Picking Up the Spare – Superfly, Boundaries and More


Director X has been out there giving more interviews, including how he sought out Future to curate the movie’s soundtrack in part because he wanted to follow in Curtis Mayfield’s footsteps. He also shared the story of how he got involved when the project was kind of a King Lear adaptation but which eventually came back around to being a remake/update of the first Super Fly.


More from director Shana Feste as well as star Vera Farmiga about the genesis of the story, shooting the movie with so many dogs, the relationships each have with their fathers and thoughts on the current conversation around the demographic representation of the film critic community.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

There’s been a wave of opinion pieces about whether or not the 1993 original Jurassic Park needed any sequels at all. That position is exemplified by Matt Singer’s thinking that a scene from the first movie negates any possibility of additional stories and Clara Wardlow’s take that there simply aren’t that many narrative threads in this universe to pull on.

Star Wars

Borys Kit at THR does some digging and gets to the heart of the matter regarding Lucasfilm’s reaction to Solo’s underperformance, offering that while yes, the people there are taking fresh looks at everything there are still non-Saga projects moving forward.

Uncle Drew

Lil Rey Howery has been the subject of more profiles like this as release has drawn closer, which makes sense given the prominence he appears to have in the story but which marks a change from the NBA-heavy emphasis of the campaign to date. Costar Nick Kroll has also made a couple late night talk show appearances.

Set It Up

The writers and other filmmakers have been making the media rounds in the last week, resulting in stories like this feature and this profile of director Claire Scanlon. As I stated before, this level of earned media activity is unusual for Netflix except for prestige releases, a sign it’s both listening and responding to the buzz around this movie and trying to further own the mid-tier movie market.

Woman Walks Ahead

The movie is one of several recent projects that have brought more women into the Western genre.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Gimme Nothin’ But Star Waaaars….

For 24 hours the internet was by turns aghast, bemused, resigned, analytical and nonchalant in response to reports that Lucasfilm had pumped the brakes on any future Star Wars movies that weren’t either part of the core Saga or the trilogy being developed by Rian Johnson.

That decision was at least in part because, the report said, of the poor box-office performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is destined to retain its title as the lowest grossing film to bear the Star Wars moniker. That misstep was throwing everything up in the air.solo pic 2

The story spread like wildfire because, in large part, it confirmed everyone’s preferred narrative, that Lucasfilm, particularly producer Kathleen Kennedy, couldn’t be trusted with the most holy of cinematic franchises. “See!” everyone shouted, “We told you. Now help me remake The Last Jedi.”

(Note: That last part is not a joke but something that’s actually happening. I can’t even with these people…)

One problem: It’s not at all accurate. 24 hours after that initial report hit, ABC published a statement from Lucasfilm saying things were going just fine and that there were still a number of Star Wars projects, many of them unannounced, that were still moving forward.

In other words, all of that was for nothing.

han solo shurg

There may very well indeed be some reevaluation of plans going on within Lucasfilm. I’m sure, though, that such course corrections are made at regular intervals, just as they likely are at Marvel Studios, Fox, Paramount and other studios, particularly those that manage big franchises.

Those are the same kinds of course corrections and tweaks made by producers of television shows, which makes sense given the modern film franchise operates with a similar model. What do you think the odds are that “Supernatural,” “Buffy” or any other long-running show continued without any sort of change in plans?

han solo odds

What’s astounding to me is that everyone picked up and began wildly speculating on a story based on an anonymous source. Surely someone could have reached out to Lucasfilm to confirm or refute the rumor, right?

No, because that’s not how modern media works. It’s important to remember that these aren’t reporters in most cases, they’re writers. That’s a significant distinction and one that all but guarantees we’ll be going through this again before too long.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Title Branding in An Age of Franchises

In his new book The Big Picture, writer Ben Fritz chronicles how, over the last decade, Hollywood has become less a place of rampant creativity and more one concerned with intellectual property management. The rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the revitalization of Star Wars, the continued presence of the X-Men and more all serve as examples of studios embracing the franchise model, churning out new series installments in a way that will satisfy audiences both foreign and domestic.

While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, most studios have more or less consistently adopted a title format that reads Brand Name: Subtitle. That’s a substantial change from 20 or 30 years ago when most sequels just had a “2” or whatever number slapped on the end of the title to demarcate it as something new.

