At one time it may have seemed as if the Star Wars movie franchise was too popular to fail. When Solo was released in 2018, however, the previously unthinkable occurred: the prequel flopped financially. Yes, even though the film largely earned positive reviews from critics, that acclaim didn’t translate into box-office gold. And Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy apparently knows exactly what went wrong.
Back in 1977 a then-fairly unknown actor named Harrison Ford took the role of Han Solo in an unheralded movie called Star Wars. Little did Ford or the film’s makers know at the time, though, that Star Wars’ release would ultimately usher in one of the biggest cinematic franchises of all time. The Millennium Falcon’s captain would end up becoming a truly beloved character to boot.
In fact, Solo appeared in each of the original Star Wars trilogy movies despite Ford’s request that his character be killed off in Return of the Jedi. Star Wars creator George Lucas ultimately thought differently, however, and so the smuggler ended the film alive, well and continuing his relationship with Princess Leia.
Nevertheless, Solo was conspicuous by his absence in the later ’90s and ’00s prequel trilogy, although the idea of a cameo was floated around. Apparently, Lucas had briefly considered having a young Solo show up on the planet Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith, but the filmmaker ultimately decided to nix the concept.
Still, Lucas didn’t abandon the character altogether. In 2012, in fact, he started work on a Han Solo prequel story alongside Lawrence Kasdan, who would be writing the script. When the director sold Lucasfilm to Disney that same year, though, the project faltered, and Kasdan instead began working on live-action Star Wars sequel The Force Awakens.
“I sat with George in April of 2012, and the company was sold in September of 2012. So it was a relatively short amount of time before. But one of the first conversations I had creatively with George was about doing other movies than the saga film,” Kathleen Kennedy told SlashFilm in 2015. “And he had a few ideas he was kicking around. But he was very open to where this might go in the Star Wars universe.”
That said, the Star Wars universe was always going to be different under Disney. For starters, the company planned to release one related film every year from 2015. And that year duly saw the J.J. Abrams-directed The Force Awakens hit movie theaters, followed closely by spinoff Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016. Then in 2017 came The Last Jedi, which made millions but nonetheless proved controversial among fans.
And after writing the script for The Force Awakens, Kasdan teamed up with his son, Jon, to finally finish a script for the Han Solo prequel. In February 2013, then, news came that the long-mooted movie was going ahead. In addition, it was revealed both that the flick would be directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord and that a release was pencilled in for May 25, 2018.
Naturally, finding someone suitable to play a young Solo was the first port of call for Miller and Lord. And in 2016 Variety revealed just which actors were apparently on the shortlist. They included, among others, Ansel Elgort, Dave Franco, Logan Lerman, Miles Teller and Scott Eastwood.
Furthermore, Variety had seemingly heard rumors regarding what Disney may be choosing to do with a younger Solo. “While insiders were unable to confirm, the new Solo could have a small cameo in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story before appearing in his own standalone pic,” the magazine reported.
Then in May 2016 fans finally learned who had landed the iconic role: Alden Ehrenreich, a star of the Coen Brothers movie Hail, Caesar!. And Miller later tweeted a picture of Solo’s blaster gun alongside the words “Can’t wait to get shooting!” Perhaps the information that Variety had received was faulty, though, as Ehrenreich’s Solo ultimately didn’t show up in Rogue One after all.
Regardless, work progressed on the new movie, which was eventually revealed to be titled Solo: A Star Wars Story. In addition, a few other big names had also nabbed roles in the flick. Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame was cast as the female lead, it was revealed, while Donald Glover had signed on to play the younger version of Lando Calrissian. By contrast, the unknown Finnish former basketball player Joonas Suotamo was tapped to portray Chewbacca.
Then filming on Solo started in January 2017, with the production having already cost a whopping $54.5 million by that point. And, eventually, the shoot progressed from the U.K. to Italy and the Canary Islands, where everything initially appeared to be running smoothly. All of a sudden, though, a bombshell hit.
Specifically, both Miller and Lord had been fired from Solo, with the news becoming public in June 2017. According to Variety, the directing pair had worked through “months of conflict with producer Kathleen Kennedy” and had thought that they were “not being granted freedom to run the production in the manner that they were accustomed to.”
