Ron Howard Calls Out 'Trolling' As One Reason For Solo's Disappointing Box Office

Alden Ehrenreich Han Solo hands on hips serious expression Solo: A Star Wars Story Lucasfilm

Now that a full year has passed since Solo: A Star Wars Story hit theaters, fill-in director Ron Howard is sharing his nuanced take of what went right and what went wrong.

He jumped into the mix late in the game, after the departure of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The box office for the May 2018 movie was huge for Ron Howard, but disappointing by Star Wars' standards, and he knows that. However, he came in eager to help the team, and had a blast in his short experience in the galaxy. A year later, there's even a big push for Solo to get a sequel.

Here's part of Ron Howard answer on whether a Christmas release for Solo would've given it $100 million more than its spring release.

I feel very good about the way it turned out. I love the way it played to audiences, which I witnessed and was a part of. So all of that I'm able to feel good about. Sure, I wish it would've done [better] and lived up to the box office and so forth, so that's disappointing. Why? Maybe it's the release. Maybe it's the idea that it's sort of too nostalgic, going back and revisiting an origin story for a beloved character may not be what the fans were looking for. It kind of seemed to me, looking at it, the opening -- which was big, not as big as the others, it was probably my biggest opening, personally, it was still disappointing to them -- I think those are the hardcore fans. It sort of tells you how many people are tagalongs who need to wait to see what people think and whether it's essential, if it's a zeitgeist movie or not, and whether it's just 'I love Star Wars and I want to see what's next.'

Ron Howard had more to say on that topic on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, but I like his take on core Star Wars fans vs. "tagalongs" -- or casuals -- who wait to see if a movie becomes a major watercooler topic before jumping in with their own time or money. Casual fans sometimes wait for strong reviews from critics (Solo's reviews were middle-of-the-road) but even more often they wait to see fan reactions. They want to hear the buzz, see the audience ratings, scores, and word-of-mouth. (Think Venom.)

When the audience scores for Solo looked lower than usual, and words like "underperformed" and "disappointing" started coming out about the ticket sales, casual/tagalong fans might've come away thinking it was a movie they could safely skip. (The problems behind-the-scenes probably left more than a few fans expecting disaster, making them more wary to spend time and money on the movie.)

Here's more from Ron Howard on that angle, and how "trolling" from fans who hadn't even seen Solo yet may have led the tagalong types to pass on seeing Solo in the theater. Howard knows the pushback against Solo came from several different directions, but also included some Star Wars fans who were upset with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

So whatever millions [Solo] made worldwide, those were the core fans, but it didn't hit that zeitgeist point, for whatever reason. Timing, young Han Solo, pushback from the previous movie, which I kept hearing was maybe something. And some trolling, definitely some trolling. Some actual aggressive... It was pretty interesting. Not so much, a little bit the Twitter feed, yes, but it was especially noticeable prior to the release of the movie. Several of the algorithms, whether it was Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, there was an inordinate push down on the 'want to see' and on the fan voting. And when you look at it, it's like 3, 4, 5 -- or whatever the rating is, I forget what the rating is on Rotten Tomatoes, whether it's a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 -- but pretty high, and then a series of 0s or .5s or 1s.

Yeah, Rotten Tomatoes has actually changed the audience score function now, wanting more proof that fans have actually seen the movies before they rate them. Non-fans could rate a movie "0" before it even came out, but that is changing now.

Ron Howard isn't too familiar with that online world, but he said some friends from Silicon Valley explained the algorithms to him and basically let him know Solo was being trolled by fans who were boycotting its existence, in addition to those who did actually watch the movie and just didn't like it. Howard praised young Han Solo star Alden Ehrenreich, who was put in the center of the fray, and noticed the backlash has turned more in favor of the movie a year later:

Under that circumstance, I didn't take it personally at all, but I felt badly. And I thought Alden didn't a really great job, an incredibly talented guy, and dedicated guy, and I had a blast with everybody. And look, a year later, it's kind of interesting, you wouldn't think you'd participate in a Star Wars project and have it be a cult movie, but I can already tell those who have affection for it are pretty adamant in their feelings, and that's nice.

Ron Howard already responded, briefly, to the Solo sequel campaign on Twitter. Is it likely to happen? Maybe. Probably not. The point seems more to show support for the movie, which was clobbered from all sides last year for disappointing the franchise. Now the quieter core fans are speaking up to say they liked Solo, thank you very much, and they would be happy to see the story continue.

Now Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in the hot seat, as the final movie in the Skywalker Saga, but also the next trilogy movie after Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which divided a fandom that has been debating the merits of every new Star Wars addition since the arrival of Ewoks. The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters December 20.

Gina Carbone

Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.