From an outside perspective it seems as if around 2010 studios realized the numbered installments were working against the goal of encouraging people to turn out, making it seem as if the movies were just another sequel they could skip with nothing identifiably unique about them. By switching to subtitles, the movies are more clearly laid out as something individual and different, like chapter titles that convey the theme of that section while still falling under the larger franchise umbrella.

Still, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Not only do the branding tactics sometimes vary from studio to studio but even within one studio’s release slate you can see different approaches being taken. Here are some key examples as to how this year’s biggest have – or haven’t adhered to that recent conventional wisdom.

Star Wars

star wars logoTo quickly recap, 1977’s Star Wars really was just “Star Wars” when it was originally released and continued to be thus for years. The release of The Empire Strikes Back really introduced the episode numbering to the series, though the three movies of the Original Trilogy were pretty much just known by their episode titles. Things got a bit muddled when the Prequel Trilogy came out and suddenly everything was “Star Wars: Episode # – Chapter Title.”

When Disney relaunched the series it opted to drop the “Episode #” from the title branding but retained the “Star Wars: Chapter Title” format specifically for movies that fit into the Sage, the core stories about the Skywalker family and their allies. Because the studio wanted to expand beyond that constraint it needed some way to differentiate between those movies and everything else that focused on new or ancillary characters. Thus the “Title: A Star Wars Story” branding was adopted that has been featured on 2016’s Rogue One and this summer’s Solo, both of which have more in common with the multimedia Expanded Universe than the central saga.


marvel studios openingDisney/Marvel Studios have tried a little bit of everything with the titles for the 18 movies that have been released in the last 10 years. Let’s look at the studio has taken a number of different approaches to branding the cinematic outings of the heroes:

  • First Movie Named After Character, Sequels Just Numbered: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3
  • First Movie Named After Character, Sequels Just Subtitled: Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok
  • First Movie and Sequels Featuring Character Name and Subtitle: Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War
  • First Movie Named After Character, Sequel Adding Another Character: Ant-Man, Ant-Man and The Wasp
  • First Movie Named After Team, Sequels Just Subtitled: The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War

It’s chaos, but the differing approaches taken don’t seem to be impacting anything. At least they’re consistent within each series and it remains to be seen what system will be in place for sequels to Black Panther, Doctor Strange and other films.


jurassic park logoThere’s been some goofy branding going on with the Jurassic franchise, which this summer gets its fifth installment. The first sequel didn’t use Brand: Subtitle for the title but flipped it for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The third movie then dropped a subtitle altogether for the simply-named Jurassic Park 3.

When the series was restarted a few years ago it was given a new banner with Jurassic World, a brand name that’s now being continued with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Mission: Impossible

mission impossible logoParamount has branded the sequels to the 1996 original in a couple different ways that perhaps reflect how the approach to mindset around labeling has changed over the years.

The first two sequels were simply numbered as Mission: Impossible 2 and Mission: Impossible 3. Pretty clear-cut and understandable, telling the audience exactly what to expect, which is more adventures with Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt. Since the fourth installment, though, the studio has put numbering aside and decided to go with a series of subtitles, first Ghost Protocol, then Rogue Nation and this summer’s Fallout.


x-men logoFox’s mutant-centric series has taken a fast and loose approach to branding, just like Universal’s rampaging dinosaurs. X-Men was followed by X2: X-Men United, then X-Men: The Last Stand, which eschewed numbering completely but which, in 2006, was a bit early when it came to fully adopting the subtitle structure. Things got weird with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, meant to be the first in a series of stand-alone character-centric movies (not unlike the “A Star Wars Story” films) before settling down with X-Men: First Class, which rebooted the franchise.

Interestingly, Fox’s other X franchise – Deadpool – used a straight numbering for its sequel last month. That was somewhat disappointing since up until shortly before release it was still listed as “Untitled Deadpool Sequel” and it would have been great if that had been the actual title.


bondIt’s worth pointing out that the granddaddy of them all, the great ancestor of these franchises, is of course James Bond. That series is over 55 years old but has never utilized the character’s name in any of the titles to its 24 films. While the 25th has just been announced it’s likely this will follow suit.

There are a number of other franchise and series that have applied different tactics when it comes to sequels.

  • Matt Damon’s Bourne series inserted the name of the character into different declarations of intent until the most recent chapter, which just used the name alone.
  • The Rocky series used simple numbering until Sylvester Stallone revived it in 2006 with Rocky Balboa and then turned the focus elsewhere in 2015 with Creed.
  • The Fast and the Furious series has thrown all rules to the wind, using numbers, variations on the title of the original over the years. Of course Universal whiffed on an 83 mph fastball right at the belt by not titling the most recent installment F8 of the Furious.
  • After sticking with the Brand: Subtitle format for a decade, the Transformers series is throwing it to the side for this year’s Bumblebee, which surprisingly doesn’t have any Transformers branding in the title.

