This week saw the release of the latest Star Wars film, Solo, and the results have been unfortunate to say the least. Calum Cooper, film critic and self-confessed Star Wars fan boy, examines what went wrong 

Ah, Star Wars: the cinematic gift that keeps on giving for all generations. The latest anthology film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, however, has been treated to fairly lukewarm reviews overall and the box office has been very underwhelming. It has taken in an estimated $103 million domestically in its first weekend run, noticeably lower than its predecessors, and only about two thirds of its expected $130-150 million. Although it has done a little better overseas, particularly in Europe, numbers sadly never lie.

This may initially seem a bit of an enigma: Star Wars underperforming is something unheard of. Yet, upon closer examination, this result may not be very surprising at all. In actuality, Solo had a lot working against it, and not just its notorious production history. As a piece of entertainment, it’s average, but pretty serviceable. It’s a bit hollow narratively speaking, but it provides some decent popcorn thrills for a couple hours if nothing else. However, quality and box office results do not, and never have, run parallel. Whether you thought Solo was great, terrible, or just okay, there are many reasons for its underperformance.

Competition is always a crucial factor in deciding a film’s release date, particularly with blockbusters, as they want to generate the most revenue possible. Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Last Jedi all had December release dates, with little to no competition. Not only has Solo just debuted, a mere five months after Last Jedi, but it has been running against giants like Avengers: Infinity War (which is about to rake in $2 billion overall), Deadpool 2, and then the Jurassic World sequel later next week. All of them provide stiff competition for Solo, and the fact that Last Jedi was playing in cinemas not too long ago may also contribute to a feeling of oversaturation from casual filmgoers. That, of course, depends on the opinions of individual viewers, but, with the success recent Star Wars films have found with Christmas releases, the decision to suddenly break form and revert back to a far more competitive May date is an odd one.

One could also argue that the somewhat divisive nature of Last Jedi will have contributed too. Although the latest chapter of the saga did well with critics and box office, there are notable differences in opinion across audiences. Some say the film is a brave new addition that expands the mythology, tests its characters, and takes some much-needed risks for the traditional Star Wars formula. Others say that it’s a badly written spectacle that failed to properly answer questions left by Force Awakens. While some of the backlash is unfortunately the result of zealous fans angrily overreacting to a film, there are genuine criticisms to be found with Last Jedi, such as weak comedy and subplots that could’ve been executed better than they were. As a result, some viewers may not yet be ready to step back into the galaxy far, far away, especially if they felt let down by the previous entry.

However, perhaps the most significant reason for Solo’s unfortunate lack of revenue may be because of the film’s distinct lack of purpose. Han Solo is a loveable character, but many have said that a film detailing his origins is unnecessary, as his hot-headed persona was more than enough to make him interesting and investable. Watching the film itself, it has its fun moments, but it mostly plays it safe, and doesn’t especially attempt to dissect Solo as a person. It comes off less like a character study, and more like a typical western set in space. It’s perfectly fine as a piece of entertainment, but it doesn’t necessarily contribute anything to the Star Wars universe, something that all three of its predecessors did in their own ways. If this is a sentiment shared by those who have already seen the film, then word of mouth could be enough to derail its box office potential, and the circumstances could feed a feeling of fatigue. It is the fourth Star Wars film in as many years after all.

There are various reasons why Solo hasn’t done as well as its predecessors, but given how much profit they made, this won’t be that big a problem in the grand scheme of things. However, it’s for the best that Episode 9 isn’t out until December 2019, for Disney can use that time to re-evaluate their strategy, and possibly take a break after its release.  Star Wars is going to attract audiences no matter what, but this underperformance should serve as a wake-up call to the studio execs who may have gotten overconfident with their ownership of the brand and recent stream of success. This won’t be the end for Star Wars films, but perhaps it’s best if they ease their foot off the gas for the time being.  After all, there were 16 years between the original and prequel trilogies, and an additional 10 between the prequel and sequel trilogies. If there’s anything Star Wars fans are good at, it’s waiting.