The Star Wars franchise needs to start exploring movies with lower budgets. Disney is currently reassessing their entire Star Wars business model following Solo: A Star Wars Story's disappointing box office return, placing a hold on some future standalone anthology movies and taking less creative risks with directors. That said, their best bet may well involve making mid-budget movies if they want to improve their odds of turning a profit.
Star Wars may have started as a lower budget saga (even the prequels had comparatively moderate budgets), but having grown to the second most successful movie franchises of all time, according to Box Office Mojo, with a domestic box office total of over $4 billion (the MCU has it beaten by roughly $2 billion), it's no wonder that Disney would equip the franchise with considerable funds for the new era. However, despite the fact that sizable budgets worked for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Solo's failure has made this approach moot. Frequent complications during production set a negative course for Solo, Disney, and, by extension, the future of the entire Star Wars franchise.
So, as risky as it might be for Disney and Lucasfilm to make major monetary changes to a franchise that has remained successful for well over thirty years, it might be their best shot at preserving quality and sustaining longevity. And to their benefit, they're not necessarily breaking new ground - the original Star Wars movie only cost $11 million dollars! Adjusted for inflation, that's still under $50 million in 2018 dollars.
- This Page: Learning From Solo's Mistakes
- Page 2: Star Wars Can Excel By Managing Risk
Learning From Solo's Mistakes
Even if Disney hadn't bloated Solo's budget to a whopping $250 million, its current US gross is still at a paltry $196 million (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story more than doubled that with a US gross of $532 million). So, whether or not audiences were as interested in a standalone Han Solo movie as they were a prequel to A New Hope is irrelevant; Disney's production strategy on Solo was sorely lacking. Instead of moving its release date to prevent it from competing with movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Deadpool 2 (both of which beat Solo in sales), they siphoned money out of its budget in order to keep it on schedule, thus hurting their chances at turning a profit. And as it so happens, Solo isn't necessarily an exception in this failed approach.
It's not the first time Disney has seen inflated budgets. 2011's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides saw its budget grow to roughly $410 million before marketing. Disney pumped excess money into the movies throughout production, and even though it managed to hit $1 billion internationally, it was still an underperformance and failed to break even domestically.
Now, with a rough blueprint of failures from which Disney can learn, moderating budgets for future Star Wars movies is paramount. And while they'll likely maintain generally the same budget for Episode IX as they did for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, even the latter saw a dip in box office returns by roughly $300 million. So, more and more, the mid-budget route seems increasingly more favorable than settling on excess and potential losses.
Page 2 of 2: Star Wars Can Excel By Managing Risk
The Future of Star Wars is Risk Management
As much as the Star Wars franchise has earned bragging rights in the entertainment industry, that's not to say that it's too big to fail. Solo is proof of that. And considering that Disney is as much about creating memorable entertainment as they are about turning profits, they would do well to follow more sensible budget templates that have proven to deliver profitable results.
Disney has already made it perfectly clear that they are distancing themselves from taking significant creative risks on Star Wars movies (specifically with the kinds of directors they choose), so expanding that risk management into how they handle their budgets is just as important - if not more so. Recent movies like Deadpool 2 and Logan took the mid-budget approach, and the results were more than satisfactory. Both movies more than doubled their respective $110 and $97 million budgets domestically, proving that mid-budgets aren't only beneficial in box office returns, but in allowing movies to be more experimental. Risk management is just as much about scaling back on risks as it as about justifying them.
With smaller budgets, Lucasfilm can toy around with standalone movies based on settings and characters that aren't necessarily expected. Given the massive budgets tied to Rogue One and Solo, as well as massive budgets that might have later been attached to standalone movies that are reportedly in the works, Lucasfilm is limited to focusing on legacy characters like Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Yoda. There's little wiggle room, and the pressure has proven to be more than they can handle, given the behind-the-scenes drama and major monetary losses. So, redirecting their priorities onto less valuable characters can free the studio from costly limitations. They can pursue projects that don't come with nearly as much baggage. And, yes, this can still apply to the upcoming trilogy from Rian Johnson, as well as the brand new series from Game of Thrones showrunners Dave Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Ever since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, they've proven to be just as enthusiastic as they are anxious about handling Star Wars. And it shows. The reshoots alone on Rogue One and Solo set them back significantly, and the pressure to perform has proven to be nearly more than they can handle. So, now that they're in the state of shuffling around priorities to not simply perfect whatever movie happens to be in production, but the entire process of making a Star Wars movie itself, it's the perfect time to consider frugality as a valuable asset - within reason. After all, success comes down to being proactive, not reactive, and without limitations and a general sense of control, the latter is oftentimes inevitable.
Disney Needs to Embrace Restraint
Big-budget movies are a dime a dozen. Franchises come and go, some barely even manage to get themselves off the ground, and others fail to sustain relevance within whatever landscape they happen to be released. And over the years, Star Wars has managed to come out on top more often than not. Unfortunately, though, the odds have finally started working against them. So, like any business model running the risk of certain failure, it needs to evolve.
The Star Wars franchise is tried and true, but if Disney wants to pursue a more proactive game plan than the one they're currently following, they ought to take some inspiration from, well, themselves. As eager as Disney may be to release live-action blockbusters with massive budgets, like Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and Alice Through the Looking Glass (another colossal failure), their mid-budget movies like Pete's Dragon and Cinderella have proven that scaled-down budgets don't inhibit success. Both movies were critical and financial successes (Pete's Dragon's financial success being significantly more modest, but still profitable), and both had the freedom to experiment creatively. There was pressure to succeed, like any movie, but less so. Disney's problem is just that it tends to put too many eggs into one basket when handling heavy-hitters, and the results risk being problematic.
At the end of the day, Disney has plenty of money - but not necessarily money to spare. Star Wars no doubt has a long shelf life, regardless of what sort of direction Disney plans on taking it, but that's not to say they shouldn't be cautious. There's no need to go back to the drawing board, but for their sake - and the collective audience's sake, as well - Disney needs to start showing some restraint. It's one thing to be ambitious, but when ambition is synonymous with unsustainable excess, the spectacle of a big-budget movie can only go so far. In a lot of cases, less is most definitely more, whether referring to the current Hollywood climate or a galaxy far, far away.