The funny thing is, this isn’t even necessary for any other reason than name recognition among the audience. Using the same name at the beginning of the title made a certain amount of sense when movies needed to be arranged on the shelves of Blockbuster Video for easy discovery by someone on a Thursday night. Batman Returns could be right there next to Batman.

Now, though, it’s part of the story of the movie as a whole.

As long as Hollywood sees value in studios being brand overseers as opposed to incubators for original stories it’s likely this kind of thing will continue. The tactics may change but the need for the movies released to bear familiar, easily marketable branding in some manner will certainly remain.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Solo Is Successful…From a Certain Point of View

It’s actually kind of impressive how myopic most all of the commentary around the box-office underperformance of Solo: A Star Wars Story has been. It’s undeniable that the movie has failed to live up to the impressive standard set by the earlier movies, particular with it dropping by 65% in its second weekend.

Still, I find much of the finger-wagging and predictions of doom for the Star Wars franchise to be incredibly ignorant of anything approaching the bigger picture. Commentary seems, after over a week of hot takes, to be running along one or both of two lines:

  1. Disney doesn’t have a plan for Star Wars. This remarkably wrong-headed Phil Owen piece at The Wrap is a good example of that ridiculousness.
  2. Disney’s plan for Star Wars is wrong. There are too many instances of this to count, but most tend to lay the blame for Solo’s box-office at the feet of Rey, Jinn and other female characters introduced since 2015.

Let’s dismiss the second one out of hand, shall we? The first three Star Wars movies released by Disney, all of which featured female heroes much more prominently than those in the past, are among the most financially successful films of all time, not to mention within the Star Wars franchise itself. This is mostly promulgated by overgrown children who are mad the girls have come in and are trying to touch their action figures, not realizing that sexism isn’t cool anymore. Get over it, guys, because if you refuse to accept any growth in the audience you’re going to wind up with a dead franchise. A stronger case could be made the Solo is tanking because it’s swimming against the tide by trying to sell a male anti-hero in an age where people want a full movie about what Qi’ra was up to for those three years between when Han left her and then came back.

As to the first, this is where people show off just how little they’re thinking about the whole playing field, particularly in terms of the modern media world.

Keith Phipps at The Ringer asks why others, including Disney itself, are having such issues recreating the Marvel Cinematic Universe model. It’s a fair question, but only if you are looking solely at the idea of the current definition of “cinematic universe.”

Believe it or not, the concept of shared fictional universes did not leap forth into the world for the first time when Nick Fury offered to tell Tony Stark about The Avengers Initiative 10 years ago. Sequels, spinoffs and similar extensions have been around forever across all media. “Happy Days” was the starting point for an endless number of TV shows, as was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” There are any number of examples.

Star Wars has been at the forefront of that idea for 40+ years now. From the moment Splinter of the Minds Eye was published and the idea that those characters only existed in the stories told on film was punctured the Star Wars universe has done little but expand. There are countless books, audio originals and TV shows that have offered new stories, some of which follow the same core group we see in the films and some that take us down side roads to meet new characters.

The Expanded Universe, as it came to be known, really hit a stride with the 1991 publication of Heir to the Empire, the first novel from author Timothy Zahn in the “Thrawn Trilogy” that picked up years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The books and comics published between then and 2015 have been removed from canon and labeled “Legends” as Disney created a fresh continuity to go with the new films it produced. Characters have reappeared and some events made official, but anything carried over now needed to match with the new official record.

One of the criticisms leveled at Solo is that it makes the Star Wars Universe “feel small” by following characters we already know and trying too hard to segue into other movies. Both Solo and Rogue One basically act as lead-ins to A New Hope to varying degrees.

That might be true, but it’s also true that the overwhelming majority of the original Expanded Universe books and other stories feature additional stories featuring the same couple dozen characters we see featured in the original six movies. Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padme, Darth Vader, Yoda…they’re all over those novels and other media. Even the new canonical stories tend to stick with the familiar, occasionally branching out into side characters like Ahoska, Thrawn and others but still only rarely giving us something wholly new.

While the lens of the storyteller never moves far off the same heroes and villains seen in the movies, it certainly can’t be said that there aren’t plenty of stories to choose from.

