Star Wars isn’t dead yet. However, the glee with which some say that it is shows just how much apathy exists for the franchise. Solo did underwhelm in its opening weekend, but the damage is far from irreversible so long as Disney learns one valuable lesson: Star Wars can’t stay the same forever.
Star Wars films have never been released at the frequency they are today. Both the original and prequel trilogies took three-year breaks after each installment, and that’s not to mention the sixteen-year hiatus the franchise went on between the two. Disney assumed that it would be able to follow the same blitzkrieg release strategy that gained it so much success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there’s one major difference between these two juggernaut franchises: a willingness to change the status quo.
While admittedly Marvel Studios’ early releases were a tad formulaic, they have consistently been brave enough to make bold creative changes to their wider universe. Think about it: since 2008’s Iron Man, the landscape of the MCU has changed massively. We have seen the fall of SHIELD, the introduction of cosmic alien races, a brand new super-team made up of outlandish and bizarre characters, the break-up of the Avengers, the destruction of Asgard and most recently the cataclysmic events of Infinity War.
Meanwhile, if we look at where The Last Jedi left the Star Wars universe last year, we remain in almost exactly the same spot as we were when the series began back in 1977: a powerful evil empire is chasing a small band of rebels. It’s a premise which is endearing in its simplicity, but not enough to justify recycling it for over forty years.
The anthology films were pitched as the opportunity to try experimental things with the Star Wars brand, but hilariously both Rogue One and Solo had their directors ousted presumably for doing just that. It’s impossible to know whether those films would have been better if Gareth Edwards, Phil Lord and Chris Miller had been given free rein, but at the very least they would not have felt quite so bland.
Solo was a particularly unambitious offering, baring a striking resemblance to Rogue One with its muted colour palette, while leaning heavily on a mix of nostalgia and origin story cliches. This low-risk Star Wars filmmaking may be pleasing to some die-hard fans, but Solo‘s underwhelming box office returns suggest more casual audience members are being turned away by the series’ ongoing stagnation.
With the benefit of hindsight, we could say that Disney’s biggest mistake was essentially disregarding the events of Return of the Jedi when picking a starting point for their sequel trilogy. By simply ignoring the fact that the Empire was defeated, they set this franchise back several decades and squandered the opportunity to go in a completely new direction.
As a result, in its current state, Star Wars isn’t strong enough to sustain annual installments – but that isn’t to say it never could be. By regularly introducing new elements and constantly pushing toward the next big shake-up, Marvel Studios have kept the attention of audiences for nineteen movies. There’s no reason Star Wars can’t have the same level of success, it just needs liberating from the strict rules Disney has imposed upon it.