’s still not the best sign. The actor they hired to play one of the most loved characters of all time and he needs an acting coach to play the part. Really?

Donald Glover as Lando

via Variety

Does Release Date Matter?

Then, we arrive at the release date. When the December holiday season has been so good to Star Wars, why would you want to try the Memorial Day weekend and mess with your good fortune? I know historically more Star Wars movies have opened over the May weekend then the December holiday, but the last three have done so well, why wouldn’t you want to keep that going? I would put money on the fact that this is the last time they try to release anywhere outside of the December holiday season. The summer is too jam-packed, which is why so many bigger movies have been releasing in March and April.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

via Den of Geek

Did Solo Need Han to Tell THAT Story?

Mild Spoilers to follow.

Think about it. Was Han even needed for this story? Outside the first thirty minutes which showed a very small background of Han Solo, which, in my opinion, were the roughest moments of the entire film, was he needed? Was there anything in that movie that we needed to know to better appreciate Han Solo? Is L3-37 stuck in the Falcon computer for all eternity? Was there any revelations in that script that will leave moviegoers satisfied with this film?

There was nothing I really was dying to know about Han Solo before, and I don’t feel particularly enlightened about the character after. I was always satisfied with how fleshed out he was in the original trilogy and didn’t have lingering questions as to where he came from, which honestly Solo didn’t even really answer anyway.

What Solo did provide was a fun adventure through the Star Wars universe that introduced us to new characters that were more fleshed out, had more motivation, and were more likable than the main protagonist. I would have enjoyed a fresh adventure in the Star Wars universe. They could have still brought in Donald Glover’s Lando as the cameo character to excite the fans. I think that would have made Solo much stronger of a film and a lot easier to sell and swallow then trying to include Han Solo.

Spoilers over.

Last Jedi Movie Poster

via Venture Beat

The Last Jedi of It All

I don’t think anyone loved The Last Jedi. There’s hyperbole in that statement for sure (it has its pros and cons as a film), but it can’t be denied that TLJ splintered the Star Wars universe somewhat. It was expected that a lot of people simply wouldn’t show up for another Star Wars film only five months after The Last Jedi made so many fans swear off Disney’s Star Wars. The main question was would those same people hold to their disdain and not see future Star Wars films, or was it all just talk? At least when it comes to Solo it appears that the fanboys backed up all that talk by simply not showing up.

Now that we have seen Solo take such a hit box office wise, what does that mean moving forward? Was it simply a case of no one really asking for a Han Solo backstory, or a growing part to a bigger problem for Disney?

Disney’s Star Wars Restructuring

Now Disney needs to look ahead to Episode 9 next Christmas and wonder: do they really have a problem? I believe they most certainly do. I am not sure if they will be able to right the ship until Episode 9 is over and out-of-the-way. Only then can they can move on without being tied to the Skywalker name, which carries so much nostalgia and passion.

Their first mistake was not hiring JJ Abrams to do the entire new trilogy. The problem, and why The Last Jedi gets so much hate, is because it seemed to ignore everything before it. Rain Johnson seemed to have an idea for a Star Wars story and wanted to leave his mark so badly that he did what he thought would be cool and not what would be best for this new trilogy.

Personally, I didn’t mind The Last Jedi as much as some. I grew up loving these characters but never wanted more from them than what I already had. Now if Episode 9 were going to be done by Johnson and he was going to continue what he set up, I would be really interested. Now that Abrams is back for the next installment, I worry he will just spend so much time trying to fix what Johnson changed by bringing back story elements that appear to be closed simply because that wasn’t how he wanted those elements to end based on what he did before with The Force Awakens. 

So What Should We Expect with Episode 9?

So what type of movie are we going to get with Episode 9? Are we going to get the conclusion that The Last Jedi set up before it, or are we going to go back and right the wrongs of The Last JediUnfortunately, it’s lose/lose either way. You fall into one of two camps: you want them to continue The Last Jedi, or you want them to erase it. Because of this, I think most people will wait to hear if they should see it, like they did for Solo. The bad part for Disney is that if they can’t pull off an amazing movie with Episode 9 then those people who are holding out will wait longer and the value of the franchise falls into greater jeopardy.