And anonymous sources subsequently made worrying claims about the movie to The Hollywood Reporter. Among the reasons for the rift, one of these individuals told the magazine, were that Miller and Lord had been given “zero creative freedom” and faced “extreme scheduling constraints.”
“[Miller and Lord] collaborate closely with their actors and give them creative freedom that, in their experience, brings out the actors’ best performances,” the source told The Hollywood Reporter. “Kasdan would not allow this and demanded that every line was said word for word. To appease him and the studio, [the directors] would do several takes exactly as written and then shoot additional takes.”
Kasdan had allegedly disliked that Miller and Lord were encouraging the actors to try different lines to the ones that he and his son had written. But that was apparently by far the only issue on set. In addition, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that an acting coach had been hired for Ehrenreich – implying, perhaps, that the star wasn’t up to the job.
And The Hollywood Reporter also quoted a individual whom they named only as “a top executive at a rival studio.” This person alleged in turn, “All of the [Star Wars] films have been ‘troubled,’” adding, “J.J. [Abrams] was powerful enough to push back on an unrealistic start date [for the first movie], but that was a tug of war.”
Whatever the truth behind the reports, though, a new director had to be found for Solo. Kasdan was considered for the role, in fact, but he couldn’t take it owing to guidelines stating that someone already involved in a movie can’t replace a fired director. And in the end, it wasn’t long before another filmmaker was chosen. A mere two days after the dismissal of Miller and Lord, George Lucas collaborator Ron Howard came on board.
Howard subsequently sent out a tweet about his involvement in the prequel – one seemingly crafted to reassure people that things weren’t as bad as they appeared. “I’m beyond grateful to add my voice to the Star Wars universe after being a fan since 5/25/77,” he said, referring to the date that the first film had originally been released in the U.S. “I hope to honor the great work already done and help deliver on the promise of a Han Solo film.”
And Lucas himself made a visit to the set on the day that Howard began his new job, with the Star Wars creator going on to suggest a small change to proceedings. “The scene [involves] one of Lando’s cloaks. Alden was taking it and hanging it up. George is like, “You know what Han would do?” and he takes this cloak and throws it over his shoulder. For a minute he had the swagger of Han Solo,” Howard told Mashable in 2018.
In the same interview, Howard was also asked about the firing of Miller and Lord. “I don’t think that’s ever an ideal circumstance. It was difficult for everyone involved and a shame,” the director said. “But as a creative test, as a movie-making challenge, [Solo] was pretty remarkable, and it did force me to rely more on instinct than probably any other project. I needed to rally a group of very talented people and quickly glean from them their ideas.”
And just prior to Solo’s U.S. release, other members of the movie’s cast and crew spoke to Variety about what had happened to the directors. “The issues we were having were much more in the bones and practical,” Jon Kasdan said diplomatically. “[Miller and Lord] did everything they could to make it work – as did we. The questions became about how to make the movie most efficiently in the time we had to do it.”
“[Solo] is a movie that has an enormous amount of pressure on its shoulders. Therefore everybody making it feels some of that pressure,” Clarke also said to the magazine. “So when Ron came on, for me, it felt amazing to have a second set of eyes at this point in making the movie. How often do you get that chance to go back and try different things?”
Unfortunately, despite all the pressure and all the talent involved, Solo flopped. In order to break even, you see, the movie had to take $500 million – something that soon became obvious wasn’t going to happen. “The numbers don’t lie. Solo earned a disappointing $103 million in North America over its opening weekend. And [it] stalled out with $68.2 million overseas,” Variety wrote after the film’s release. “At this rate, it will fall short of the billion-dollar mark that each Disney-released Star Wars adventure has managed.”
“At one point, Disney had entertained ideas of having the space-opera series be another Marvel, with visions of producing at least one movie a year set in its mythical galaxy,” Variety continued. “Those lofty ambitions may have to become more grounded. At the very least, Disney is unlikely to release two Star Wars films in the span of five months as it did with Solo and The Last Jedi.”