And that’s where the position that Disney is going to kill the Star Wars franchise doesn’t have a plan falls apart when you don’t step back several dozen paces to consider that the movies, while certainly big (and expensive) content beats, are just one part of the Star Wars media plan.

Consider that Solo-related content is available now or coming soon to a number of Star Wars video games. Or that Qi’ra will be getting additional stories in the “Forces of Destiny” series of animated shorts. Or that there are more Han/Chewbacca/Lando stories in the Last Shot novel. Or that Beckett is getting his own one-shot comic.

Think about how the Catalyst story gave us more of Jinn Erso’s story. Or that Ahsoka provided the connective material between two cartoon series. Or that Poe Dameron has starred in his own comic for a while now.

Consider how many stories that might be to tell about L3 or Dreydon Voss. Or how there’s likely a lot to explore in Lando’s casual aside that Beckett is the one that killed Aurra Sing.

The possibilities here are endless. And the all start with the movies, taking characters introduced there in new directions and offering either further adventures that happen after the credits have rolled or jump backward to tell earlier stories.

In other words, if you’re thinking only of how the movies impact the movies, you’re missing out on the multimedia potential of the characters and situations featured there.

A while ago I wondered why so few franchises were embracing multimedia storytelling in an age when more and more people are bouncing between YouTube videos and podcasts and other media types. Even Marvel, held up as the gold standard when it comes to building a shared cinematic universe, hasn’t offered that many extensions of the characters and situations seen on film. There are prequel comics here and there that specifically take place in that universe, but nothing ongoing. Even the various Avengers cartoons don’t extend what happens in the movies, though they feature largely the same characters.

Star Wars – both before and after the Disney era – has done multimedia storytelling from the get-go. Sure, some stories aren’t great and some don’t *really* fit together, but that’s alright. Even lesser stories like The Courtship of Princess Leia and Masters of Teras Kasi have wound up at least being referenced later, adding new importance to what were originally seen as largely inessential entries. And let’s not forget that the events of the Prequels in many ways invalidate elements of the Original Trilogy.

The brand and character managers at Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries have always known how to take what’s introduced and offered in the movies and spin those characters and ideas off in different, variably engaging ways. So if you view the success of Solo exclusively from a financial perspective or feel it’s failed in some ways to broaden the universe you’re overlooking how it’s already outgrown the confines of the big screen and will likely continue to do so.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Solo, Black Panther

Solo: A Star Wars Story

A substantial profile of Harrelson here that touches on why he decided to get involved in a big movie like this and how it fits into his overall career.

Screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan talk about working together and how they wanted to stay true to what audiences knew about the title character while also adding new elements to his background.

There’s a lot of Solo-related content coming to various Star Wars video games.

Black Panther

Angela Bassett spoke about working on the movie and what it meant to her as part of THR’s Actress’ Roundtable conversation.

The movie took home the top prize at the recent Golden Trailer Awards.

A Kid Like Jake

Jim Parsons spoke more here about the gender identity issues and other elements of the story. And Claire Danes hit the late-night talk show circuit to talk about the movie.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Solo and the Future of Star Wars (After the Campaign Review)

There’s been a wave recently of writers using the box-office results of Solo: A Star Wars Story as a kind of Rorschach Test for their own personal issues and beliefs regarding the potential future of the Star Wars series. Terms like “franchise fatigue” and “inessential” have been thrown around pretty freely. People have wondered whether opening to $103m domestically in its first weekend is a sign Disney needs to rethink its Star Wars strategy or if the franchise is about to falter. Poor reviews have lead people to speculate on what correct measures need to be taken by the studio to right the ship.

Solo, in case you need a refresher, tells the story of the younger days of the lovable smuggler and scoundrel. Played by Alden Ehrenreich, we start off with him as a hard-living thief on his home planet of Corellia, where he works for a local thug alongside others, including Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Over the course of the story he embraces his destiny as an outlaw, albeit one with a penchant for doing the right thing, even if it costs him in the short term. He meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and Chewbacca along with others who will help shape him into the cocky, boastful pilot we meet in a Tatooine cantina.

Unlike many other recent large-scale movies, Solo delivers more or less exactly what the marketing campaign mounted by Disney/Lucasfilm promised. It’s fast-paced and funny, with a zip in its step that keeps the mood light even when dealing with some heavier topics. Glover steals most scenes he’s in but Ehrenreich really and truly delivers with his take on Han, never trying to do an impersonation of Harrison Ford, who made the character leap off the screen, but working to make him his own and succeeding in doing so.

