Bob Iger takes the blame for Solo’s box office disapointment; says a Star Wars “slowdown” is coming

In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter published today, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger had some interesting comments about Star Wars.

In particular, Iger took the blame for Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s disapointment at the box office, and acknowledged that there will be a Star Wars “slowdown” coming.

Here’s the pertinent quote:

I made the timing decision, and as I look back, I think the mistake that I made — I take the blame — was a little too much, too fast.  You can expect some slowdown, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to make films.  J.J. [Abrams] is busy making [EpisodeIX.  We have creative entities, including [Game of Thrones creators David] Benioff and [D.B.] Weiss, who are developing sagas of their own, which we haven’t been specific about.  And we are just at the point where we’re going to start making decisions about what comes next after J.J.’s.  But I think we’re going to be a little bit more careful about volume and timing.  And the buck stops here on that.

None of this should really be surprising.

The Solo disapointment

Again, here’s what Iger said that can specifically be traced to Solo: “I made the timing decision, and as I look back, I think the mistake that I made — I take the blame — was a little too much, too fast. … But I think we’re going to be a little bit more careful about volume and timing.  And the buck stops here on that.”

This is encouraging to hear, because everything has pointed to this being the case anyway.  Various reports over the last several months have suggested that it was Disney who was insistent upon Solo‘s May release, willing to give Lucasfilm whatever resources needed to make a successful movie but not willing to change the release date.  Lucasfilm was certainly committed to making the best movie possible, with Kathleen Kennedy firing Phil Lord and Chris Miller midway through production and bringing on Ron Howard.  That worked out very well, with Howard stabilizing production, generating fan excitement with his social media presence, and delivering a fantastic final product – one that, though disapointing at the box office, seemed to exceed most expectations.

Bob Iger shouldn’t shoulder all the blame – part of the blame can certainly be assigned to Lucasfilm’s marketing department for their very curious marketing of the film – especially in hindsight, having seen what the film actually looked and felt like.  The marketing certainly played a factor, but I remain convinced – as other reports have stated – that perhaps the biggest factor in the movie’s disapointing release was the May 25 release date.

Why?  Well, for a couple of reasons.

(1) Firstly, and maybe most significantly, it was just five months removed from the previous Star Wars film, The Last Jedi.  And while the main saga films are likely always going to out-gross the standalone films, what happened here is a case of too much Star Wars.  That’s not a problem for the die-hard Star Wars fans (like myself, and probably like any of you reading this), who will go see it anyway.  That’s especially a problem for the casual viewers.  At one time, Star Wars films felt like cultural events in America.  The original trilogy was obviously a huge hit, and then there was a sixteen-year wait until The Phantom Menace.  Each of the next two films in the prequel trilogy were released in three year intervals, with Attack of the Clones three years after Episode I and Revenge of the Sith three years after Episode II.  And then, another decade before the next live-action Star Wars production to hit the big screen, with The Force Awakens in 2015.  From that point, Lucasfiilm released a Star Wars film each year, but it nonetheless still felt like a massive deal.  With Solo, it didn’t.  I don’t at all believe in the suggestion that this was some sort of The Last Jedi protest, because let’s be honest: the film still did incredibly well at the box office (it ended its run as the ninth-highest grossing movie ever), and the reasons some had for not liking the film would have driven a reasonable person to enjoy Solo all the more.  So it seemed much more like Star Wars fatigue than The Last Jedi dislike.

