Employing box office numbers as a barometer to determine a film’s success shortly after its release can be a precarious means of measurement. When a film like Justice League can make almost $700 million worldwide at the box office and it’s deemed a failure, you have to wonder what kind of curve film studios and fans are grading on. Do tie-in merchandise and home video releases make up for whatever wasn’t gained in the theater? Does it even matter?
Honestly, we won’t pretend to know. The algorithm through which movies are tailored to target audiences and how the amount of money spent to make them is determined is an indecipherable puzzle box that even the most ardent pop culture obsessed nerds can’t crack.
For every massive billion dollar hit like Avengers: Infinity War there are at least half a dozen other would be blockbusters released the same year that earn a fraction of the market share for myriad reasons, all of which seem to hold some validity while also sounding like pure conjecture. The most recent of these presumed “failures” is Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is not performing the way many had predicted.
Now before anyone sheds a tear for Solo, it isn’t doing as terrible as, say, Disney’s John Carter, which had a pretty disastrous opening weekend and never really recovered from. (It did eventually go on to earn a cult following.) Solo, on the other hand, hit over $100 million its first weekend, and while there was a steep second week drop off in ticket sales, the film is closing in a $300 million worldwide mark quickly.
To be fair, Disney wants the film to better. But what studio wouldn’t? No one in their right mind would dump a quarter billion dollars into a project and hope to just break even. But not every release is going to be Infinity War, nor should it be. If anything, this might be providing the perfect moment for Disney to look at how it's handling its Star Wars films, specifically, the standalone entries.
The Saga is The Saga, and Episode IX will no doubt make a billion dollars. Even if the entire film is just J.J. Abrams picking up George Lucas’ dry cleaning while the Imperial March theme plays in the background for two hours, people will sleep on the sidewalk to see it opening night. Even the crabby fans who were upset with The Last Jedi will be there. They may say differently on Reddit and on YouTube, but once pre-sales pop up, they’ll begrudgingly log in to Fandango. After all, everyone who saw Attack of the Clones was more than willing to buy tickets for Revenge of the Sith. Never forget that.
On paper, a film exploring the history a fan favorite character from a beloved long-running franchise sounds like it would be an instant hit. However, the realization clearly wasn’t, and there are dozens of studio executives who are surely scratching their heads and wondering why. All the parts seemed to be there. Disney hired a pair of cool directors (and then replaced them with an Oscar winner), a great cast, the guy who wrote The Empire Strikes Back, and the project was packed with fan service and call backs.
But while Disney may not see it this way now, the fact that people didn’t turn out in droves to see the adventures of a young scoundrel in space might actually good for Star Wars. Solo was a proof of concept, in more ways than one.