While I respect and understand the viewpoints of those who didn’t care for the movie for one reason or another, there are some commonalities to the criticism that’s been shared by many people that I feel need to be addressed.

The Movie Feels Cobbled Together

You will never convince me that widely-reported production problems don’t wind up impacting eventual reviews. Critics can claim to be focusing on the finished product, but it would be impossible for them not to be considering the drama that went on behind the scenes. In this case, the replacement of original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller with Ron Howard created a lot of noise, poisoning the well of goodwill the movie would need to draw on. Suddenly it can’t help but be viewed through the lens of the “troubled production.” There is, in other words, a thumb on the critical scale.

solo pic 7

I don’t blame anyone for this point of view, especially since I have it myself. Honestly, though, it didn’t feel any more disjointed in assembly than any other major studio franchise release from the last 10 years. These movies almost always are made by committee, with various producers, editors and executives wanting to have their input counted in the final product. And it certainly is less so than last year’s Justice League, a monstrosity that had all vestiges of coherence stripped from it, though that’s a low bar to clear.

It’s An Inessential Story

OK, but what counts as an “essential” Star Wars story? Does it need to focus on Luke, Leia and Han in order to matter? Does it need to have galaxy-spanning implications? Would it have been better if there had been a giant space laser of some sort that needed to be shut down at all costs?

Much as I did after seeing some of the same issues raised in the wake of 2016’s Rogue One, I maintain that your comfort level with these “smaller” stories depends to some extent on whether or not you’ve dug into the Expanded Universe. Whether we’re talking about the new line of books and comics that have come out since Disney rebooted what is or isn’t canon or those prior to that turning point that are now branded “Legends” titles, those stories were often just like this, with lower stakes, a broad set of vaguely-defined supporting characters and so on.

solo pic 8

Many of these are great stories, but few could make the cut if we really wanted to take a strict approach toward what is or isn’t “essential.” That’s alright, though. We need throwaway stories every now and again, otherwise the stakes just keep getting bigger and bigger and more unrealistic.

Along these lines the question has been asked as to whether we really need Han’s backstory. Well…no. He was fine as a character just as we had him in the Original Trilogy, where we learned very little of his background and history. But since when has “need” been the standard determining which stories are or aren’t told? There’s nothing in Solo that takes away from the enjoyment of the character in the OT and as long as we clear that hurdle we’re fine.

It’s Too Full of Fan Service

This is perhaps my least favorite point of criticism against this or any other movie.

First of all, “fan service” is a terrible term, making it seem like the filmmakers are just throwing in some moment or detail to make some members of the audience turn to their partner and say “I get that reference” or something like that. I don’t believe that’s actually how things work, though “Hey, the fans will like this” is almost certainly a consideration. Also, you can’t spend three months dissecting all the easter eggs in every new trailer or TV spot and then act put out when the movie itself is full of such moments.

solo pic 6

It’s true that Solo hits a lot of “Oh, that’s why he later…” beats. That’s called “establishing the character,” though, and is in the DNA of any flashback or prequel story. But so does the first 10 minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and I defy you to find anyone who doesn’t feel that’s one of the greatest sequences in that series. If that came out now it’s easy to imagine it would be pilloried for making cheap plays on the audience’s emotions as we see Indy get the hat, whip and other accessories he’ll use for decades to come on his adventures.

People Are Tired of Star Wars

Disney *is* taking an awful risk by releasing Solo within six months of The Last Jedi, though there are a number of reasons for that decision. And this *is* the fourth Star Wars movie it’s released inside of three years.

On the other hand, Disney has put out three Marvel Cinematic Universe entries within the last six months and has two more slated for this year, making a total of five in a 12-month window. And you don’t see the same kind of hand-wringing with that franchise that has been a common media narrative around Star Wars since before Rogue One hit theaters.

Looking at numbers, Solo’s $103m opening weekend places it in line with 2014’s Thor: The Dark World ($108m) and higher than Ant-Man ($83m), Thor ($85m) and Captain America: The First Avenger ($92m). Somehow the MCU powered bravely through those setbacks and kept the franchise going, not concerned whether malaise was setting in among the members of the audience but continuing with their plans. That’s worked out pretty well and each one of those movies has had or will have a sequel released.

solo pic 5

Basically the “franchise fatigue” idea seems to be a narrative that’s uniquely applied to Star Wars. It’s tainted a lot of coverage since commentators and critics seem to just be waiting for the first signs of labored breathing in the patient, like an ungrateful child looking for any excuse to send dad to the assisted living facility and get him out of the basement. I don’t mean to imply ill-will, just that there’s a very different conventional wisdom being applied to coverage.