(2) There’s another factor in this discussion, and it’s the other films at the box office this summer.  If Solo didn’t feel like a major event, it’s probably in large part due to the fact that it got kind of lost in the box office hype this summer, most prominently behind Infinity War.  This shouldn’t be any surprise, given how much Marvel had built up to Infinity War and how much they hyped it up in marketing.  That movie became just the fourth film in history to gross over $2 billion, finishing just behind The Force Awakens.  People still went to the movies this summer – that’s evidenced by the near record-breaking box office results – but there were a ton of other films for viewers to decide between.  We already mentioned Infinity War, but Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Incredibles 2 both are among the 17 highest grossing films ever, too (coming in at numbers 12 and 17, respectively).  And that’s not even mentioning other films like Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Crazy Rich Asians, or The Meg – as well as an incredibly long and successful run for February’s Black Panther.  Simply put, this summer had a ton to choose from at the box office, and once again we go back to the average audience member – those who aren’t going to spend money on every movie out there.  They’re going to choose between a few, and it’s easy to understand why Solo may not have been one of those choices for many.

Simply put, there’s no reason for Solo not to have been moved to December.  The movie had production problems along the way, so pushing it to December would have made logical sense.  The movie was competing with other massive blockbusters in the summer, whereas in December the major movie appears to be Mary Poppins Returns – a movie Disney doesn’t want to overshadow, but at the same time a movie that is likely to share less audience members with Solo than Infinity War did.  And lastly, Star Wars has owned the December box office in recent years.  The three Star Wars films released in December easily own the three highest grossing opening weekends in December box office history, and they all grossed over $1 billion and ended their runs among the top twenty highest grossing films all-time for any month.  There was no good reason for Solo: A Star Wars Story not to have been pushed back to December, and since it appears to have been Bob Iger and Disney standing in the way of that happening, it makes sense why he’d take the blame for it.

Star Wars “slowdown”

Regarding the future timing of Star Wars movies, the word that stands out the most among Bob Iger’s comments is “slowdown.”  Here’s the pertinent part about what he had to say on this issue: “You can expect some slowdown, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to make films.  J.J. [Abrams] is busy making [EpisodeIX.  We have creative entities, including [Game of Thrones creators David] Benioff and [D.B.] Weiss, who are developing sagas of their own, which we haven’t been specific about.  And we are just at the point where we’re going to start making decisions about what comes next after J.J.’s.”

Of course, some might see the “slowdown” as a consequence of Solo’s box office, but that shouldn’t be the case; a slowdown was always likely and probably inevitable anyway following the conclusion of the sequel trilogy.  It’s hard to believe, but the sequel trilogy – and with it the Skywalker saga – will be wrapping up next December with the heavily anticipated Episode IX, directed by J.J. Abrams.  After that, we do know of other Star Wars films that will be made: The Last Jedi‘s Rian Johnson is returning to create a brand new trilogy of films in a new era, while Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are also creating their own saga of films.  These movies will give Star Wars the chance to expand our understanding of the galaxy and explore new eras and characters.  Additionally, it’s likely that we’ll continue getting some standalone films, but perhaps not with the same frequency (I’m expecting an announcement about standalone at Celebration next year).

But it has always been likely that Lucasfilm would scale back the furious pace a little bit, allowing time for other projects to flourish without over-flooding the market with Star Wars.  Between the films, shows, books, comics, games, etc., Lucasfilm will absolutely continue to produce Star Wars at a furious pace, but just perhaps not on the big screen as much.

It should also be noted that Indiana Jones 5 is now slated for release on July 9, 2021, which will be a very significant project for Lucasfilm following Episode IX.  It remains to be seen whether Indy 5 will be the next film for the company after Episode IX or whether there will be a Star Wars film in-between (in 2020) to fill the gap, but it does indeed seem possible that they could take 2020 off from a major motion picture release.  Indy 5 will see Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford return to the iconic franchise, though the release date was pushed back a year due to script issues (it was originally slated to be released in the summer of 2020).  Jonathan Kasdan, the co-writer of Solo and the son of legendary Star Wars and Indiana Jones writer Lawrence Kasdan, has reportedly been brought on to write a new draft of the script.

Star Wars will continue to be a massive cultural force and will continue to produce a ton of new content.  We have plenty of new films to look forward to as well, but Disney and Lucasfilm may be a bit more careful about when they are released.  And that’s not a bad thing.

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