Lucasfilm Halts One-Off Movie, But Not Due to Solo’s Performance[UPDATED]
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Lucasfilm has reportedly halted development on all of their one-off Star Wars films, branded with the label “a Star Wars Story.” Instead, they plan to focus on the final saga film, helmed by J.J. Abrams, the new cartoon Star Wars: Resistance, and Jon Favreau’s as-yet-untitled live-action television series. The reports, first via Collider and then from Star Wars News Net, cite unnamed sources inside Lucasfilm (or, at least, close to the company), but there hasn’t been any official statement from the company. Of course, that hasn’t stopped those of us who live and die by page-views from jumping to conclusions as to why this happened, namely because Solo: A Star Wars Story “bombed.” Pretty much everything you read or hear about this will be speculation, so let’s make some educated guesses about why this might be happening.
This is an interesting development, if only because just a few days prior voice actor Tom Kane — who has worked with the now-defunct LucasArts and Lucasfilm for more than a decade — said there are nine Star Wars movies in active development. He also specifically said that some of those were more one-off character films. The numbers add up. Rian Johnson is developing a new trilogy as are Game of Thrones alums David Benihoff and D.B. Weiss. There was also reportedly an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, a Boba Fett film with Logan auteur James Mangold, and possibly even a sequel to Solo.
While it is true that Solo’s box office take was less than it was expected to be, that says less about the film and more about how over-hyped Star Wars box office projections are. People are calling the film a “flop,” but it isn’t by any stretch of the definition. The budget for this film isn’t known, but it’s believed to be between $250 million and $300 million. So far, the film has made more than $340 million worldwide. At worst, Lucasfilm and Disney will break even on Solo. The problem is that since Solo appears to be the first Star Wars film of the Disney era to not break a billion dollars, it’s perceived as a “failure.” If the highest-opening film of Ron Howard’s entire career is a “flop,” then that’s a perception problem.
By the time Episode IX hits theaters, Disney will have definitely made back the $4 billion they spent for Lucasfilm (which includes the Indiana Jones franchise as well as Star Wars). So, it’s not a leap to assume that this isn’t exactly a money problem. If it’s not money, then what could possess Lucasfilm and Disney to plug up their money-fountain, if only temporarily? There are two likely reasons why Lucasfilm might be making this change, and they’re not mutually exclusive.
The first reason is mentioned in both the Collider and SWNN report, though arguably both can be accused of burying the lede. With the sole exception of The Last Jedi, the new Star Wars films have been plagued by talent troubles. Lucasfilm hired Michael Arndt to write the script for Episode VII, but he eventually left the film. Director J.J. Abrams and Star Wars story legend Lawrence Kasdan essentially wrote the film on-the-fly. The film, of course, made loads of money and is generally well-received. In this case, a potential disaster was averted.
Then came the first Star Wars Story, Rogue One from director Gareth Edwards. The ultimate film is another unqualified success, making over a billion dollars and earning rave reviews. However, during production it was reported that when reshoots began, Lucasfilm replaced Edwards with Tony Gilroy, an Oscar-winning screenwriter and director. While Edwards denies that this was because his film was unsatisfactory, most in the industry believe that the final film is much different than it would have been without Gilroy’s inclusion. Whatever the true reason for the change, it’s fair to say that this doesn’t reflect well on Edwards or his ability to helm a Star Wars film. Luckily, this places him in pretty good company.
Lucasfilm tapped Colin Trevorrow to helm Episode IX, even before Jurassic World became a global blockbuster. There is no doubt that he can handle a big-budget franchise feature, but nonetheless he was fired from Episode IX. The old standby “creative differences” was offered as the reason, though there are rumors that he disagreed with the direction The Last Jedi took the franchise. However more credible reports suggest that Lucasfilm was simply “unhappy” with the script he wrote. Either way, Lucasfilm gave the film to J.J. Abrams who started from scratch, just like he did with Episode VII.
Finally, there is the very public trouble that happened behind the scenes with Solo. Fresh off a pair of hits, Chris Miller and Phil Lord took up directorial duties for the script written by Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan. They too were unceremoniously fired by Lucasfilm over creative differences. The rumor-mill went into overdrive. Some claimed the Kasdans ousted them for veering too far off their script. Others said that the two, known for their irreverent comedy, took the film in a too “jokey” direction or not “fun” enough. Either way, Ron Howard came in with just months to spare, delivering a much different film than Lord and Miller intended.