Disney’s Future Plans Are In Doubt

It’s true that Disney’s stock took a bit of a hit in the wake of Solo’s lower-than-projected opening weekend. That’s to be expected when shareholders are disappointed the made-up numbers the studio shares impact the made-up money those shareholders deal in. I think, though, that the company will be fine and certainly, given its history in managing the MCU films through ups and downs, knows how to take the long view of franchise management.

One specific subset of this argument I’ve seen is that specifically it calls into question plans the company has to use Star Wars as a foundation for its upcoming streaming service. The idea, this line of thinking adheres to, is that if a movie like Solo is going to bomb theatrically (which it did not do) then you can’t expect Star Wars content to anchor this service.

solo pic 9

This is an argument I don’t buy at all, though there are some caveats.

The kind of mid-tier space western that is Solo would actually be *perfect* as a streaming original, but the budget would need to be cut at least in half. The $250-300m Solo cost wouldn’t work, but a $125m feature would likely work just fine. This is just the kind of “good enough” movie material that is exactly what Netflix in particular has been aiming to produce and acquire. I’m not saying they could make even that more than once every couple years, but in concept, Solo represents just the kind of add-on stories that you’ll watch because it’s there and it’s entertaining and you can pause it to go get a beer.

So Here’s What I Think Actually Happened

There are elements of truth in all the above points. I’m not dismissing any of them completely. It’s true that:

  • The movie lacks a clear and consistent vision, something both The Last Jedi and Black Panther had in spades. I’d say that’s less a symptom of directorial shuffling than that Ron Howard, for all his many qualities, is not a strong action director. The guy does drama with the best of them, but action isn’t his forte.
  • It is an additional story that’s easily skipped if you only want to devote your time to those stories that bring something new and significant to the universe. The same can be said of many MCU movies, though, especially something like Ant-Man or even Guardians.
  • There is a case to be made that it’s too full of moments specifically designed to create the character as we see him in A New Hope. Again, though, you could make the same case about the flashbacks in The Godfather Part II, this isn’t unique to Solo.

The main issue, though, is simply timing. While there were certainly good reasons for Disney to maintain this release date, it also meant it was competing against itself, with Avengers still eating up a lot of box-office oxygen. Combine that with Deadpool 2 and you have a lot of people who have already used up their moviegoing allowance for the month. Finally the (similarly understandable) tight marketing window means it just didn’t have the kind of time to truly and deeply penetrate the public’s conscious.

Solo is a fun, highly enjoyable movie. Not everyone feels that way and that’s fine. It worked for me, it didn’t for others. That’s how most movies are. When it came down to it, though, the biggest obstacle it faced was just not having the time it needed to make a compelling case to the audience.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Marketing Recap

solo poster 6There’s a line in a TV spot released late in the campaign cycle for Solo: A Star Wars Story that encapsulates something about the character Disney/Lucasfilm is eager to convey to the audience. Off-camera, as we see shots of the Millennium Falcon racing through space, Han Solo simply says “I don’t think I’m ever going to learn.” That, to my mind, represents a fundamental part of the character as he’s appeared not just in movies but also across other books and comics: He’s always not learning the lessons he should, relying instead on his instincts and bluffing his way out any situation he finds himself in.

My recap of the highly-condensed marketing cycle can be found at The Hollywood Reporter, but I’m sharing below some aspects of the campaign not captured there. You can also read more from me about the movie in my earlier post about the way there’s a definite beat to the trailers and TV spots, my long-form thoughts on the reasons the Solo campaign didn’t start until February of this year, and an Adweek column from last month about some unusual choices Disney/Lucasfilm made while running the campaign.

Online and Social

The section on StarWars.com devoted to the movie is filled with information, from a poster gallery to links to relevant posts made on the site’s blog to the Databank entries on the characters in the story. It’s pretty much everything you could want to know about the film and honestly I wish this kind of approach were taken with all movies.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

ESPN ran a co-branded TV spot featuring Chewbacca to promote both the movie and the network’s broadcast of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, a partnership that was extended when Chewbacca himself showed up at a Cavaliers/Celtics game.

