The Star Wars saga underwent significant changes after Solo underperformed at the box office, and we’ve been taking a look at just what happened next.
Solo: A Star Wars Story suffered a troubled production and disappointing box office. Having sacked directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller in mid-2017, it was finished by Ron Howard, but made less that $400m at the box office. More than that, it seemed to spark an existential crisis within Disney, which has seen some considerable fall-out. Here are some of the things it Solo irrevocably changed…
1. It Killed Disney’s ‘A Star Wars Story’ Plans
Though Solo delivered what could be a mortal blow to the Star Wars Story would-be franchise, it would be unfair to say it’s wholly responsible. The spin-off thread of unconnected movies was struggling to find a footing after the troubled production of its first instalment: Rogue One.
The alleged sidelining of that movie’s director – Gareth Edwards – late in the film’s production hinted that there was second-guessing and not-a-little nervousness about the project as a whole behind the scenes. Specifically in doubt was Disney’s faith in the idea of A Star Wars Story films serving as a sandbox where more risks could be taken with the IP.
The Rogue One wounds were salved by a box office that passed $1bn on the back of its technical wizardry, revival of Original Trilogy characters and a stellar marketing campaign. When Solo limped to less than half of that, wounds were too great and the concept was shelved for the time being.
While this could be seen as collateral damage of the A Star Wars Story pause, other macro factors were at play. At the same time as Disney management was feeling compelled to push its massive Star Wars movie investments towards directorial safer hands, the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime as movie makers – which has since turned into a full on land-grab for streaming service subscriptions – was causing Disney executives to consider its wider business model and create Disney+.
No doubt from the very germination of that idea, the way Star Wars could be used to leverage take-up was a key point of discussion. It doesn’t take much in the way of business acumen, then, to realise that parlaying a struggling nascent film franchise into IP for the new service made a lot of sense. Thus it was that long-rumoured plans for Ewan McGregor’s return to the role of Obi-Wan moved from a film to a TV series.
The same factors probably played a part in the death of the James Mangold Boba Fett movie, as attention shifted to The Mandalorian instead.
3. It made The Last Jedi look much worse…
Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi was brave. Perhaps to a fault. However, it posed questions about the nature of Star Wars’ universe, and the Jedi, that cut to the core of the series’ philosophy. And, at its best points, offered an interesting new take on its philosophy.
While it safely crossed the $1bn made by Rogue One, the fact its box office dropped $700m from that of The Force Awakens – having divided fandom – meant The Last Jedi laser-focused attention on Disney’s management of the core new trilogy, and how it was going to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
That it opened just five months after the problems on Solo had become so bad Lord and Miller we publicly cut, and three months after Colin Trevorrow had left Episode IX to make way for JJ Abrams’ return, made it easy to see justify the worrying narrative building around Star Wars.
4. It Helped Make Star Wars Feel Toxic
Again, this is not merely a Solo problem, but rather a state of affairs that the film threw into focus. To lose one director, as Oscar Wilde may have said, is unfortunate… but to lose six? Well, that’s troubling. Game of Thrones show runners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are the latest to depart the Star Wars ship, this time in favour of a $200m deal with Netflix. Does that imply that Star Wars is becoming perceived as a a poison chalice by top-line talent in a world where they can earn big bank for making their own projects, and not have to deal with being fired at by fans and critics to such an extent?
From a certain point of view: yes.
5. It Empowered Kevin Feige
Kevin Feige’s stock is astronomical in Hollywood right now, and rightly so. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he has overseen a franchise project which is without precedent in scale. That he now looks set to take a greater role in Star Wars for the company that has bankrolled his success at Marvel is really not surprising, given the recent problems with Disney’s universe-building attempts there.
The flip-side of this can be seen in criticism of the MCU, and the endless stake-raising and crossover culture of the comics that birthed it. Marvel has created something that is unique – and either brilliant or a bit bland depending of your fandom of choice. His methodology certainly suits Disney’s plans for Star Wars, but it’s unlikely to bring the kind of innovation we were promised when it took over.
6. It Raised Dave Filoni’s Status
What do diehard Star Wars fans love? They love Dave Filoni.
Bought across to Lucasfilm from Nickelodeon to work on Star Wars animation projects, he directed The Clone Wars animated movie as well as being a key part behind the scenes of the series. He also created Star Wars Rebels and Resistance. He has now found himself a role as a key part of the brain trust behind The Mandalorian, directing the series opener and serving as writer/director on the upcoming fifth episode.
This move from animation to live action is not insignificant in a world where a lot of Star Wars material is presumably going to continue to come our way. That’s not least because Filoni has – in the kindest sense – an excellent track record of giving fans the kind of Star Wars deep dives they love and which A Star Wars Story apparently failed to deliver. In doing so, he’s put himself in a prime position to be heavily involved in side projects like Obi-Wan and maybe even further movies if they delve into Star Wars lore. If he can bridge his fan following to wider crowd-pleasing, his further rise is guaranteed.
