Why Disney Needs to Find a New Strategy for Star Wars

Solo Poster with Alden Einrich

Written by Madison Drew Daniels
Images courtesy of IMDB

Solo: A Star Wars Story’s opening weekend is now behind us. Domestically it made $103 million which about $40 million less than Disney was expecting. For comparison, Rogue One opened with $155 million and The Last Jedi made more than $220 million. So if we’re only comparing Solo to Star Wars movies, it didn’t do very well. However, clearly Solo isn’t a failure. It still made money and lots of it. Most non-Marvel movies these days would be lucky to see a $100 million opening weekend.

That being said, I think Solo is evidence that Disney needs to find a new strategy for Star Wars going forward. There are a couple of reasons for this observation. The first and strangest is that fans weren’t as eager to see the swashbuckling smuggler as Disney thought. Han Solo is among the Star Wars Trinity along with Luke and Leia. He balanced out Luke’s youthful impetuousness and Leia’s moral responsibility. He was a lovable force of chaos. So for his solo movie (ha, punny) to only make $100 million dollars is strange indeed.

My interpretation of this is that fans didn’t need or want a Han Solo solo film. They didn’t ask for one but they got one anyway.

Han always had a sense of mystery about him. What is the Kessel run? Under what circumstance did he and Lando meet? How did Han become such a galactic ruffian? While many of these questions were answered in books, general audiences remained in the dark. For a movie to pull back the curtains of Han Solo’s life feels unneeded–almost unnecessary. I had more fun imaging Han’s backstory than I did actually watching it.

Secondly, critics aren’t really sure what to do with the film. On the one hand, it isn’t a terrible movie. For how infamously perilous Solo’s production was, it is nothing short of a miracle that Ron Howard was able to present a consistent and enjoyable film. The story works and checks all the boxes a Star Wars movie needs to. And it’s getting moderately favorable reviews. But something is lacking. Solo just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi. It isn’t underwhelming but it isn’t overwhelming either–it’s just whelming.

My interpretation of this that Star Wars fatigue is a much more present threat to Disney than Marvel fatigue. The Last Jedi just barely got its home release. 5 months is not a big enough break. And The Last Jedi changed the name of the Star Wars game. It was big, bold, and brave in its shakeup of the Star Wars formula. Whether or not you think this was a good or bad thing is irrelevant. The point is The Last Jedi upped the ante. Disney now needs to do a lot more than check-the-boxes if they want to keep fans from fatigue.

Alden Ehrenreich as Solo, and Chewie.
This shot was about as cold as the reactions to Alden Ehrenreich and his merry band of mishaps.

A New Strategy

Disney cannot treat Star Wars like it does Marvel. It is a different beast and must be handled differently. Marvel comics has a deep deep ocean of characters and story to endlessly draw from. Star Wars doesn’t. In its original form, Star Wars was nothing more than a mythically epic trilogy of movies. Only later did some of the Galaxy Far, Far Away get fleshed out. But it is a lake compared to the ocean of Marvel IPs.

This being the case, Disney needs to stick to one Star Wars film a year–at most. And if we go a full two years between films, so be it. That only serves to stoke our hunger. Giving fans more quantity than they ask for is a fast track to fatigue. Especially when the quality is just alright. And I for one don’t want to live in a world where I roll my eyes every time another Star Wars film is released.

More respect needs to be dealt to the franchise as a whole. People fell in love with Star Wars because it was epic and mythic. It had the feeling of stories like The Lord of the Rings: huge, expansive, lived in, uncanny but also familiar. This is the feeling Disney needs to take care to cultivate. My vision for Star Wars is similar to how the original Lord of the Rings movies were. Every December for three years was a cultural milestone as we got three simply epic films.

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had that same feeling for me. Rogue One got close to that feeling, but Solo didn’t have it at all. I saw it more because I felt I was culturally obligated to. And this is the exact opposite of what Disney wants.

So my second recommendation to Disney is to take extra care to cultivate the sense of scale that lends to epic mythical stories. Part of this can be done by lengthening out their release schedule. But it involves more. I would scrap both the rumored Boba Fett movie and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) the rumored Kenobi movie.

Boba Fett is nothing more a glorified prop who gets his ass handed to him at every turn. What makes you think he can carry his own movie? Especially if Han Solo can barely do it?! And while I think a Ben Kenobi film is promising, I don’t want it anymore on principle (unless it was given the Logan treatment and make it a serious character driven film). These movies would be just more of the same–old wine, new bottles. Disney should focus on bringing everything to the table with Episode IX. Then transition to the Rian Johnson trilogy and push the envelope.

Star Wars needs to remain larger than life. Solo: A Star Wars Story is clear evidence that Disney is struggling to do that right now. But I have hope that they’ll get it sorted. After all, they actively doing the impossible with Marvel. Disney just needs to have the sense to handle Star Wars differently. As the guardians of the Star Wars franchise, they need to be a little more responsible with their treatment of this cultural darling.

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