As the world is slowly winding down from the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi this past winter, and Disney are beginning the practice of getting all their ducks in a row for the rest of the year with three big new Marvel releases amongst their increasingly domineering roster of features, you’d think that there would be some anticipation building on a studio front to begin marketing their next Star Wars feature. No, not Episode IX, that Han Solo prequel movie they’ve been talking about for the well over the last year or so.
Sadly, this isn’t the case. In fact, its actually getting kind of worrying that with the release date of Solo: A Star Wars Story now under four months away – as of writing it stands locked into its original release date of Mat 25th, 2018 – that there has actually been very little marketing push for their next big prospective feature of a beloved franchise they paid roughly $4 billion for 5 years ago.
It’s unusual for such a major tentpole release to go this long without a single major promotional tool being used to advertise that it’s coming out soon, and even more unusual given that it’s a new instalment of one of the biggest franchises on the planet.
Solo has a relatively safe bet for box-office potential of some sort anyway, reviving a character pretty much everyone even remotely familiar with western popular culture will recognise, and yet Disney and Lucasfilm are keeping their cards as close to their chest as possible. The last three Star Wars films under Disney’s banner all had trailers nearly 8 months in advance of their release dates each winter, but without a single teaser, promotional still or even a poster for the upcoming film, average joe moviegoer might have totally forgotten that this was even a feature that is supposed to be coming out. Instead, the most basic acknowledgements of its existence have been pouring out of director Ron Howard’s Instagram feed in the form of grainy, non-specific behind the scenes snaps and the eventual reveal of the film’s title on a piece of large card.
But the story behind the production of Solo is something that can't have gone under some peoples radar. In July 2015, Lucasfilm announced that an Anthology film, focusing "on how a young Han Solo became the smuggler, thief, and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered in the cantina at Mos Eisley", would be released on May 25, 2018. The project would be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of The Lego Movie fame from a script by Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan. The cast was locked in place with new youthful versions of old characters ready to take up the mantle in the form of Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian amongst other new faces and characters.
So, the general impression being given from the talent involved, specifically the two hugely successful directors behind the project, might have been that of a divergent action comedy – otherwise, why would you hire two filmmakers so specifically tailored to anarchic comedic productions for something more straight-laced?
Well, that’s where things seem to have gone wrong. On June 20th, 2017, the shocking news broker that original directors Lord and Miller had been fired from the production citing “creative differences” as the reason behind the fallout between them and president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy.
What was so sudden and shocking about this decision was the fact that the film has been shooting since January 30th, and still had three-and-a-half weeks of scheduled principal photography to go. Not only had a majority of the film been shot, but from the industry buzz that has been trickling out of the studios ever since things haven’t gotten much brighter as to what exactly went down between the producers and the filmmakers.
Rumours talk of writer Lawrence Kasdan’s displeasure at their shooting method, which not only used fewer setups and less coverage than expected (limiting the availability to edit much in post-production), but under the impression that they had been brought on board to make a comedy were encouraging improvisation from the performers in a way that was "shifting the story off-course" from the Kasdans' script. There are also the rumours of Ehrenreich’s apparent difficulty performing and an acting coach being hired for him well into the production, but those remain quite shady to put forward as evidence of a collapsing production.
After a shortlist was decided, Ron Howard was quickly hired to take over the production, completing the film and extensively reshooting what is rumoured to be nearly 80% of the film’s already shot footage, resulting in roles actors such as Michael K. Williams being cut from the film due to unavailability, and bringing in new actors like Paul Bettany as replacement.
Given all this word of mouth and chaos seemingly ensuing from the entire endeavour, it might be reasonable to state that Disney and Lucasfilm are planning on pushing back the release date of the film to an undisclosed time, possibly to the Christmas release date that has now become the standard for the series. But for all intents and purposes as of this point, the film is still set to its original release date (its intended release date reconfirmed in the latest official synopsis) and the gap for advertising is becoming increasingly slim – with no news on merchandise, trailers or even as Super Bowl spot.
It could be that the studio is simply biding their time as anything with the title of Star Wars will likely make back a profit in some form. But the everlasting silence and nervousness this has caused across the web on a near daily basis is getting to a point where they really should address whether anything is coming at all in the coming weeks. There will be something at some point and an official announcement if it does indeed end up being pushed back, but in the information age where so much is known in advance by bloggers and news outlets – and there is certainly no entitlement for the studios to necessarily have to show us something before release – but it’s the expectation weighing down that’s getting people worried.
The simple positive response of being able to see SOMETHING of the production in any semi-complete form might be enough to nullify the fans in some way, and the fear that Disney may have a critical bomb on their hands as a film maligned and damaged by its behind the scenes pressures in a similar fashion to last years Justice League is still a potent possibility. Though the hiring of John Williams to contribute to the film's main theme is something for people to at least rest with, its a momentary act of neutralisation in the grander scheme as much as the hiring of Kasdan to write the screenplay in the first place.
Of course, this is all purely speculative, and the trailer could very well drop tomorrow and placate everyone a little till release, but blockbuster filmmaking is at a point where these kind of massive production halts and creative changes are no longer anomalies like they once seemed. In a 24 hour a day time of constant information, people are aware more than ever of how the mechanisms of the industry work – be it limited or extensive – and to misjudge an audience of consumers in such a way is probably not the right direction to go in for any studio.
That all being said, the film will be ready when it is and will eventually see release, then we’ll make all the hot takes in the world for a month, and the fans will both decry and champion what they did and didn’t like on film twitter, and then we’ll all be back here the next year when the same thing happens when the next one comes out.