The Star Wars Universe Un-Expands… Again

With the perceived failure of “Solo” (when you factor in advertising costs and reshoots), Disney could possibly lose $50 million off of the film. Of course, I have no way to confirm the exact data as it will likely never be released, but suffice it to say, “Solo” is not the crowd pleaser Disney hoped, and the rumor on the street is that it’s thrown a wrench in their plans for future spinoffs.

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The memes surrounding the movie’s title made it impossible to take this release seriously.

To be clear, “Solo” was as good a movie as it could possibly be (see my full review for my complete analysis). It had a horrible concept that no one except hardcore “Star Wars” fans cared about, it was plagued by costly reshoots and even a change in directors, and its lead notoriously needed acting lessons to learn how to be more like Harrison Ford. It’s marketing was terrible, with the internet quickly memeing the “Solo” title, with the most noticeable piece of advertising being a pathetic partnership with “Denny’s.” Most general audience members probably saw it as a joke, like I did, only to realize that the film is just about average – the best possible outcome for a creatively lacking effort plagued by behind-the-scene drama in the galaxy far, far away.

“Solo” was commissioned in 2012, along with the new trilogy of “Star Wars” films Disney has produced, starting with “The Force Awakens.” It was a period of time where Disney didn’t really know how to handle the “Star Wars” brand yet, and was only willing to go with what was safe, with the recent memory of the prequel trilogy still in their minds. Disney also bought the “Star Wars” brand at a time where Expanded Universes were taking off, mostly thanks to Marvel, and it seemed like a no-brainer to do the same with “Star Wars.” Besides, “Star Wars” already had an Expanded Universe they could subtly mine from in their new canon, and everyone knew and liked Han Solo, so why not give him a film?

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When “Star Wars” gets desperate.

For Disney, the release schedule of having a “Star Wars” film every year seemed like the way to maximize profits from the license, most likely because a chart told them so, but they failed to recognize the fatigue and eventual diminishing returns such a schedule could possibly have. Besides, it was 2012, and at that point an at-least-one-movie-every-year schedule had worked out so far for Pixar and Marvel, with little to no ill effects on their bottom line.

And that’s the problem. Disney seemed to think that managing “Star Wars” like Pixar or Marvel would work (Note that even this schedule ended up not being the great thing for Pixar, and Marvel films only get away with releasing sometimes multiple films in a year because of how interconnected all their films are). “Star Wars” is not Marvel. While it’s stories can be interconnected, the ones Disney has chosen to portray so far – those after Episode VI and before Episode IV – are not geared for this formula whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, you can have cool, risky anthology films that have smaller budgets than the main “Star Wars” releases, but I’m not sure if you can make it work to the tune of every other year, and there is no point in having them show in off years if they have no connection to the main story you are trying to tell. They serve as distractions rather than compliments.

I think anthology films can work, but only when they’re really necessary, and when they have strong concepts and creative, passionate people behind them. They don’t work as filler, because, unless they’re fantastic, you’re never going to get a general audience interested in a niche “Star Wars” story, and to get a fantastic niche film, you need to give these projects proper time to flourish, as well as strict oversight to make sure their budgets don’t exceed those of your regular releases.

Essentially, the exact opposite of how they handled “Solo.”

Although I have to admit, I do not see “Solo” as a true proof of concept for Disney’s anthology film business model. Disney did not put its best foot forward with the film, and I think any release model would buckle if it had a film with as many financial problems “Solo” had. Financially (not critically), “Solo” was a dud, and should not be seen as an indicator that a potential Boba Fett movie or an Obi-Wan film would suffer the same fate. If anything, it was just another lesson that not everything with the “Star Wars” name will always sell well, and that anthology “Star Wars” films probably have the most potential to be cult films, if anything, and that Disney should budget those films accordingly.

But canceling all anthology films excused Disney from trying to put effort into smaller “Star Wars” properties to exclusively focus on their juggernaut pictures, something that makes their lives easier but longterm is not in their best interest. It makes “Star Wars” an all-or-nothing risk brand, at least in general theaters – they will always have their merchandise empire as well as comics, books, and video games (well, that is if Electronic Arts doesn’t manage to tank “Star Wars” video games). If a main release “Star Wars” film tanks, the franchise won’t have anything else in the movie theater to fall back onto.

This alleged move also seemingly lifts the blame off of poor management at Disney for “Solo”’s financial woes and moreso on the entire concept of their anthology films, to which I say: Just bite the bullet. Brush yourself off, and get up, smarter and better than before. “Solo” did not fail because it was an anthology film, “Solo” failed because Disney hired the wrong directors for the job who ran amuck with the film’s budget, not that “Solo” was an easy film to make work. I’m not sure how Ron Howard did it, but there just simply isn’t enough to do with Han Solo pre-Episode IV, and especially after the character’s death in “The Force Awakens,” there really wasn’t much demand for a Han Solo prequel movie.

What I take away from all of this is that Disney had learned all the wrong lessons from “Solo,” and are at a point where they need to take responsibility for their failure, else they will close the door to far more promising ventures in the galaxy far, far away. There are other and better stories than “Solo” they can tell, and it’s unfortunate that because of this film, Disney might see those stories as too much of a risk, even if there are far greater bounties they can chase.

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