“We have a lot of work to do in trying to understand this. We are all over it and will spend a lot of time digging into why things happened the way they did in various markets.”

That’s Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis talking to The Hollywood Reporter about Solo’s underwhelming box office debut at home and abroad. It’s a rather unfamiliar tone for Hollis, whose held his current job at Disney since 2011 and has thus been part of the brain trust responsible for turning the studio into one of the most successful in Hollywood history. He’s had to massage data and find nice things to say about box office disappointments before, but he’s rarely been this candid about outright conceding failure.

Perhaps that’s because this is essentially Hollis’ last week on the job. He gave his notice back in March, agreeing to part ways with Disney to relocate his family to Texas and support his wife Rachel’s emerging media company. It’s the end of Hollis’ 17-year stay with Disney, and Solo is his last hurrah before his replacement, Cathleen Taff, takes over. So, at least as far as distribution is concerned it is not Hollis who will really figure out what went wrong with Solo and how to correct things in time for December 2019’s Episode IX; it’s Taff.

Here’s a freebie for Hollis, Taff, and their team, though. What went wrong with Solo? Easy: By bunching up two Star Wars movies in a five-month period, you sacrificed the franchise’s event status, and, really, you did it for absolutely no good reason. Mark Hamill himself even tried to warn you, as he told CinemaBlend:

I will say they should pace themselves, because you don’t want to over-saturate it. I said to Disney, ‘Really? Five months after we come out comes [Solo: A Star Wars Story]? Can’t you at least wait until Christmas?’ But they’ve got things booked – they’re doing Marvel and their own movies, so that’s beyond my [purview.]

What the studios love more than anything else when it comes to scheduling blockbusters is historical precedent and reliable projections. You put “x” kind of movie out at “y” time of the year because that formula has worked in the past. That’s why way back when Bob Iger first announced Disney’s six-year plan for Star Wars Force Awakens was supposed to come out in May. The first Star Wars was instrumental in turning Memorial Day from an ignored holiday in Hollywood into the official start of the summer movie season, and all of the subsequent movies in the franchise were also May releases.

Putting one of these things out in December had never been done before. Disney only reportedly did it because J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were fighting over whether they could get Force Awakens done in time for a 2015 release. But, it worked. Disney found a new formula and stuck with it, releasing Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Last Jedi as end-of-the-year properties and watched as each one of them cracked a billion worldwide and topped the yearly box office charts.

Then they got greedy and arrogant, seemingly scheduling Solo so close to Last Jedi as a test for whether the market would support a two-a-year schedule instead of one-a-year. Plus, they oddly underestimated how much of an impact Infinity War would have on the box office and were perhaps too far into contractual agreements for marketing efforts to back out of Solo’s Memorial Day release after Deadpool 2 moved one week ahead of it.

The whole world could see that unless Solo truly brought the goods – unless Ron Howard and crew defied the odds and turned in something spellbinding and fun and must-see – it was going to suffer financially. Memorial Day isn’t the prime box office holiday it used to be, and Infinity War and Deadpool 2 were set to easily beat Solo to the punch. Maybe Disney and LucasFilm simply missed the signs because Solo didn’t wrap filming until October 17th, meaning at the same time Deadpool 2 was ramping up its marketing Solo was still knee-deep in post-production just trying to finish the damn film. Then they had to wait until Last Jedi had finished the bulk of its run to start marketing, making Solo the rare four-quadrant blockbuster to wait until the relative last minute to launch an all-media advertising assault.

Now, and quite predictably, insiders tell THR Disney is rethinking its strategy and likely deciding against releasing any two Star Wars movies so close to one another. Moreover, regardless of all the Star Wars projects in development – Rian Johnson’s new trilogy, the other trilogy from the Game of Thrones guys, Jon Favreau’s live-action TV series set sometime after Return of the Jedi, James Mangold’s Boba Fett movie – the only thing with a set release date is Episode IX.

