Wednesday, 19 September 2018
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‘Star Wars 9’s Big Problem Won’t Be ‘Last Jedi’ Backlash Or ‘Solo’ Failure

‘Star Wars 9’s Big Problem Won’t Be ‘Last Jedi’ Backlash Or ‘Solo’ Failure
26 Jun
5:23
Walt Disney

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Star Wars: The Last Jedi debuts on Netflix Instant today, just over seven months after its theatrical opening weekend and just as a bunch of trolls have gamed the Internet by announcing their intentions to, uh, remake The Last Jedi in a way that pleases them. I wouldn’t pay these folks much mind, as A) you can safely ignore folks, and B) blogging about them, even in jest, gives them the media credibility they so desire. But for the record, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is arguably the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. And whatever fate awaits Star Wars 9 in December of 2019, the biggest challenge won’t be the receptions of this Star Wars movie or Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Even with mixed-positive reviews and generally pleasant audience reactions, Solo: A Star Wars Story has finished its first month in theaters with $203 million domestic and $355m worldwide. Had the film come in closer to whatever it was supposed to cost before the director swap and reshoots sent its budget skyrocketing (probably closer to $160m than $250m), that would be a disappointing but not disastrous total, about par with Mad Max: Fury Road. And that it’ll earn $205-$210m domestic merely means that it was the overseas rejection that killed it. Had it done even a standard 33/67 split, a $210m domestic/$630m worldwide cume would have been about on par with what perhaps Walt Disney should expect of these Star Wars stories.

The good news/bad news for Solo regarding the Star Wars franchise is that it bombed because audiences didn’t want to see it, not because they were appalled by The Last Jedi or because they are now boycotting Star Wars. The Last Jedi still earned rave pre-release reviews, solid opening weekend audience reception and a halfway decent 2.8x multiplier for a $620 million domestic (about the same amount down from Force Awakens‘ $936m gross as Empire Strikes Back fell from Star Wars). And the film’s $1.332 billion worldwide cume is still $1.332b. Everyone obsessed about “superhero fatigue” in the summer of 2015 when Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron “only” earned $1.405b worldwide. Three years later, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War just crossed $2b worldwide.

At the very least, the 1.5-year gap between Ron Howard’s Solo and J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars 9 will circumvent any franchise overload. Moreover, whatever demographics will stay home due to their dissatisfaction with The Last Jedi will be countered by folks who show up because it’s the third and final chapter in this new trilogy. Whether or not J.J. Abrams is able to make a third flick that makes both Force Awakens and Last Jedi fans happy is an open question, but it will still be the ninth (and possibly final) saga in the ongoing Skywalker/Solo story. It would be like like dedicated MCU fans staying home from Avengers 4 because they didn’t like Avengers: Infinity War or Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Whether it takes the standard 20-25% jump from Last Jedi (see: Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith),  audiences will show up because it’s a Star Wars event. At least, they’ll show up once. The biggest “threat” to Star Wars 9‘s final global gross isn’t Star Wars fatigue, fan backlash or any other potentially non-existent variables. It’ll be the sheer amount of big movies opening in November and December of 2019. November alone will see Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc.’s Wonder Woman 1984, Paramount/Viacom Inc.’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Annapurna’s James Bond 25, Paramount’s Terminator reboot and Walt Disney’s Frozen 2. And then December will have Walt Disney’s Star Wars 9, Fox’s Death on the Nile, Universal’s Wicked and Sony’s Jumanji 3 all likely/possibly opening on or around Episode 9‘s Dec. 20 release.

Some of those may be delayed (I haven’t heard much about Wicked since it was announced),. The early November stuff may be played out by Christmas. That’s not factoring the likely schedule changes if Disney or Comcast Corp. buys Fox. But that’s a lot of big movies at the end of 2019. The successes of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Greatest Showman (and, to a lesser extent, Ferdinand), showed Hollywood that it could release other big movies and thrive alongside Star Wars. A big part of Last Jedi‘s smaller multiplier (and thus smaller domestic gross) was merely due to having other family-friendly options available during the 2017 holiday season. In 2015, Force Awakens was the only game in town for live-action family-friendly thrills.

Not so in 2017, and certainly not so in 2019. Everyone may see Star Wars 9, but with plenty of other options over the holiday, they are less likely to see it twice or thrice. If Star Wars 9 ends up with a gross closer to The Last Jedi (or Rogue One) than The Force Awakens, the critical factor may be that other studios are willing to open their big movies alongside a Star Wars movie. It won’t be because audiences secretly hated The Last Jedi or because Solo exposed a plague of Star Wars fatigue. It will be because Star Wars will no longer be the only game in town, which is an advantage that it has usually had for much of its lifetime.

That’s an advantage Star Wars can no longer count on. When you put Spider-Man against Attack of the Clones or Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle against Last Jedi (or Sing against Rogue One), the numbers go down. In 2019, Star Wars 9 may have some Wonder-fully Wicked competition nipping at its heels. So Star Wars will have to prove, like another big year-end release, that nobody (still) does it better. But in the meantime, the best Star Wars movie in 38 years is now available on Netflix Instant. It really is the movie of our era, celebrating the idea that it’ll be today’s Star Wars: Rebels or Force Awakens fans, not the Empire Strikes Back die-hards of yesterday, who will save us. Oh, and it’s a terrific action-adventure to boot.

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