The trouble may have continued into the films still in development. In May, reports that the much-anticipated Kenobi standalone film, which would feature the return of Ewan McGregor to the role, started pre-production to shoot in 2019. Oscar-nominated director Steven Daldry would helm the film. However, Christopher Marc of Omega Underground said his sources told him Daldry turned down/left the job before Solo even premiered. Given all this behind-the-scenes tumult, it’s not a giant leap to the conclusion that executives at Lucasfilm, Disney, or both would want to pump the brakes and get their shit together. Which brings us to the other reason for the slowdown: Disney.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm, hardcore fans lamented that the House of Mouse would screw with the franchise. Specifically, they believed that they would force Lucasfilm to pump out movie after movie, milking the property for all it’s worth before it dies, drained of all the magic that gave it life. Ironically, it appears that the opposite might be true. Disney is a giant, and because they own so many different mega-franchises they are now in the unenviable position of having to compete with themselves. Solo debuted on Memorial Day, but a few weeks before that Avengers: Infinity War premiered. A few weeks after, The Incredibles 2 hits theaters. Even Deadpool 2, which Marvel/Disney has a stake in (even more so if they end up buying 21st Century Fox’s movie and TV properties) stole the thunder. The dance card for fans of sci-fi is very full this year.
In fact, SWNN reports that after the upheaval caused by the Lord and Miller firing that Lucasfilm begged Disney to allow them to release the film in December. All other Disney Star Wars films were released during that time (and all but TLJ had their premiere dates pushed back from the summer). It would have been a better fit, especially since there aren’t many blockbusters at that time to compete with. Disney, however, wouldn’t budge. They also reportedly refused to increase marketing efforts so as not to take away from Infinity War.
Considering all of this, it’s not that surprising that Disney and even Lucasfilm itself might want to slow their space-roll. Marvel has been able to put out as many as three films in calendar year and pull it off with myriad directors and writers. However, they have established source material to work from, and for as inter-connected as the MCU is, they are making it up as they go along. Star Wars is more established and has harder, faster rules that filmmakers must follow. Hell, even Marvel struggled to put out solid films in their first four years. Iron Man was a surprise hit, but The Incredible Hulk(a joint project between Marvel Studios and Universal) made its budget back but critics panned it. Similarly, critics loved the first Captain America film in 2011, but were not so enamored of the first Thor film. In fact, all of the MCU films combined up-to-and-including Avengers didn’t earn what The Force Awakens made by itself at the box office.
Thus, it’s safe to say that this move is not the fault of Solo, at least not the quality of the film nor its performance at the box office. In fact, just this week I took both my mother and daughter to see the film. It was my third time, and I loved it just the same as I did at first, if not more. My daughter said it was one of her favorites in the Star Wars canon. My mother, adamant to never accept any Han Solo who wasn’t played by Harrison Ford, was stunned at how much she enjoyed both the film and Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. The only tragedy here is that we may not get more of this version of Solo, Chewie, and Lando (played by Donald Glover).
Still, Star Wars is a money-factory, and that’s not going to change. What has changed, however, is the idea that just by slapping Star Wars on something gets you a billion dollars. So soon after the release of The Last Jedi and with such a crowded movie calendar, Solo proved this wasn’t true. Given that reality, the decision to slow things down to ensure that they hire the best talent available is a smart call. While it means we may not get to see some of our favorite legacy characters on-screen again for at least a decade, it does mean that the chance of Star Wars fatigue killing the entire franchise is much, much less.
Why do you think Lucasfilm halted their standalone productions? Do you think it’s a good idea? Share your thoughts, speculation, and reactions in the comments and don’t forget to share this article on social media to keep the discussion going.
UPDATE: ABC News and Making Star Wars, a blog known for leaking production details of Star Wars films, say that this story was blown out of proportion. (Star Wars fans? Blow something out of proportion? Perish the thought.) It seems that a film set around the Mos Eisley Spaceport on Tattooine has been canceled, but ABC News reports other standalones (including Kenobi and Mangold’s Boba Fett film) might still happen.