7. It impacted Lord and Miller, but part-led to Spider-Verse
Riding on the back of 21/22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, Phil Lord and Chris Miller seemed like the perfect off-beat fit for Solo: A Star Wars Story. However, having been spat out by what I’ll call ‘The Disney Machine’, their career path could have taken a sizeable negative hit. They responded in the best possible positive way, earning an Oscar for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, and deservedly so.
Gossip about a culture clash behind the scenes of Solo were interesting inasmuch as it exposed something of the confused thinking behind the A Star Wars Story projects. Unfortunately for Lord and Miller, they were on the losing side of the battle for hearts-and-minds among the Disney high-ups, who sided with screenwriter and Star Wars alumni Lawrence Kasdan. This appeared to be a mirror image of the rumoured move away from Gareth Edward’s alleged (and likely never-to-be-seen) vision for Rogue One.
Ron Howard was more complimentary too about them than the less-than-gracious Tony Gilroy was about Edwards, who is yet to return to the director’s chair, sadly.
The problems with Edwards, Trevorrow, Johnson’s Last Jedi, and Lord & Miller mean the pool of potential Star Wars directors going forward has shrunk considerably. Rian Johnson’s new trilogy is still officially on the slate, but yet to be confirmed in any tangible way, Benioff and Weiss are yet to be replaced, and it’s unknown if their nascent historical Star Wars story is now a dead-end.
There will always be an eager Star Wars-fan director keen to take on the task, but will Disney want to hand over the reins to one again? So far, JJ Abrams is the only director whose stock has risen by association with Disney’s Star Wars movies. Largely, that’s because film fans already knew whether they liked his movies or not, and he’s a past master at delivering safer, entertaining versions of known franchises to audiences.
That’s not to say he’s not brilliant at his job – he is. The balancing act he performed on The Force Awakens is a thing of terrifying beauty when you really think about it. It’s more to say that there aren’t many others out there with a track record that could stand up to his. One potential, Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, is already in-universe with The Mandalorian and you’d potentially question who else would rather work on Star Wars than one of their own projects.
Where to next then? Who’s strong enough to face down either Disney, the fans, or both and come out on top having made the film they wanted to make? It’s not a long list.
9. It Will Probably Lead to a ‘Safety First’ Approach
It now seems clear that Disney simply doesn’t have the appetite for risk it seemed to have in the early days of Star Wars. Solo largely did what you expected it to do – Kessel Run, Lando, getting the Falcon, droid dies, unexpected cameos for legacy characters – but in a way that wasn’t as interesting as Lord & Miller’s hiring hinted it would be. And, with all due respect, if Tony Gilroy did indeed ’save’ Rogue One – as he seems to believe he did – you can’t imagine the director of The Bourne Legacy said ‘we’re going to do this by taking some risks’.
10. It Confirmed George Lucas as a Genius
To be fair to Disney, I suspect George Lucas knew Star Wars was an impossible square to circle when he sold it to them for a cargo hold full of cash. That he convinced them it was worth what he got just makes me love him more.
The real stroke of genius, though, was finally walking away from a thankless task you’ve spent your life trying to achieve: pleasing Star Wars fans. Stray too far from the traditional formats and lore and you face the wrath of the fans who have lived – and spent – their way through its iterations. Do the same thing over and over again and watch the casual fans slowly lose interest. Everyone’s got an opinion, everyone loves their version of Star Wars. Good luck.
He’d spent years trying, and largely failing, to put Star Wars’ lightning in a bottle again – and I’d like to think he was well rid of it by the end. He’d never managed to please the entire, ever-growing church fans of Star Wars ever (even The Empire Strikes Back was not universally liked at the time). No wonder the Prequels were a tonal mess…
11. It Upped Disney’s Marketing Game
So what does Disney do? For now, remedial work seems to be being done on doubling down on the key selling points of what they already have. One of the interesting anomalies of Solo was the largely disappointing promotional campaign, which appeared bereft of the almost intoxicating allure that Star Wars often manages to emit.
It shied away from the heart pumping nostalgic rushes of the new trilogy trailers, and seemed to replace the powerful riffing on John Williams’ musical themes with something far more industrial and rhythmical. It didn’t feel right. These musical choices are key to trailers, even more than they perhaps are to the movies themselves. Rogue One used the music we know and love shamelessly, and to great effect in its promo clips. However, by the time it became apparent that virtually none of that minor-key piano music – nor the shots it was played over – was actually in the final movie, it didn’t matter. We’d already bought the tickets.
Rogue One may have done its promo well, but it’s made to look amateur compared to the main trilogy trailer-makers, who are practically evil geniuses when it comes to prizing cash from pockets by pulling heart strings. Solo failed to do that, but Disney won’t miss that trick again.
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker arrives next of course. It’s already on course to make a lot of money when it lands in cinemas in December…
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