Was Solo Disney’s First Star Wars Box Office Fail Due To Fatigue Or Frustration?
Initial estimates gave Solo: A Star Wars Story a record opening of around $170 million domestic over the 4-day Memorial Day Weekend. By Saturday morning, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen and, instead, Solo would be lucky to settle for projections of less than $115 million, the lowest of any Star Wars film (when adjusted for inflation).
While these numbers would be great for any other movie, they are considered a disaster for a Star Wars film, especially since the overseas numbers have also been low and don’t appear likely to propel Solo to the total international box office haul that Rogue One collected in 2016. When counting changed directors, expensive reshoots, and marketing, Solo needed to bring in massive numbers just to break even.
Word of mouth has been positive for Solo, with many fans calling it at least “watchable” (not horrible, just irrelevant), so the lack of traction doesn’t appear to be a quality issue with Ron Howard’s final product. The internet is already full of reasons why Solo stumbled, citing everything from competition from Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2, to claims that having Solo open only 5 months after The Last Jedi has somehow fatigued Star Wars fans into losing their excitement for new movies.
Of course, Star Wars fans know better.
Glancing through the comments on these articles and on social media reveals an entirely different reason why people are saying they are staying away. It’s because The Last Jedi turned them off of Star Wars and the responses to their complaints have offended many fans into boycotting all Disney Star Wars movies until they feel their grievances are heard.
At best, The Last Jedi was a divisive movie. It proved to a lot of fans that, in the wrong hands, Star Wars wasn’t only capable of being “not that great,” like some of the prequels, but was also capable of being something they truly hated. But the response to unhappy fans, essentially accusing them of being racist, sexist, and not even real, has tarnished a loyalty many fans have felt for Star Wars for decades and left some feeling that their fears of Disney ruining Star Wars were finally justified.
Star Wars fans were legitimately upset at the way the classic characters were handled in the new films. Luke, Leia, R2-D2, and C-3PO were all reduced to cameos in The Force Awakens and Han Solo was killed off in one of the most disappointing and unfulfilling death scenes in the history of sci-fi cinema, on par with Captain Kirk’s sad ending in Star Trek: Generations. It didn’t help that one underlying theme of the movie was “out with the old and in with the new,” which fans knew was eventually going to happen with aging stars, but perhaps weren’t quite so ready to have shoved in their face so blatantly and literally. A smoother transition to the next generation would have been nice for older fans who were feeling alienated.
The Force Awakens seemed to have been put on probation by Star Wars fans, who were willing to accept it, but also hoping The Last Jedi would make up for some of its faults, while also providing much needed closure after the death of Carrie Fisher and the realization that The Last Jedi would be her last movie, too. When that didn’t happen, not only did the fans unleash their hate on The Last Jedi and Rian Johnson for writing it, but they also retroactively extended their rage to The Force Awakens for missing too many opportunities, and to Lucasfilm and Disney for allowing producer Kathleen Kennedy to take Star Wars in such a disappointing, unsatisfying, and disjointed direction. To add insult to injury, shortly after The Last Jedi was released, it was announced that Kathleen Kennedy was rewarding Rian Johnson with his own Star Wars trilogy, subjecting fans to three more films by the man they blamed for destroying Star Wars.
In The Last Jedi, Finn and Poe, two of the most promising of the new characters introduced in The Force Awakens (who were supposed to inherit the Star Wars legacy along with Rey) were given nothing relevant to do. Rey’s story didn’t advance much either and fans weren’t pleased that she somehow mastered her use of The Force with minimal training. Luke Skywalker was turned from the beloved optimistic hero of the original saga into a pessimistic homicidal curmudgeon, who refused to use his Jedi powers to help anybody and died before fans ever got to see him unleash his fully-matured Jedi skills. Not only that, he died from exhaustion after Jedi-Skyping his own hologram halfway across the galaxy, a death only slightly less disappointing than Han Solo’s. Han’s death also wasn’t mourned or avenged, Princess Leia was put into a coma for the entire second act of the film, Kylo Ren and General Hux spent much of the movie fighting like infants (which makes you wonder why anyone in the First Order would follow them), and the promise of Supreme Leader Snoke or Captain Phasma developing into a new force of evil was totally squandered when both characters were killed off without much of a fight.
After all of the rebellion’s successes against the Empire in previous movies, it was disheartening to see that they were not only still losing to a pale shade of the Empire, but nobody in the galaxy even cared enough to return their distress call. So they were left on a ship that was running out of gas, with people somehow seemingly free to come and go at their leisure without getting blown out of space by a nearby Star Destroyer, while some of the characters disappeared to a casino for a pointless story arc that some fans felt was just added to make an out-of-place, jumbled, political statement about cruelty to animals, slavery, and the evils of rich people…as if the time to do that was right in the middle of a war.
With Han, Luke, and Leia now gone, the only story threads The Last Jedi left unresolved were a potential love triangle between Rey, Finn, and Rose, which nobody really wants to see, and a resolution to the weird relationship Rey somehow developed with Kylo Ren, a character who still hasn’t paid for what he did to Han, so whatever connection she has with him feels like a betrayal of Han’s memory.
When fans griped about all of that and how much they disliked The Last Jedi because of it, they were met with accusations of being bots and trolls posting repeated fake reviews online to undermine the film, as if it were somehow impossible for hordes of loyal fans to dislike the new interpretation of Star Wars. While some anonymous group of never-identified hackers did claim they had intended to attack aggregate review sites to tank scores for The Last Jedi as revenge for those sites appearing to have a pro-Disney bias and posting negative numbers for Justice League, many fans who were expressing their displeasure were totally dismissed as being an extension of that threat. Not only did their opinions not matter, but they were being told they weren’t even real. They were also told male fans don’t have to be “catered to” by Disney’s Kathleen Kennedy, and were accused of being offended by diversity by Rian Johnson and Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams – not liking The Last Jedi because of the inclusion of more “strong” female characters.
