'Star Wars' should resist bowing to the force of its most vocal fans
CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 6/4/2018, 12:35 p.m.
By Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) -- Disney and Lucasfilm are dealing with the first conspicuous setback of their five-year-old corporate marriage, as "Solo: A Star Wars Story" has fallen far short of gargantuan box-office expectations. While the studio ponders whether that requires adjusting course, a small, rebellious and inordinately vocal quadrant of the fan community is delighting in -- and deriving an unfortunate message from -- those woes.
"Solo" delivered less than $30 million in its second weekend -- plummeting by nearly two-thirds from its less-than-stellar opening, bringing its total just shy of $150 million. For a mere mortal movie, that would be just fine, but it's a pallid addition to the "Star Wars" universe, which has shattered box-office records and routinely amassed huge returns.
The subplot to that, and it's an odd one, comes from "Star Wars" fans who see "Solo's" underwhelming results as vindication -- a blow against the Disney empire, and Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy. Reinforced by Internet echo chambers in the way intense political partisans find like-minded brethren online, they harbor what is almost certainly a magnified vision of their numbers and how widely their passions are shared.
As Vulture's Chris Lee noted in a piece back in February titled "Why Do Some Star Wars Fans Want the Han Solo Movie to Flop?," this subset of the fan base responded negatively (an understatement, there) to "The Last Jedi," the most recent "Star Wars" sequel, and called for a "Solo" boycott to vent their displeasure.
"Part of us wants this film to fail," Joe Vargas, host of the Angry Joe Show on YouTube, said at the time. "I was thinking maybe if it does bad, Disney will be smarter with how they do these future things."
They have also lamented Disney's rapid expansion and strip-mining of the galaxy George Lucas created. As writer Dani Di Placido put it in a Forbes commentary, "Solo" is "Hollywood at its most cynical, squeezing every last drop of blood from an iconic character." (Disclosure: My wife works for a division of Disney.)
Within this circle, Kennedy and directors like "Last Jedi's" Rian Johnson are accused of spoiling "Star Wars" and, not uncommonly, "ruining my childhood."
Never mind that "Solo" is actually pretty good, or that Lucas -- with the name "Jar Jar Binks" alone -- made his own contributions to marring their young adulthood. When the blood starts to boil, sobriety and perspective tend to be early casualties.
As Vulture noted, there's no real way to quantify how vast this portion of the "Star Wars" fan universe is. Indeed, with so many moving parts and variables to consider, it's difficult to grasp any clear message yet from "Solo's" under-performance, which of course hasn't deterred the deluge of web-traffic-driven hot takes trying to do just that.
Disney/Lucasfilm, meanwhile, have little incentive to do anything but be respectful in addressing their most faithful consumers, since having people feel desperately invested in your product -- to the point of claiming a kind of ownership stake in it -- is the definition of a high-class problem.
That said, there's a slightly delusional quality to the victory lap being taken in comment sections and online forums, an assumption that these fans have made a statement that will only further embolden such demands.
It's certainly possible that disappointment surrounding "The Last Jedi" (a sentiment, incidentally, largely shared by this reviewer) triggered a backlash that played a major role in "Solo's" weak opening. But it's beyond naive to think a subsection of fans can dictate Disney's broader strategy, since the studio didn't plunk down $4 billion for Lucasfilm to let it sit idle, or allow a small mob with Internet pitchforks to call the shots.
As politicians have discovered, there are tradeoffs involved in allowing the loudest and most belligerent voices -- those prone to speaking in Sith-like absolutes -- to define the terms of debate.
Hearing and being sensitive to what various fans want makes sense, but bowing to the force of a vocal contingent -- one that's perhaps a small minority -- is a road fraught with peril. As Han solo himself once said, it's not always possible to fly by committee.