There’s plenty of time to sort everything out, and one of the biggest questions to answer is whether Solo is just an unfortunate misstep felled by a troubled production and questionable internal justification (i.e., the “does this movie need to exist?” question) or if it’s a sign that pushing so aggressively on so many Star Wars projects is devaluing the brand. We can’t overreact. After all, a Star Wars movie grossed over a billion worldwide just 5 months ago, but now Solo’s looking at possibly making less than half of that and turning into a significant loss for Disney. It’s not a good look for a franchise still dealing with the fan fallout over Last Jedi and Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s loot box controversy.

It’s a problem of Disney’s own making. They never should have scheduled Solo so close to Last Jedi. They never should have underestimated Deadpool 2 and Infinity War, especially since they’re the ones who made that last one. And Bob Iger’s strategy of exclusively favoring blockbusters has spread throughout the industry, crowded the release calendar and mandated that practically every movie must be the biggest movie ever just to turn a profit. Disney has failed like this before. See: John Carter. But this is its first Star Wars failure. Here’s hoping it will be their last.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

12 Comments

  1. They should have never made Solo, period. And maybe it is quite handy for them that now they can blame it at least partly on bad timing…I am not convinced that Solo would have done better in Winter though. But I am ready to bet that they will move their Star War releases to Winter and leave the summer for the big Marvel movie of the year. At least for now.

    You are right, the good news in all this (for the actual fans) is that they haven’t boxed themselves into a corner yet. At least not the way Warner Bros has with their DC properties, putting themselves into a position were they have to push forward even though they have burned the earth already and would most likely be better served with a reboot. Disney still has time to sit down, brainstorm and decide on a direction.

    I am ready to bet, though, they they will look for a creative head with knowledge about Star Wars (not just the movies but also the supplementary stories), who can mine the mythology which is already there for them, so that they can offer something which will please the die hard fans while also being fresh for the more casual fans.

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    1. “I am ready to bet, though, they they will look for a creative head with knowledge about Star Wars (not just the movies but also the supplementary stories), who can mine the mythology which is already there for them, so that they can offer something which will please the die hard fans while also being fresh for the more casual fans.”

      Until Solo, Kathleen Kennedy’s tenure as head of LucasFilm has been one of those love-the-results-not-the-process situations. She’s made 4 Star Wars movies now, and 3 of the 4 have been troubled productions in some way, 2 of them quite significantly. Beyond, she’s now officially fired 4 different directors – Josh Trank, Colin Trevorrow, the Solo guys – and unofficially replaced another – Gareth Edwards on R1. Yet FA, Rogue 1, and Last Jedi were the most profitable films in the years they came out. It was never easy getting there, but Kennedy got it done.

      It finally caught up to her, though, and you do have to wonder if Disney might look to supplement her position with a creative head to, like you said, better mine the mythology and plot out a more thought-out path ala Feige. However, if you go by end results Kennedy’s had an amazing run as new steward of the franchise, and Disney might want to keep her happy and unthreatened.

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      1. Oh, I don’t think that they will replace her just yet, no matter how loud the fanboys cry, but they might keep a closer eye on her and having someone with a vision on board would be helpful.

      2. Oh, replace her, absolutely not, but they might at least be thinking about giving her some help. I just don’t think they’ll actually do anything since Kennedy is so respected and her tenure so marked by profitable film after profitable film until Solo.

      3. Nah, Disney has become pretty good in doing damage control before sliding down too far. A lesson they learned in the early 2000s. They will nip this in the bud. At the very least someone will sit down with her and ask her what is actually planned for the future of the franchise.

      4. There has to be a conversation with her like that. Like I said, love the results, not the process, and after Solo surely Alan Horn and Iger want to check in with her and re-strategize. Maybe ask, “So, why do you keep firing everyone, and why have we had to reshoot like half of the movie on two of your four Star Wars movies?”

    2. “I am ready to bet, though, they they will look for a creative head with knowledge about Star Wars (not just the movies but also the supplementary stories), who can mine the mythology which is already there for them, so that they can offer something which will please the die hard fans while also being fresh for the more casual fans.”

      I hope that’s not Pablo Hidalgo but that’s the second person that came to mind after Steve Sansweet.