The accusation that sci-fi and comic book fanboys are sexist against strong female characters is as preposterous as it is insulting. These same fanboys have accepted and are responsible for the popularity and longevity of more strong female characters than any other genre, including Uhura (Star Trek), Wilma Deering (Buck Rogers), Ripley (Aliens), Buffy and Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Delenn and Ivanova (Babylon 5), Wonder Woman, Sara Connor (The Terminator), Zena: Warrior Princess, Dana Scully (X-Files), Alice (Resident Evil), Captain Janeway and Michael Burnham (Star Trek: Voyager and Discovery), Black Window (Avengers), Michone (The Walking Dead), River Song (Dr. Who), Harley Quinn and Catwoman (DC Comics), Rogue, Storm and Jean Grey (X-Men), and the list goes on and on, including Princess Leia herself. Padme Amidala (Phantom Menace) and Jyn Erso (Rogue One) were also accepted into the universe by most Star Wars fans with open arms.
The female characters introduced in The Last Jedi don’t compare in any way to those iconic characters. While Holdo’s deaths scene was arguably one of the best visual moments in the film, it was ultimately a pointless sacrifice, because she could have had a droid do it and any smart person would have. Her conflict with Poe, who tried to steal control of the ship from her after Leia was put in a coma, seemed to be more of a gender power play than an important story element, because telling him her plan wouldn’t have changed the outcome. He was turned into an irrational, hot-headed, toxic male just to give Holdo someone to fight with and lie to just because she could.
The other female characters weren’t treated much better. Rose could be edited out of the film entirely and she wouldn’t be missed. Captain Phasma, a character that many fans were excited about, had about 20 seconds of screen time and most of it was her falling to her death.
So, while The Last Jedi brought more women to the table, it didn’t do a better job with them than it did with its male characters. Additionally, claiming the only reason fans hated them was because of sexism discounts all of the female fans who felt exactly the same way as the male fans. They didn’t hate the movie because it included more women and minorities. They hated it because it was a really bad movie written by someone who seemed to have no respect for the fans, the previous movie, or the classic characters, and it hinted that Star Wars as a franchise was headed down a careless path they were not interested in seeing.
While some fans feel that boycotting Solo doesn’t make sense because they would just be robbing themselves of a movie some are calling “better than The Last Jedi,” the ones who are choosing to boycott feel differently. Not only do they realize they can always watch Solo on cable or on DVD at some later time, but they feel giving Disney a financial loss is the best way to send them a wake-up call that they are angry and not willing to be dismissed as racists and sexists, who will obediently pay to see anything labelled Star Wars. For their grievances to finally be heard and even their existence as unhappy fans to be excepted as real, there had to be evidence of a true backlash and, for them, that comes in the form of Solo’s box office numbers. Bots and hackers didn’t make that happen. Real people did.
Their hope is that turning Solo into a box office flop would cause the same kind of management shake-up at Lucasfilm that Warner Bro saw after the the unexpectedly weak box office performance of Justice League. If not resulting in the total victory of getting Kathleen Kennedy fired, then to at least humble Disney enough to reel her in and give fans some sense that their opinions are being heard and that they won’t be paying to see another mess like The Last Jedi.
Without a doubt, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy will have their own reasons why Solo didn’t meet expectations and why so many fans chose to stay away. It’s likely they will claim the stand-alone Star Wars anthology films were meant to be more experimental and never intended to compete with the box office numbers of the main Star Wars movies, the way Rogue One did, allowing them to be a success with smaller box office returns. But no studio is going to plan to spend over $300 million dollars on a movie, hoping that it makes $400 million worldwide. That may lead to smaller budgets for the stand-alone films in the future, but it was clear Disney was expecting Solo to do much bigger numbers based on brand recognition alone.
It will be interesting to see if they try to blame it on some kind of “phobia” related to media reports that the writers considered Lando to be “pansexual,” or the number of women in the movie, or the ethnic make-up of the cast, or some other excuse intended to make their core audience seem intolerant. And some of them probably are intolerant, since you can find some level of intolerance in any group. But those aren’t the reasons most fans are giving for why they chose to skip Solo. Their posts all over the internet are very clear.
They’re saying they feel betrayed by Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, and Star Wars in general, and aren’t happy they’re being demonized as a group of bigots, even though their loyalty and love of the classic characters is what made this franchise what it is today. For them, it’s easier to let go of Star Wars than to continue to see it trashed, while Disney and most of the media continue to pretend this has something to do with people hating diversity or feeling fatigued by too many Star Wars movies too soon.
Although, with Han, Luke, and Leia now gone, there might not be much Disney can do to make amends. Even if they fire Kathleen Kennedy and cancel Rian Johnson’s trilogy, the damage to classic Star Wars has already been done. But even after a train wreck, there is still some consolation when an irresponsible conductor is found guilty and made to answer for it, regardless of whether or not doing so undoes any of the damage she caused. And that consolation is what some fans are looking for.
Now that boycotting fans have realized they can tolerate skipping a Star Wars movie, it will be that much easier for them to skip the next one, too. And the one after that. So Disney should proceed with caution in how they choose to address this issue and who they let speak on their behalf. Any missteps could have a direct impact on their box office numbers for J. J. Abram’s episode IX.