As it turns out, an intended franchise with the title of Solo may have to be just that—a solo, one-and-done affair. After nearly a year of major speculation about the fate of Disney and Lucasfilm’s latest standalone/spinoff film from that galaxy far, far away, Solo: A Star Wars Story didn’t so much come in for a smooth landing during its Memorial Day opening weekend at the box office as it skidded across the runway while losing landing gear along the way.
That might sound harsh—especially as I personally really liked Solo—but there is no way to spin the movie falling well short of expectations with an opening three-day weekend that looks to be about $84.8 million and a four-day weekend that is now estimated to be $103 million (as per official studio estimates, which is up $2 million from previous projections). Given that this is the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, which since being acquired by Disney hasn’t failed to open at less than $150 million—and indeed has seen all three previous entries clear $1 billion worldwide—this is the epitome of a box office disappointment.
The dismal opening follows what has been an infamously troubled production that’s generated negative industry buzz since summer 2017 when Lucasfilm decided to part ways with the original directors hired to film the movie, Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Replaced with industry vet Ron Howard after five months of production, Lord and Miller were ultimately only given an “executive producer” credit. And as per Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, 70 percent of the final film was shot (and reshot) by Howard.
This has led to a general apprehension to the film and the press it’s generated in the last 11 months, culminating in generally favorable but apathetic reviews. This is in stark contrast to what typically greets Disney’s Star Wars films, as well as Disney’s popular Marvel Studios output. Our own Don Kaye was particularly unimpressed by a movie he deemed “relentlessly average.” However, the fanbase who did see Solo appears to have enjoyed the experience, giving it an “A-” as per industry WOM tracker CinemaScore (notably the previous Disney Star Wars movies have all earned an “A”). And personally, I found it to be an unexpectedly pleasant film, more reminiscent of World War II era crime capers than the typical mythic bombast that has come to be associated with Star Wars ever since the prequels. I’d certainly argue it has more flavor than many a Disney/Marvel movie that’ve received far more glowing reviews.
Be that as it may, Solo was always a tough sell. Replacing Harrison Ford in one of his most iconic roles—and only three years after he appeared as Han Solo one final time in The Force Awakens—always seemed like an unenticing offer. And the new movie seems to have failed to justify why Disney would recast the beloved character with relative unknown Alden Ehrenreich, leaving critics and wary audiences alike baffled.
As such the film’s numbers are fairly ghastly considering that Solo was expected to gross at least $130 million by the industry over four-days and just barely hit $103 million in that time frame. For context, the last major Memorial Day new release hit was X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014, which grossed $90 million in three days and $110.6 million over the full four days. That is also at a budget far less than Solo, which after reshoots is speculated to be at $250 million (although some have claimed without sourcing it is upwards of $300 million). In comparison, last weekend’s Deadpool 2 grossed $125 million over three days on a $110 million budget… and that movie was rated R and not marketed to families.
So yes, Solo is the lowest opening in the Star Wars franchise since Attack of the Clones grossed $80 million over three days in 2002. That is a lifetime ago on the scale of box office inflation.
Some in the fan community are trying to blame these low numbers on a supposedly mixed reception for The Last Jedi from December. However, this seems questionable given that once you exit the message board/reddit culture around Star Wars (and which collectively can appear furious at the December release), The Last Jedi was fairly well received. Besides being the best reviewed Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, it had a strong box office run after its opening weekend, grossing $1.3 billion and receiving an “A” CinemaScore from more general moviegoers.
The failures of Solo are more likely a result of a yearlong buzz of doubt and insinuation, as well as a general resistance in the culture to see someone other than Harrison Ford play one of cinema’s most iconic rogues and scoundrels.
A bigger cause for concern though for Disney is the growing sense of apathy and rejection of Star Wars properties in China and larger overseas markets. While, unlike Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars still relies almost as heavily on the domestic box office as the international one (an average of only 55 percent of the last three Disney Star Wars’ grosses were made overseas), Solo opened to historically bad numbers abroad. For instance, Solo had a $3.3 million opening day in the second biggest market for American blockbusters in the world, nearly two-thirds down from The Last Jedi’s also anemic $9.7 million opening day. Since then, Solo grossed only 10.1 million in China for its opening weekend nearly two-thirds down from The Last Jedi‘s already mediocre Chinese opening of $28.7 million. All of which helped contribute to Solo‘s nigh disastrous international opening of only $65 million.
If this trend continues Star Wars seems likely to remain a mostly Western fantasy, which could curtail its chances of competing with Marvel superhero movies that are embraced by Asian markets by ever larger numbers every year.