Much has been made about Solo: A Star Wars Story's soft opening, only months after Justice League saw a similarly disappointing launch, but it's not fair to compare the two. One of the most attention-grabbing talking points is to compare Solo with Justice League, thereby equating Star Wars with the same precarious position in which the DCEU finds itself after the financial woes seen by Batman v Superman and Justice League.
At a glance, the comparison doesn't seem so far-fetched: both were grand franchise films with out-of-control budgets, both infamously replaced their directors deep into production, and both experienced box office openings which were far below expectations. As usual, however, the truth is far more nuanced than that. At best, comparisons between the two films are well-intentioned but misinformed. At worst, they're sensationalist and downright irresponsible. Either way, Comparing Solo To Justice League Isn't Fair To Either Franchise.
- This Page: The Director Situation Was Totally Different
- Page 2: Solo and Justice League Had Totally Different Objectives
The Director Situations Were Totally Different
Both Justice League and Solo had final reported budgets in the range of $300 million. The paths the films took to get to that point both involved replacing their directors and engaging in extensive reshoots, but other than that, they couldn't be more different.
Justice League was plagued from the start with issues between director Zack Snyder and studio Warner Brothers. Back when the film was first envisioned, Snyder's grand vision for his take on the DC mythology was to reach its apex in Justice League: Part 1. Following the death of Kal-El in the climactic battle at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this film was to explore the ramifications of "a world without Superman."
Unfortunately for Snyder, critics were not receptive to the tone of BvS, and Warner Brothers balked at the prospect of going even further in that direction for the sequel. Additionally, BvS was deemed way too long for WB's tastes, so Snyder was mandated to keep the runtime down for the follow-up.
Then, following a family tragedy, Snyder dropped out of Justice League altogether, although some reports indicate Snyder was actually fired. Snyder had completed 100 percent of principal photography and was well underway with post-production, but Warner Bros still brought on Joss Whedon to conduct massive reshoots, which have been reported to encompass around 20% of the film.
Unfortunately, the final Justice League product is a dissonant mess being pulled in different directions by an auteuristic director, a nervous studio, and a contracted filmmaker hired to complete the impossible task of changing the film away from it's original story and tone in post. As a result of all this behind-the-scenes drama, the film cost over $300 million to produce, and the final product was considered a financial failure, thanks in no small part to its weak critical reception.
For Solo, the firing of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller was no less surprising, but also significantly less dramatic. They were hired on the recommendation of screenwriter (and Star Wars veteran) Lawrence Kasdan, who thought their comedic style would be a good match for the script he and his son Jon had written. Unlike Snyder, they didn't write the script and didn't adhere to a strict vision, ultimately, going too far with their improvisation, ballooning the budget and straying too far from Kasdan's script.
For the sake of the story and the integrity of the character of Han Solo and the Star Wars brand, Kennedy fired Lord & Miller (though they were allowed to bow out gracefully under the tried-and-true pretense of "creative differences"), and swiftly brought on Ron Howard to finish the film.
Initially budgeted at a modest $125-150 million, Solo was aiming to be the least expensive Star Wars film since Revenge of the Sith. If Disney and Lucasfilm wanted to, they could have had Howard finish the shoot (which was said to only require a few more weeks of filming), conduct some band-aid reshoots, and then edit together a final cut of potentially dubious quality. Instead, Lucasfilm made the bold decision to allow Howard to reshoot what has been reported as up to 80% of the entire film. Creatively, this was the right choice, and Solo feels like a Ron Howard joint from start to finish. Of course, it also went from being the cheapest Star Wars film to the most expensive, with some reports placing the film's budget in line with Justice League at around $300 million.
In all fairness, it would have been impossible for Warner Brothers to do what Lucasfilm did. Solo was originally a mid-budget blockbuster. $125 million is a lot of money, but it's a far cry from The Last Jedi, which was said to have a budget of $217 million. On the other hand, Justice League was never going to have a budget lower than $200 million. If Joss Whedon had been allowed to reshoot 80% of the movie to avoid releasing a tonally dissonant mess, the budget could have skyrocketed to well over $400 million. Either way, despite all the behind-the-scenes drama, Solo emerged as a critical success, while Justice League went down as one of the worst films of 2017.