Another IMAX spot played like some of the other commercials, complete with Lando tossing Han a pistol in the middle of a gunfight. IMAX also released a promo video that takes a fun, lighthearted look at how Star Wars – specifically the Falcon – has been a constant over the years for audiences of all ages.

With the exception of a photo of the cast in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, the first real publicity came from an Omaze charity campaign that offered fans a chance to visit the set of the movie.

In addition to the movie’s official promotional partners, the movie got a lot of unofficial help on this year’s May the Fourth, the day that’s now become an annual celebration of all things Star Wars. In that way, the movie was unique among the more recent Star Wars movies in that it’s the first one to come out so close to that date.

Of course there were a slew of consumer products offered for all audiences and age groups as well, including Hot Topic exclusive apparel, a Foot Locker collection of apparel and more. The Star Wars: Jedi Challenge mobile AR game got an update letting people play an augmented reality version of holochess right on their phones. There was also the Last Shot novel that expanded on the friendship between Han and Lando. The Battlefront II game got an update with a “Han Solo” season of the game that wasn’t tied specifically to the movie but was part of the overall promotion of the character.

A featurette released a few months out from release offered mini-interviews with Ehrenreich, Howard, Clarke, Glover and others and also showed off new footage. That included moments when Han really got to know Chewie as well as our first look at Han in his early days as an Imperial soldier, something that has to date been the subject of non-cinematic stories.

It also wasn’t surprising when the first clip that was released showed the moment Chewie first sat in the copilot’s seat of the Falcon alongside Han.

It’s unclear who the creator is, but a LEGO version of the (edited) trailer was officially released. Those things are usually confined to fan creations, but this one seems to have corporate approval, making me think it actually comes in some manner from LEGO Group.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately the first real big news was both negative and very odd. Chris Miller and Phil Lord, who had been working on the project for years and were through months of principal photography left with just weeks of shooting remaining, citing creative differences. While directors drop out all the time, to do so this late in production is highly unusual, if not nearly unprecedented, especially for a high-profile like this.

After a day or so of speculation, it was announced Ron Howard would be taking over directorial duties. At that point Howard began a charm offensive, regularly sharing non-spoilery photos from the set and talking about how things were going just fine, thanks. Most of the cast weighed in over the next couple months as Harrelson and Glover in particular commented on the switch but kept emphasizing that it was all for the best and the movie was still firmly on track.

Eventually the name of the movie was revealed and it was just what people expected it to be, which didn’t stop many from reacting badly. But it’s the logical choice and there were lots more danger areas available if Disney or Lucasfilm had tried to get overly clever with the title. That was followed a few months later by a synopsis that offered no story details whatsoever.

Later on Miller and Lord shared some background on why they parted ways with the movie, saying there just wound up being too big a gap between their approach and that of the producers and studio. Glover spoke later about how his experience on the production wasn’t all that changed despite the turmoil and that he enjoyed one of his few recent pure-acting gigs.

Right after the trailer finally hit the movie was given a cover story package in Entertainment Weekly that included lots of new stills as well as an interview with Ehrenreich about what lead him to take on such an iconic role and what challenges he faced, details on how much Ford was involved in providing insights to both Ehrenreich, Howard and others. There were also finally details revealed about what role Waller-Bridge was playing as well as that played by Clarke, an interview with Glover, profiles of the various outlaws in the story and lots more. The story of Howard coming aboard was recounted once more including details of how the switch happened and how George Lucas himself got involved while visiting the set. And some insights were offered as to why the Falcon looks different here than it does when we see it on Tatooine in A New Hope. A special edition magazine collecting all of EW’s Solo-related coverage and more was released later on.

While it wasn’t just about Star Wars, this feature interview with Glover did touch on his taking on the role of Lando and what prompted him to do so. Michael K. Williams, whose role was essentially cut in the transition between directors, continued to speak occasionally about the film and how proud he was to have worked on it, even if that work won’t ultimately be seen.

Everyone was a bit taken aback – and a somewhat skeptical – when it was announced the movie was being scheduled for an out-of-competition at the Cannes Film Festival just days before it hit U.S. theaters, an appearance that included most all of the cast and other big events. More press revealed new images and other small details. Shortly after that Waller-Bridge was interviewed about how she got involved with a Star Wars movie and how she went about delivering a motion-capture performance.

There was a lot to unpack in a substantial Esquire feature profile of Ehrenreich. That included him talking about his own casting and how he worked to live up to the expectations inherent in taking on such an iconic character, the whole director shuffle kerfuffle, the realities behind the “acting coach” rumors and more. This was the actor’s first real big publicity beat in the whole campaign, though why that is can only be speculated on.

