Solo: A Star Wars Story has had its far-share of troubles, and its underwhelming marketing campaign may have paved the way to a disappointing opening weekend, all because of a confused marketing campaign. Solo already struggled with a tumultuous and expensive production. The original directing team, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, were fired and replaced with veteran director Ron Howard. Howard ended up reshooting about 70 - 80% of the film, nearly doubling the original budget of the film. As a result, Solo is now the most expensive Star Wars production of all time.
To make matters worse, Solo is now under-performing at the box office. It is worth noting that Solo is only struggling by Star Wars standards, with the highest opening weekend over Memorial Day weekend since X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014. For additional comparison, Solo grossed less than Justice League did on its opening weekend and less than half of Deadpool 2's worldwide gross.
- This Page: Lucasfilm Didn't Do Enough to Assuage the Drama
- Page 2: The Trailers Hid The Best Parts
While there are many factors that likely played a role in Solo's reception and box office performance, the ineffective and confused marketing of the film did too little too late for a film that needed help combating negative rumors and Star Wars "fatigue". Because Solo advertising did not want to interfere with The Last Jedi, the first trailer did not premiere until the Super Bowl in February. Before then, Ron Howard's Twitter account was the most positive advertising for a film that had suffered from a flurry of negative press.
Once the trailers were out, they didn't do enough to encourage audiences to come out for Solo or to convince audiences that Alden Ehrenreich's performance as Solo would be worthwhile. As it turns out, Solo was a fun and funny film that included Easter eggs and references for fans of the expanded universe and Star Wars Legends. Alden Ehrenreich gave an excellent performance as a charismatic and confident young Han. But neither of these things were conveyed to potential audience members in the trailer, and as such, Solo's marketing didn't showcase the film's strengths.
The Delayed Reveal Didn't Help Rumors
Solo's reshoots meant that production went much later than anticipated, wrapping only a few months before The Last Jedi premiered, and less than a year before Solo came to theaters. The film was supposed to finish filming in the summer of 2017, but Howard's reshoots lasted until October.
The post-production timeline was further crunched by Solo's May release date. Solo is the first of the four new Star Wars films to open in May rather than December, and the move from the end-of-the-year holidays to Memorial day weekend may have played a role in the lackluster reception. Instead of building up to the new film over the course of the year, Solo only had five months of promotion after The Last Jedi premiered. Discussion of The Last Jedi after the film's premiere continued to take the limelight from Solo during the crucial early months of 2018.
Presumably, both the delayed production schedule and the desire to avoid conflict with The Last Jedi affected when Solo began its marketing campaign. The first Solo trailer was released in February 2018 at the Super Bowl, but by the time the footage aired, there was already a negative view of the production. Fans had gone from anticipating the trailer to dismissing the film entirely, and so the trailer did not receive as much hype as previous Star Wars films. Solo needed a strong and forward public relations campaign to repair what was seen as a problematic production - the Super Bowl trailer was too late to push back against the rumors.
Page 2: The Trailers Hid The Best Parts
The Trailers Should Have Led With Han
Many Star Wars fans who saw Solo were surprised at how much they enjoyed the film in part because their expectations were so low. Before the production problems even began on Solo, there was already concern that no one could fill Harrison Ford's shoes as the smuggler who would go on to be a hero to the Rebellion. News of Alden Ehrenreich's casting had long been overshadowed by issues with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and the relatively unknown actor did not bring the name recognition to appease fan's worries.
These low expectations were further fueled by the content of the trailers leading up the film. The Solo trailers did not try to address any concerns that fans had about the recasting of Solo. If anything, they were reserved and teasing, assuming that audiences were already excited and anticipating the film. "I might be the only person who knows what you really are," Qi'ra muses in the trailer. Han responds, "What's that?" but no answer is given. Instead, the initial trailers flashed a number of shots of different characters, planets, and alien species, but didn't give much of a sense of the plot of the film or the identity of its main character. The audience hears Ehrenreich deliver lines about his past, but there are only a few shots of his face, much less any scenes that would showcase Han's chemistry with Chewbacca or Lando Calrissian.
Later television spots and April trailer improved slightly, including short but fun interactions between Han, Chewie, and Lando, but by that time, the narrative was already written: Solo never really stood a chance against the snowballing negativity.
Instead, Solo should have led with its leading man from the beginning. Alden Ehrenreich beat out literally thousands of other actors to play the role of Han Solo, and in the film, audiences can see why. Alden Ehrenreich's Han Solo is both a compelling performance and a distinct variation on Harrison Ford's older version of the character. Fans can see how Ehrenreich's Solo will one day grow up to be Ford's, while still giving a youthful arrogance and energy to the role.
But Ehrenreich's Han was still a mystery to fans until Solo came to theaters, and if the marketing had focused on promoting his characterization (after all, he is the title character), perhaps theater-goers would have been more likely to come out to see the film. Obviously, trailers and promotional material don't want to give too much of the film's plot away, but Han could have been introduced in such a way that highlighted Ehrenreich's charisma, humor, and chemistry as the film's eponymous lead.
Additionally, Solo contains more references to the Star Wars expanded universe and Star Wars Legends than any other Star Wars film to date. Unfortunately, this attention to detail was nowhere to be seen in the trailers, where a simple reference, such as the fact that Beckett killed Aurra Sing, would have certainly generated buzz among fans for the film.
Solo: A Star Wars Story marketing did not do enough to combat the pessimism around the film, both in terms of the change in directors and in terms of skepticism around recasting the role of Han Solo. If marketing had actively tried to address these concerns head-on, rather than going about business as usual, then fans would have had more confidence in Solo and would have turned out to support the film in greater numbers. There is so much to love about Solo, but unfortunately, the trailers and the marketing didn't show that to potential audiences.