      I dislike Hidalgo because he disliked the Star Wars Technical Commentary page that applied real world physics ideas to a fictional universe and subsequently propagated the Endor holocaust theory and that the Executor was 18 times the size of a Star Destroyer.I still hate the Hammerhead corvette scene in “Rogue One”.

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  2. Isn’t it time we discuss philosophy? Is this how to kill a cash cow? If a cash cow is dead, can they still sell off the meat to Electronic Arts, Hasbro, Fantasy Flight Games, Sphero, Johnson & Johnson etc?

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    1. The optics don’t look good right now. Last Jedi was divisive and remains flat out hated by a vocal minority online. Battlefront 2 was poorly received, controversial, and a financial disappointment. Now, Solo has earned a tepid response and will be the first Disney Star Wars movie to actually lose money.

      But it’s not quite time to talk about whether Disney has killed the cash cow. After all, Last Jedi, despite all the vitriol online, still finished as one of the highest-grossing films of all time. That means we are 5 months removed from a Star Wars movie which was the most profitable film of 2017: http://deadline.com/2018/03/star-wars-the-last-jedi-box-office-movie-profits-1202351603/ Heck, Last Jedi, Rogue One, and Force Awakens combined made back what Disney paid to buy LucasFilm. Sure, Solo is a flop, but if Episode IX rebounds in 2019 all will be forgotten.

      What’s happening here is, to my mind, Disney wanted to see if Star Wars could be turned into Marvel. They probably still want to do that because any profit-hungry business is going to look at FA/R1/LJ biz and wonder if they could maybe do that twice a year instead of just once. Solo’s flop is their wake-up call that Star Wars isn’t Marvel.

      These films have always been events, and part of that meant giving the films a healthy distance between them and then milking the fans for merch in the off-years or months to keep the profits running. They screwed up with Solo because it’s so clearly not an event. It’s just another summer movie, entertaining, sure, but ultimately forgettable, and that’s ok … unless you spent $250 damn million to make the thing. Now, they have to figure out if the fandom has been harmed and fatigue has set in, or if the LJ fan revolt is overblown and Solo’s failure is just because it’s not good enough (and was poorly marketed).

      For a company that already owns every fiscal quarter on the release calendar with its steady supply of Marvel, Pixar, and Disney Animation movies, you’d think sticking with one Star Wars movie a year wouldn’t be a problem, and that might be what they decide to do. As I said, other than Episode IX they aren’t actually fully committed to anything else right now.

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  3. That’s what I thought to. People can only take so much Star Wars before it gets played out. But understanadbly, they wanted to keep making big bank. Disney is a business.

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    1. There is a solid argument to be made that this could have actually worked if Solo was just a much better movie. Better casting, perhaps, better trailers, no firing the directors and reshooting 70% of the movie. It’s not so much that Solo is another Star Wars movie at a time when we’re kind of sick of Star Wars; it’s that it just doesn’t look compelling enough as a movie, in general.

      But it’s one of those unprovable arguments. Did Solo flop because fans are turning on Disney’s handling of the franchise and/or were just a Star Warsed out after Last Jedi 5 months ago? Or is just because Solo is so meh as a movie? In reality, probably little bit of column A, little bit of column B situation.

      Disney and LucasFilm are going to be asking those same questions for months now, and it will be interesting to see if they decide to stay on target or possibly adjust their strategy. For example, after Solo I could easily see them quietly canceling that Boba Fett project tomorrow and maybe abandoning these standalone films altogether (which would possibly be an overreaction since there are plenty of cool standalone Star Wars movies they could make). Also, if they are really going to do new, separate trilogies with Rian Johnson and the Got guys they need to decide pretty early one how they’re going to release those. Any thoughts of switching to two Star Wars movies a year might have gone out the window thanks to Solo.

      Reply

  4. […] over Ron Howard being rushed into re-shooting two-thirds of the movie with just a week of prep, coming out just 5 months after Last Jedi, and just the general sense that this isn’t a movie anyone was actually asking for. Did a boycott […]

    Reply

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