I know I will see Episode 9, but I find myself not really being as excited as I should for what should be the conclusion of the Skywalker saga on the big screen. Disney has a lot of goodwill to repair after the last two Star Wars movies. If they can’t then this Star Wars problem they have won’t be going away anytime soon.

disney's star wars

image via Screen Rant

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Michael Kleen June 4, 2018 - 8:33 pm

I had a terrible thought the other day… what if Star Wars was never really that good?

Monique Desir June 6, 2018 - 5:37 pm

I feel your pain. It is indeed a terrible thought. Dare we entertain it? Where are the chocolate chip cookies?! My husband (a hardcore Star Wars fan) was very close to entertaining such a thought because of what has happened to this iconic series in the hands of Disney.

anibproductions June 4, 2018 - 5:18 pm

It seems clear to me that Disney has spread itself too thin with the franchise. It’s almost as if they’re trying to run before they can walk with Star Wars, pushing movies out at a breakneck pace, and attempting to innovate without a clear sense of focus or overall direction for the venerable sci-fi franchise. As a result, the last two movies, especially “Last Jedi”, feel like conflicting visions in which the latest film is divisive without being especially compelling, and its predecessor (“The Force Awakens”) was seen as too much of a throwback to the original film (now dubbed “A New Hope”).

I truly believe the franchise can still go places, but not until the House of Mouse takes a breath, sits down, and realizes that in trying for short-term box office bonanzas that appear to be the law of diminishing returns, is instead strangling the franchise with stories that seem unfocused as to what the moviegoers and fans really want or are asking for. In the case of Episode IX, it may very well be the film that either makes or breaks the figurative camel’s back- and while I think Rey is just fine as a character, it’s the context in which she’s employed- especially against Kylo Ren, a conflicted tragic figure who always feels like he’s in a forced position to overcompensate, given that his huge weight in the narrative isn’t proportionate to the actual perceived threat on screen- that really just doesn’t make for much intrigue, regardless of what you thought of 7 or 8. In trying to do something wildly inventive, a lack of unified vision instead has pigeonholed this iteration of the trilogy into a corner- which might be harder odds to overcome than the Kessel Run in the eyes of a picky, divided fandom.

Nick Kush June 4, 2018 - 5:41 pm

Perfectly said! I wholeheartedly agree!

The Geeky Reviewer June 6, 2018 - 1:56 pm

I defintely agree on most points. I’d also like to add that I feel this is a work in progress for Disney as they’re testing the waters and seeing what works and what doesn’t. The Force Awakens executed the technical areas well, as you’d expect from Abrams’ cinematic style, but suffered in its ability to tell an original story. On the other hand, The Last Jedi went for experimentation through subverting tropes, resulting in both positives and negatives. With episode 9, they have the capability to analyse the past two films and extract the strengths from that, in the hope that those will translate in the final film.

I still feel as though it isn’t just the conflicting creative visions that has hindered these films, but also the differences in audience demographic and the ever expanding range in what the audience wants. As each film comes out, there’s a different overall texture, style and feel to the piece, as a result of the producers, writers, directors, cinematographers and other cast and crew members. This results in very divided opinions, as one person may love that The Force Awakens stuck to safe, solid storytelling and visual flare, whereas another viewer may have adored the wildly risky, subverting nature of The Last Jedi. When the next film releases, there will be two very different ideas about what the audience wants, and so it becomes increasingly more difficult to create a film that will appeal to this fandom. At the end of the day, if the film tells a quality story with interesting characters, powerful thematics and beautiful cinematography, I’m personally happy. Solo connected with me in a way I never thought it would because I initially took it as a film that was intended for financial returns this summer, but after watching it I realised that it was a solid story that did what it needed to do: it built around the lore.

