Despite a large marketing push, Solo: A Star Wars Story debuted well behind industry expectations this weekend, forcing Disney executives to rethink future strategy. The stand-alone film about Star Wars’ most infamous smuggler was expected to reach upwards of $150 million domestically but earned just $103 million as of Monday.
Can fans get too much Star Wars too quickly? The film was released just five months after The Last Jedi, which has Disney looking for a connection.
“We have a lot of work to do in trying to understand this,” Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are all over it and will spend a lot of time digging into why things happened the way they did in various markets. We have a year and a half before Episode IX comes out.”
For analysts, Solo‘s box office setback calls to question the relationship between marketing and box office success.
“Disney has more marketing muscle than any other studio given the iconic nature of their brand,” Karie Bible, box office analyst and film historian at Exhibitor Relations, told AListDaily. “Overall, Solo had the lowest debut on record for a Disney-released Star Wars film and could have an impact on future spin-offs in the franchise.”
Marketing for Solo: A Star Wars Story included partnerships that ranged from Denny’s menu items to packaging for Solo plastic cups.
Disney/Lucasfilm shared exclusive behind-the-scenes commentary through Google Assistant. An action called “My Special Guest” allows users to ask questions of Alden Ehrenreich (Han Solo), Emilia Clarke (Kira) or director Ron Howard.
After a substantial marketing tie-in for Rogue One, Nissan once again teamed up with Lucasfilm to give away custom vehicles inspired by Solo: A Star Wars Story. Nissan debuted a custom Rogue made to look like the Millennium Falcon at the red carpet premiere and hosted a photo booth to encourage social sharing.
— Mossy Nissan (@mossynissansd) May 26, 2018
Marketing a beloved character is a blessing and a curse, placing Disney in the precarious position of honoring Star Wars characters while meeting modern sensibilities.
“The franchise, in general, is at a crossroads,” said Bible. “[Disney and Lucasfilm] are trying to make films that appeal to the younger generation while still pleasing fans who grew up with the originals.”
Solo hit an interstellar speed bump when fans learned that directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord were fired and again when some fans disagreed with Lando Calrissian being pansexual.
“Perhaps more than any franchise in film history, Star Wars fans are personally and deeply invested in these films,” said Bible. “They grew up with them since childhood. If they are displeased in any way, they will be very vocal about it to everyone on social media. Word of mouth spreads like wildfire and people respond accordingly.”
Despite these obstacles, Solo: A Star Wars Story still managed to nab the number one box office spot for Memorial Day weekend. Box office revenue increased 26 percent over last year, Bible said, thanks to bigger franchises like Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War.