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For the first time in history, the Star Wars franchise is on odd footing. Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story was predicated to be one of the biggest hits of the summer, but now it looks as though its legacy will be as a middling success -- falling far short of the expectations put upon it by the nine live-action titles released before it. It's a strange moment for one of the biggest brands of all time, and it very much should be a time of deliberation and reflection.
One can imagine some serious closed-door meetings being held after Solo: A Star Wars Story's Memorial Day Weekend performance, with those in attendance being the key minds behind the future of the franchise. With any luck, they'd be open to some outside suggestion, as we have a few pieces of advice that would serve to benefit the future of this franchise.
There is no questioning the ubiquity of Star Wars, as the merchandise for the property has a way of maintaining persistent cultural relevance, but what can't be forgotten is that the movies have never been mass produced. With the original two trilogies there were at least two years that went by between each title, and then there are those notable 16 and 10 year gaps that separated the three distinct cinematic periods of the franchise. Part of what made Star Wars special prior to 2015 was the fact that each sequel felt like a unique, special event -- but that quality has dissipated with annual releases of the Disney era.
It's been strange adjusting to getting a new Star Wars title every year since 2015, but the franchise pushed that concept to the breaking point releasing Solo just a little over five months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The notoriously intense secrecy severely limited the marketing capability, and fans simply didn't have time to anticipate it. And while Marvel Studios may be able to release three films a year, it shouldn't be the goal of Star Wars to be like Marvel. The stories set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away should be special events, and the easy way to make that happen is just to slow down the production line. This probably isn't going to happen with two full trilogies and both Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi projects in the works, but it remains worth saying.
Be More Flexible When It Comes To Release Dates
To put it bluntly, Disney and Lucasfilm made a mistake releasing Solo: A Star Wars Story on Memorial Day Weekend. The release came at the end of a month of crazy huge blockbuster releases -- including Disney's own Avengers: Infinity War -- and while the companies gambled on the power of the Star Wars name, it was a gamble that lost. The truth is that the release date should have been bumped, and not only to allow Ron Howard more time to work on the movie after coming to the production late (more on that next). What really needs to happen is that the franchise needs to start exploring new distribution seasons.
The first two Star Wars trilogies were all May releases, and up until now every Disney Star Wars movie has come out in December, but those traditions are crazy narrow and outdated. It's been proven that a movie worth seeing will find an audience during any month of the year -- with no need to look back more than a few months ago when Black Panther became a billion dollar film released in February. Had Solo been released this August instead of in May, it not only would have helped ease the aforementioned Star Wars fatigue and put Ron Howard less under-the-gun, but would have given it weeks of box office runway with very little competition.
Vet The Filmmakers A Bit More
From a realist perspective, it's hard to question the tight control that Lucasfilm has on the Star Wars brand. After all, each new release represents hundreds of millions of dollars in potential losses or earnings, and so oversight is reasonable. That being said, there also appears to be a serious issue with creatives behind the scenes that needs to be addressed. First screenwriter Michael Arndt was taken off Star Wars: The Force Awakens; then Tony Gilroy directed key reshoots of Gareth Edwards' Rogue One; then Ron Howard replaced Phil Lord and Chris Miller helming Solo; and soon J.J. Abrams will be directing Star Wars: Episode IX because he came in to replace Colin Trevorrow. There seems to be a common disconnect between the franchise and the filmmakers, and that's an issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
It's insane that it wasn't until six months into production on Solo: A Star Wars Story that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired and replaced, as the kind of creative differences they clashed over should have been sussed out in pre-production or even before they were hired. As part of slowing down the entire Star Wars train, clearly more time needs to be spent with filmmakers developing these projects to ensure that visions are realistic and agreeable between all parties involved.
Hit Pause On The Main Four For A Bit
All franchises tend to gravitate towards their most popular characters for obvious reasons: they're the characters that fans are most excited to see. In the case of Star Wars, this has led us to stories that are primarily about four characters: Luke, Leia, Han, and Anakin/Darth Vader. We've never seen a Star Wars movie without at least one of them, and credit where credit is due, the success has been phenomenal to date. In order to guarantee long-term success, however, the universe has to broaden itself beyond the four heroes and villains who have long been at the center of it, and start finding new and different protagonists/antagonists to follow.
In this department, Star Wars television has been ahead of the game, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a very important step in the right direction. Now the franchise just needs to be willing to make the leap with bigger and broader stuff. After so many decades, we are all very familiar with the lives of Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, and familiar is the enemy of creativity. The urge to spoon feed fans more of the same is clear, but after Solo: A Star Wars Story, hopefully it will be recognized that the development strategy can backfire.
Start Telling Some Radically Different Kinds Of Stories
This is admittedly similar to the need to evolve beyond firmly established central heroes and villains, but it's also a different point that deserves to be stressed. From the beginning, Star Wars has primarily consisted of the same kinds of stories being told -- all big screen adventure stories that play out as cosmos-spanning space operas. The narratives are always linear, and certain aesthetics (from lightsabers to Stormtrooper helmets) are always recognizable. Again, for the sake of longevity in a world where we are getting these franchise movies annually, this concept needs a serious shakeup.
While Star Wars movies don't need to mimic comic book blockbusters in terms of release strategy, they could learn a lesson from them in the genre variation department. What, other than stupidly strict guidelines for what a Star Wars movie must be, suggests that there isn't a really great horror movie that can play out in this world? Or what about workplace comedy? Solo: A Star Wars Story did a nice job playing with elements of a heist film, but it could have gone even further. There's a lot of fun to be had provided that those in charge are willing to help change the definition of what one of these features can be.