Solo and Justice League Had Totally Different Objectives
Some movies succeed, and some movies fail. It happens. For mega-brands like Star Wars, one underwhelming box office performer isn't going to sink the whole franchise. That being said, studios and fans place more importance on certain movies in a given series. In the case of Marvel Studios, it had been said that they were going to go through with The Avengers even if Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger failed to break out at the box office. But if The Avengers itself had failed, then the MCU would surely not exist today. At least not in its current state.
For Warner Brothers, Justice League was their Avengers, to the point where they brought on MCU director Joss Whedon to write and direct the film's extensive reshoots. This was a $200 million (later bumped up to $300 million) culmination of everything leading up to it, from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to Wonder Woman (and, to a much lesser extent, Suicide Squad). All roads led to this point, much in the same way all roads from the MCU led to 2012's The Avengers, and, more recently, Avengers: Infinity War.
In the case of the MCU, The Avengers brought in an incredible $1.5 billion dollars worldwide back in 2012. In 2017, even after five years of inflation, Justice League could only scrape up $657 million in worldwide ticket sales. For a film which had its sights set on nothing less than $1 billion, this result was nothing less than a financial failure.
If Justice League was a high-stakes endeavor with everything riding on it, then Solo started out as the exact opposite. With its relatively low stakes (there's nary a planet-killing superweapon to be seen here) and intimate focus on the development of its core characters, Solo was never aspiring to be as big of an event as mainline saga films like The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, or even fellow "A Star Wars Story," Rogue One. This is indicated by its original budget, which was well below the price tag of most big-time blockbusters.
Following the late-in-the-game director switch, which resulted in Lucasfilm and Disney getting one movie for the price of two, the internal pressure was on Solo to over-perform, but the film was never marketed as anything more than "just another Star Wars tale." That approach may have worked for Rogue One, which was seen as a surprise hit back in 2016, but for Solo, the fourth Star Wars film since the franchise was revived in 2015, it wasn't enough.
Had Solo's budget not doubled in the span of a year, then its four-day Memorial Day gross of $103 million wouldn't have been seen as a failure; it would have been a great start for the "street-level" Star Wars spin-off. As it is, Solo faced unrealistic expectations it couldn't possibly meet; Solo wasn't Justice League, wasn't the culmination of any prior works, or even a direct prequel to A New Hope like Rogue One; it is a stand-alone anthology film set in one tiny corner of the Star Wars universe. Asking Solo to perform on par with Rogue One would be like asking Spider-Man: Homecoming to perform comparably to Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War.
The Future of Star Wars and the DCEU
The big question moving forward for both Star Wars and the DCEU is this: how will the performance of Justice League/Solo affect their franchises moving forward?
In the case of Justice League, the DCEU is in the unenviable position of having to reinvent itself immediately after its first team-up film, leaving Aquaman in the tough spot of reinvigorating the franchise. After that, the DCEU slate will see a sort of palate cleanser with Shazam!, followed by Wonder Woman 2, the sequel to the franchise's only unequivocal commercial and critical hit, in 2019. Things are certainly looking up, but instead of racing toward a highly anticipated Justice League 2, the franchise hit a reset button and is starting again from ground zero.
As for Solo, whether it does well or not doesn't really matter much in the long run. Even if Disney loses a big pile of money on the swashbuckling adventure film, it's hard to see them attempting any type of "course correction." Solo was a one-off story, not the endgame for an entire franchise. At this point, the worst case scenario is that Disney avoids scheduling more than one Star Wars film per year, and that doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.
There's no getting around the fact that both Solo and Justice League switched directors mid-production, leading to larger-than-expected budgets which resulted in disappointing box office results, but that's where the comparisons end. Justice League and Solo are not cut from the same cloth. They are two completely different movies which hold distinct positions within their respective franchises, and trying to equate the two films is an exercise in futility and misinformation.
Comparing Justice League to Solo: A Star Wars Story is like comparing apples to oranges, or fitting square pegs into round holes, or comparing shooting womp rats to launching torpedoes at a thermal exhaust port. It's not remotely the same, even if they're both about two meters wide!