However, reviewers did praise the film. On Rotten Tomatoes, for example, Solo scored a 70 percent approval rating, which means it was held in higher critical esteem than Attack of the Clones. And The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw was just one of many members of the press who seemed to enjoy Solo. “Alden Ehrenreich ably apes Harrison Ford in this straightforwardly rollicking adventure, which betrays little trace of its troubled production,” Bradshaw wrote.
But good reviews weren’t enough to save Solo from being a box-office bomb, and this in turn had consequences both for Disney and for the Star Wars franchise. Before Solo’s release, you see, it was rumored that there had been plans to make more Star Wars character-themed movies, including ones focused on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett. As a result of the new film’s performance worldwide, though, production on these spinoffs was now on hold.
So, why had Solo done so badly? Well, that release date may have had something to do with it, it was suggested. By being scheduled to come out in May 2018, Solo had thus gone up against two other big franchises with massive fanbases: Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War. Solo was also the first Star Wars movie since 2015 to have been released in the summer – perhaps not the greatest idea, as it turned out.
Others suggested that maybe the franchise had branched out too far. There were simply too many Star Wars movies, and so the onslaught of new entries may therefore have left fans weary. Retail evidence seemingly supported this claim, too. Sales of Star Wars-branded toys had started falling in 2017 and were still dropping in 2018.
Then in April 2019 Kennedy herself reportedly commented on the situation. And in her remarks, she appeared to admit that oversaturation was the problem. Empire magazine writer James Dyer said on the publication’s podcast that he’d spoken to the Lucasfilm president about Solo’s dire performance. During that conversation, moreover, Kennedy was “quite candid,” he added.
“[Kennedy] said [that Disney] learned their lessons from Solo –that doing two films in less than a year wasn’t something the fans were prepared to accept,” Dyer reported. “And she’s hands up… ‘We made a mistake with that.’” That candor may be a good thing going forward, too, as it suggests that the company has recognized the misstep.
And Kennedy isn’t the only prominent person to have spoken about the apparent glut of Star Wars movies, either. Even before Solo came out, none other than Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill voiced his concerns. Neither Hamill nor Skywalker actually appear in Solo, but the star’s words nevertheless carry a lot of weight within the Star Wars fandom.
“I will say [the studio] should pace themselves, because you don’t want to over-saturate it,” Hamill told CinemaBlend in March 2018. “I said to Disney, ‘Really? Five months after [The Last Jedi] comes out comes [Solo]? Can’t you at least wait until Christmas?’” But, obviously, the studio did not.
And Hamill made similar remarks to The Hollywood Reporter in April 2019. “I’m not gonna tell [Disney] how to run their business, but is there a possibility of Star Wars fatigue? Yeah, I think there is. I’ve experienced it to a certain degree. But they never listen to my ideas anyway, so who needs ’em?” he joked.
Plus, Solo’s failure may be a disappointment to hardcore Star Wars fans on yet another front. In short, the film may now not receive a sequel even despite the potential for a follow-up. For one, we discover at the end of the movie that – spoiler alert – The Phantom Menace’s iconic villain Darth Maul is still alive and at large.
In fact, many aspects of Solo’s story are left at loose ends. There’s the reveal that Clarke’s character Qi’ra – who is Solo’s first love – is working with Darth Maul, for example, meaning she may yet become a Sith. Qi’ra’s relationship with Solo is left without much closure, too – although all avid Star Wars fans know that his true love is actually Leia.
And among those hoping for a sequel to Solo is Jon Kasdan, who also tweeted his views on the film’s failure in September 2018. “To be honest, I think the challenge has much more to do with the foreign box office than the U.S. Personally, I think there are great Star Wars movies to be made that don’t need to cost quite so much,” he wrote.
“Hopefully that will be the trend in the years to come, and maybe, just maybe, that trend will allow us, one way or another, to tell more stories with Alden, Joonas, Emilia and Donald. With those actors and Ron Howard, I would jump at the opportunity,” Kasdan finished. And there are many fans who are still hoping that may happen.
In the meantime, though, the wider Star Wars universe is still alive and kicking. Indeed, when the teaser trailer for the next episodic instalment, The Rise of Skywalker, dropped in April 2019, the clip immediately racked up millions of views – even more than those for the trailers for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The movie will be out on December 20, 2019 – and this one is certain to make a lot of money.