The Geeky Reviewer June 4, 2018 - 5:03 pm

The whole issue surrounding Disney’s Star Wars problem is quite a difficult one to judge, simply because at this stage it isn’t technically a problem. This franchise has adapted and evolved over the course of many years, and therefore means different things to different people; no two people have the same experience and think the same way about the series – it’s an amalgation of different writing voices, textures and cinematic approaches. The Last Jedi was received mildly as a result of it being experimental and challenging the status quo of narrative equilibrium – it wasn’t safe.

Now this conflicting fan base, where multiple different groups have completely different opinions and share an interest in expressing this through the Solo boycott, have lost the integrity of what once defined the series. It has become incredibly divided. People aren’t allowing Solo the chance to show its worth as an individual film that builds around the lore. I personally don’t understand why people can’t see past nostalgia and can’t go into this open minded. The Solo boycott itself is absolutely ridiculous, as these films are created with passion and creativity at the heart of production, yet the supporters of this campaign feel the need to complain about how the series isn’t going in the direction they wanted so they’d instead choose to block out any attempts at new approaches. You just can’t please everyone, I suppose.

coolcomix0221 June 6, 2018 - 1:12 pm

Nor should they. Filmmakers shouldn’t be forced to trying to appease every single person on the planet, since someone will always find something about a story that doesn’t work for them. Filmmakers should only care about making as good of a tale that they possibly can. Sure, some criticism is helpful since there’s a fine line they should walk between being “expected yet predictable & bland” and “unexpected yet off-the-rails”. I only hope that Abrams and company take what worked in Episodes VII & VIII and build towards a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy.

The Geeky Reviewer June 6, 2018 - 1:32 pm

I completely agree. That’s why I loved The Last Jedi so much; it challenged the audience and didn’t fall victim to appeasing them. Sure, it had noticeable flaws here and there, but at its core it had a lot of potential and featured some of the most powerful thematics and character development I’d seen in the series.

The problem here is that the criticism they’re receiving isn’t constructive, useful, analytical feedback. Instead it’s just ambigious, generalised statements that stick either a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ label on them rather than exploring much further into the mechanics of the film. Abrams is a technically gifted director so I’m sure he will build upon the strengths of the past two films, but making these films is a development in progress. I feel like the conclusion might be their strongest yet, simply because they’ve learnt – to some degree – what works and what doesn’t work in the past two films.

YariGarciaWrites June 4, 2018 - 4:03 pm

One of my issues with Star Wars, which may or may not be the case for most, is just how many movies back-to-back are coming out. I have very little nostalgia for SW, so I can’t commit to this many movies. Seems like too much, in my case, and that’s why I didn’t watch Solo.

Kariyanine June 4, 2018 - 2:32 pm

I don’t necessarily think Disney has an unmanageable problem just yet. The biggest problem I saw was the five month release window and the utter lack of marketing for Solo due to trying to stay out of its own way. Up until Solo, each of the Disney Star Wars films have had at least a full year to roll out. Sure, there are fans that boycotted Solo because of The Last Jedi but anecdotally looking at some of the crowd that was declaring they were done with Disney Star Wars, these people still went and saw Solo. I have no way of knowing for sure but from what I’ve seen personally, Solo got the majority of its diehard fans to go out and see it (at least once). What Solo doesn’t seem to be doing (again just what I’ve personally seen) is get the mass market interested in seeing it. You don’t make 1 billion dollars off just your die hard fans, you have to hit the masses and I don’t feel they did that. Just from my own circle, casual fans that I know just didn’t feel the need to go out to see it because they had just seen a Star Wars movie. In fact, I’ve had multiple casual fans tell me that they would have seen it if it had come out in December but they’re just Star Wars’d out.

Yes, there are going to be questions with what Abrams does with IX but with an 18 month window before the next release, I can’t imagine that it doesn’t do gangbusters.

Nick Kush June 4, 2018 - 1:38 pm

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