Less than eight weeks away from the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story and not even the most ardent Star Wars supporters can say they are unequivocally convinced of the film’s seemingly destined success. For the first time since Star Wars returned to multiplexes in 2015, we aren’t dealing with a sure thing.
By now, all of the behind-the-scenes drama of Solo (and nearly all of the Disney (DIS) era Star Wars movies) has been well-chronicled. Every time fans feel a disturbance in the Force in the shape of a creative shakeup, Twitter responds as if the world has simultaneously exiled Beyonce and Dwayne Johnson to another galaxy, never to be seen again.
We have no idea how Solo will shape up in the end, though based on the trailer released this weekend, it looks like a capable enough space western-heist flick in the hands of Hollywood veteran Ron Howard.
But what will happen when Lucasfilm eventually drops a real clunker? What, if any, fallout will there be?
First, a brief reminder of all the behind-the-scenes Star Wars drama under Disney:
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt departed The Force Awakens, leaving J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan to re-work the script late in the pre-production process. Gareth Evans was sidelined during major re-shoots of Rogue One, overseen by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton). Colin Trevorrow left Star Wars: Episode IX over creative differences, but really he was fired after hist post-Jurassic World efforts eroded Lucasfilm’s confidence. And then Phil Lord and Chris Miller were canned unprecedentedly deep into filming on Solo and were replaced by Howard.
Amazingly, Lucasfilm is still three-for-three on Star Wars releases this decade.
“I think Lucasfilm is working to find the best people for the job,” author, filmmaker, journalist and uber-Star Wars fan Bryan Young told Observer. “Kathleen Kennedy is essentially casting directors for the stories that she and her group want to tell. When those people aren’t providing the job that she expected, they’re going to get replaced. I think the behind-the-scenes shakeups are a result of Lucasfilm wanting to make the best movies possible, and those shake-ups will continue if they feel they aren’t getting what they want. Perhaps they’ll be more judicious in who they choose, but I don’t think anyone is safe if they’re not turning over a quality product. ”
So what happens if Solo or any other Star Wars movie in the near future fails to deliver? Will we see a change in hiring practices? Will Lucasfilm tweak the on-screen content approach?
The Last Jedi is the most polarizing of the three movies under Disney, but Lucasfilm is still confidently moving forward with writer-director Rian Johnson’s standalone trilogy. Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are writing and producing a new series of films, and Jon Favreau has been named showrunner of the Star Wars live-action TV series.
In other words, the train has already left the station.
The galaxy far, far away is too gigantic of a monolith to stop on a dime, so you won’t see any jarring content shifts in the Star Wars universe like what has gone down in Warner Bros.’ fractured DC Extended Universe. You can make the case that Star Wars may be stretching itself too thin, but it’s difficult to argue that any one flop will halt its marching momentum.
“I don’t think there’s anything they can do to hurt the brand, honestly,” Young said. “We’ve lived through the holiday special and the Ewok Adventures… I’d argue the Special Editions and the prequels were actually more divisive than any backlash for The Last Jedi, and Star Wars made it through that era just fine… As long as they’re turning a profit for Disney, I think they’ll be left to their own devices. This really is a team of people looking to tell stories first. That they get to slap a Star Wars logo on it all just means it’ll make money. The Last Jedi is the seventh highest grossing film of all time. I don’t think they’re sweating it.”
It’s worth noting that Solo doesn’t need to continue the recent trend of Star Wars films surpassing $1 billion worldwide to be considered a financial success (against what we assume is a $150 million-plus budget).
In fact, quality is far more important than ticket sales this time around.
If Howard can deliver a halfway decent audience pleaser, the narrative will shift in Lucasfilm’s favor for maintaining quality in spite of all the setbacks. That’s long-term fan cache in exchange for short-term box office totals, which only leads to more buzz and interest overall. Not a bad tradeoff.
A creative setback is inevitable and a box office flop is likely when you look at the Star Wars universe on a long enough timeline. Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe had to roll with the punches of Thor: The Dark World, the worst entry in the continuity’s sprawling 18-plus picture series. But the reception and financial performances of Solo and even Episode IX aren’t exactly deal breakers when it comes to the future of the franchise.
The path ahead is as open as it was when George Lucas first put pen to paper in the 1970s. Everything is on the table moving forward, making any potential misses in the short-term all the more palatable.
“I think the biggest change in developing and executing Star Wars movies once Episode IX is completed is that we’ll be able to look to the future without being so chained to the past,” Young said. “We’ll have new eras and characters to explore without needing to reference the classic saga as much. And I think that can only be a good thing.”
So what happens if Solo lives down to expectations? Nothing. The Millenium Falcon just keeps flying on.