“Solo: A Star Wars Story” bombed at the box office last weekend. Despite OK reviews and an acceptable reception from audiences, “Solo” grossed just less than $85 million domestically over its first three days (almost 10 percent worse than mega-bomb “Justice League”) and around $173 million worldwide over its first four days. So why did audiences stay away?
Is it because “Solo” starred a white man? “Deadpool 2” and “Avengers: Infinity War” (the third- and second-highest-grossing films of the year domestically, respectively) suggest that’s not the case.
Is the release date partly to blame? Why Disney decided to release “Solo” six months after “The Last Jedi,” and move away from the one-movie-every-December strategy that has worked so well thus far, is a mystery, given the much fiercer competition for May box-office dollars. But Marvel movies seem to be holding up fine despite there having been three offerings released from mid-February to mid-May: The three top the domestic box-office chart for this year.
It seems to be more specifically a “Star Wars” problem. I don’t necessarily buy the idea that audiences stayed away because “The Last Jedi” “ruined” their beloved characters, although I think the high-handed dismissiveness toward the concerns of these fans was more likely a damper than the suggestion that the series has gotten too “social justicey.” This is the flip side of the “too many white dudes” theory, and both strike me as silly.
So what is the problem with “Star Wars,” then? Why did “The Last Jedi” fail to meet expectations? Why is “Solo” cratering? Why does the franchise appear to be on a downward slope even as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, another Disney project, continues to rack up massive figures?
Allow me to suggest that the Disney-backed “Star Wars” films are simply too focused on the past to continue appealing to audiences. Thus far the films have: remixed the original 1977 “Star Wars” with fanfic flair in service of a soft reboot; told the story of the effort to get the Death Star’s plans, thus turning a line of dialogue into a full feature; spent “The Last Jedi” undoing everything from “The Force Awakens” while also reducing the Resistance to sub-Rebellion size to re-create the sense that our heroes are truly underdogs; and, finally, spent two hours educating us about how Han Solo met Lando Calrissian and won the Millennium Falcon.
Meanwhile, we’ve been promised a whole trilogy of Solo films, been fed hints that a Boba Fett movie is in the works and are awaiting a series from Jon Favreau set between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” Oh, and then there are the rumors of an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie starring Ewan McGregor.
We are constantly looking backward with these movies; Lawrence Kasdan said “Solo” received its green light after he explained the scene in which Han (Alden Ehrenreich) came up with his last name. When Darth Maul (Ray Park) showed up near the end of “Solo,” I was confused as to why he was alive (given that he was cut in half in “The Phantom Menace”), which in turn led to confusion about when, exactly, “Solo” is set. It is this kind of sloppy nostalgia-based fan service that is turning people off the series writ large.
This gets into a larger problem with the inclusion of Darth Maul: It means audiences will have to know what’s happening in the books and the cartoons and everything else to keep track of what’s happening on the big screen. Marvel has, wisely, avoided this trap so far.
Eventually someone will listen to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the sole voice of reason in this galaxy: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” I have my issues with the Marvel movies, but each one progresses the overall story. They spent 10 years building toward an epic crossover event, “Infinity War,” and it paid off handsomely.
With “Star Wars,” there’s no sense of momentum. We jerk back and forth in time, retreating to stories whose resolution we know even as the trilogy nominally moving everything forward seems mired in the past. Nostalgia is a potent drug, as the $2 billion box-office haul for 2015’s “The Force Awakens” demonstrated. But it’s also one you build up a tolerance to quickly.