There’s a quote from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, “Once again you’ve put your keen and penetrating mind to the task and as usual come to the wrong conclusion!” said by Sirius Black to Severus Snape. The quote is one of my favorites, and I cannot think of a place where it seems to apply more than Hollywood.
If you somehow break through and make a movie about a woman who makes falls in love with a water balloon, the lesson that Hollywood would take from that is “water balloons are sexy” and you’d see some crazy slate of movies in which water balloons have sex with hot women, and drive fast cars, and airplanes, and stuff. (Sorry about all the water balloons but I’m sitting next to a bag full of balloons, so it was the weirdest thing in eye shot.)We’ve seen Hollywood learn the wrong lesson from successes too many times to count, (i.e. all of the Jaws sequels, and Piranha movies and so many others). But we also see them learn the lesson from failures. This can be really upsetting to me personally, because it often means something is abandoned early due to the wrong reasons, and who likes their movie franchises ended early?
The latest victim of this problem, seems to be Star Wars. I wrote about Solo a few weeks ago, but let me catch you up. The film seemed like a bad idea, but it was a good movie. So now, almost a month after it’s release Disney and Lucasfilm have announced that they’re reconsidering Star Wars spin-offs due to its failure.
So let’s talk about its failure, and yes it seems it is undeniably a financial failure (although the budget hasn’t been released so it’s difficult to tell exactly). First of all, you released 3 Star Wars 3 Decembers in a row, and they were all very successful. Is that because the films were excellent? I’ve liked them all, but there is a fair amount of debate on the quality of each. A huge reason for their success was the fact that December doesn’t have much for general audiences, it’s prestige film season, which leaves the “blockbuster” crowd open. That cannot be underestimated as a factor in their success. Solo however, came out just 6 months after TLJ in May. May was the traditional time for Star Wars in the previous 2 trilogies, but May’s were not as packed with action films in those years, and movies had multiple weeks (in some cases months) to rule the box office. This year we had Avengers: Infinity War (also a Disney film, which should be a double no-no for packing them in the same 30-day period) which was the biggest film of the year (and has the potential to be the top of the decade) was released a month before, then Deadpool was released a week before, and just three weeks after Solo, came the Incredibles (again Disney, wtf were you thinking? Spread it out more).
So that’s the first problem, Disney put Solo out with the biggest films of the year, and even by Star Wars standards it shouldn’t have. It’s far from the largest story, or the biggest impact in that universe. The second problem is confidence.
Solo suffered from a few pieces of confidence undercutting. After the fact that many of us didn’t think the idea was a good idea, there were the production ‘issues,’ with Lord and Miller getting fired mid-production, Ron Howard having to take over and needing to reshoot (which involved recasting at least one role), and then lastly there was the rumors of Alden Ehrenreich needing and acting coach. None of these would add up to confidence boosting, then we didn’t see a trailer until February which seemed very late in the game for a film of this size. And lastly, TLJ, it’s a pretty split popularity, but when 50% of the audience thinks the film was a crap-fest, and think Disney has ‘ruined Star Wars,’ six months may not be enough time to cleanse their palettes.
Let me offer an example of a time when the correct lesson was learned, and how it may benefit you to follow in those footsteps. On November 23rd 1963, the BBC aired the pilot of Doctor Who, and it did really poorly in the ratings that night. The executive in charge was on the side of canceling the show after the first episode, because obviously the whole thing was going to be a flop, but the creator was opposed to that. She argued that the show had suffered from the whole world being consumed by JFK’s assassination the day before, and that if they reaired the pilot a week later, that would be a more realistic example of how the show would do. She was right, and the show continued for 26 years before being canceled (and then rebooted, and now having 50 years, 3 movies, and 36 seasons altogether). They realized that timing had been off. Releasing Solo in the midst of the superhero frenzy was bad timing, don’t blame Solo for that.
So I ask you this question, given all of those things could Solo have succeeded? Even modestly? I don’t think it really could have. But Disney is looking the box office and acting as if that means the movie is a piece of shit, which it wasn’t. Please Disney, learn the right lesson. I get that you don’t want this to happen again, but if you learn the wrong lesson it likely will. Please, I love Star Wars too much for it to become the DCEU (with all the second guessing and undercutting and ultimately not learning the right thing)… I’m begging you.
Written by Michael Cole