If you’re finding this holiday season a bit strange, you’re not alone: this is the first Christmas without a new Star Wars film since 2014.
Of course, that really should just highlight how incredibly fortunate we have been to get a Star Wars movie every year for the last few years, and we’re truly living in the golden age of Star Wars right now. But watching a new Star Wars movie had become a Christmas tradition for so many. The Force Awakens (2015), Rogue One (2016), and The Last Jedi (2017) all released in mid-December and dominated the box office, with each film grossing over $1 billion (and TFA topping $2 billion).
But this year, Solo: A Star Wars Story was released on May 25 instead of December, and while the film itself got pretty terrific reviews amongst fans (rightfully so), the movie disappointed at the box office, failing to reach even $400 million. It was the first Star Wars film that wasn’t a box office hit.
Many wondered about the curious release date at the time (and even before that), and with the December timeframe coming and going without a new Star Wars film, Solo co-writer Jon Kasdan took to Twitter to wonder how the film might have done had it released now.
I think there were several factors at work that led to Solo’s box office disappointment, as I wrote about here after Disney CEO Bob Igor took the blame for it, but most of them probably would have been helped by a December release date.
- Some felt like the surrounding movie lineup for the summer dwarfed Solo. I would agree. With such hits as Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2, and many others, the reality is that the casual moviegoer probably wasn’t going to pay to see all of those. So they had to choose, and it shouldn’t be any surprise that the casual fans decided to see other films – like Infinity War – instead of Solo. That would have been mitigated a bit had the film released in December. A reason Disney didn’t want that to happen is likely that they didn’t want it to be competing with Mary Poppins Returns, but I would guess that Solo and Infinity War would have more shared audiences than Solo and Mary Poppins Returns.
- Some felt like the marketing for the movie was very poor. I would agree. There, again, were likely several reasons for that, but probably most prominently was the fact that Lucasfilm didn’t want to distract from The Last Jedi pre-December, and Disney didn’t want to distract from Infinity War in the spring. Obviously both of those would be considered bigger projects with a wider audience than Solo, but had Solo released in December Lucasfilm would have had time to market the film all year and better work around other big projects.
- Some felt like there were some signs of Star Wars fatigue with two films in five months. I’m not so sure I buy that, but I do think there is something to be said about trying to preserve the feel that a Star Wars film is special and a big deal. So even along those lines, putting the movie in December would have served two purposes: it would have given a year in-between Star Wars films, and it would have preserved the feeling that December is when we get a new film, and it’s become a part of many traditions.
In short, I’m not necessarily suggesting that all of Solo’s problems were caused by its release date, but I do think that many of the reasons that people have identified as a potential cause for the box office results could have been at least helped and improved by a December release. So why didn’t it happen? Well, that’s something we may never fully find the answer to, but what we’ve been able to gather from reports suggests this: Lucasfilm would have liked to move the film back to December (especially with the production problems they experienced), but while Disney was fine putting resources into Solo, they didn’t permit a move to December. There’s surely more details that we’re missing, but that’s the general impression we’ve gotten since May.
I think that Jon Kasdan is right to wonder how his film would have done had it been released in December, and I definitely think that there would have been a significantly better response to the film had it been released this month instead of in May. Hopefully Disney learns their lesson, and the good news is that we’ll have a new Star Wars film next December with the release of J.J. Abrams’s massively anticipated Star Wars: Episode IX, the final installment of the Skywalker saga.