Glover later appeared on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” not only taking on the duties of host (including a skit with him as Lando at a conference about black people in space) but also working as the musical guest, dropping not one but two incredible new songs as Childish Gambino. Part of the promotion for that appearance included a reworking of his movie poster to replace “Solo” with “SNL.”

Given the rough start the film got on the publicity front, it was a bit surprising when, a few weeks out from release, tracking numbers indicated it was likely to open with about $160 million in box-office, a start that would mark the highest Memorial Day opening of all time.

In the weeks before the movie came out both Ehrenreich, Glover, Harrelson and other members of the cast hit the talk show circuit to talk about taking on such iconic characters, their history with the franchise, not spoiling story elements and more. There was a cool moment during a bigger “meet the cast” media day where Ford surprised Ehrenreich in the middle of an interview, pulling his “grumpy but really sweet” routine.

Ehrenreich and Glover sat down for a joint interview where they talked about stepping into such iconic roles, their overall experiences in Hollywood and more. There were also additional profiles of Waller-Bridges as well as of Joonas Suotamo, the man inside the Chewbacca costume. Clarke was also interviewed and given the chance to talk about the directorial shakeup and more.

Another interview with Howard had the director talked effusively about the sequence of events that lead up to him taking on the project mid-production and heaping praise upon Miller and Lord, saying they were gracious in working with him to help him ramp up and that if given the opportunity he’d work with them without hesitation. Another later profile touched on many of the same topics and themes.

There were also comments made by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan, the movie’s screenwriters, about how they considered Lando to be pansexual, open to any experience. That’s all well and good, but this is the latest in a current trend of writers talking about how “they consider” characters to be LGBTQ or something without that ever actualy being represented on-screen. Glover, of course, basically said “Well yeah…it’s space” in response to this and talked some more about the production issues. Those issues were summarized in a few pieces like this and took the reader through all the rumors, reports and changes that happened over the last couple years.

Clarke made a couple late night appearances to show off her terrible Wookie voice and so on. She also got a feature spotlight of her own. Marvel announced a comic series focusing on Beckett, the criminal mentor played by Harrelson. A number of marketing sites also put the spotlight on the Solo Cup cross-promotion, adding some nice earned media to the paid media, which was entirely the point of something too-clever-by-half like this campaign.

han dancing


ILM’s Rob Bredow spoke about a number of technology issues, including the use of virtual reality in the making of the movie.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year because Matt Singer at ScreenCrush chronicled his day spent eating the entire movie-themed menu at Denny’s, as did Heather Mason at SyfyWire.

The Chicago Tribune profiles local native Bradford Young about how his upbringing in the city influenced the style and attitude he brought to his work as cinematographer on the movie.  

While it’s not specific to the movie, both The Hollywood Reporter and Film School Rejects use the occasion to talk with Perry King, who gave voice to Han Solo in the NPR-produced radio drama adaptations of all three of the Original Trilogy movies.

A substantial profile of Harrelson here that touches on why he decided to get involved in a big movie like this and how it fits into his overall career.

Screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan talk about working together and how they wanted to stay true to what audiences knew about the title character while also adding new elements to his background.

There’s a lot of Solo-related content coming to various Star Wars video games.

To the surprise of [looks around quickly] literally no one, a Wall Street analyst has blamed the marketing for the movie’s lackluster box-office results. He’s like 27% right, in that the marketing campaign was dictated largely by the release schedule, which was dictated by the other Star Wars movies coming out before and after it.

There’s a trailer for the Solo-related material coming to Star Wars: Battlefront II.

Borys Kit at THR does some digging and gets to the heart of the matter regarding Lucasfilm’s reaction to Solo’s underperformance, offering that while yes, the people there are taking fresh looks at everything there are still non-Saga projects moving forward.

It’s not a big push, but Disney/Lucasfilm are including a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit as seen in the movie to the Star Wars booth at San Diego Comic-Con.

Star Thandie Newton talked more here about the dress she wore to the premiere featuring the faces of the characters of color in the franchise to date.

The “Arrested Development” themed promotional video narrated by Ron Howard won an Emmy.

No Time To Look Back With So Much Star Wars Coming

When speaking to investors a couple days ago, Disney chief Bob Iger revealed the studio was working on not one but “many” Star Wars TV series that would be distributed on its upcoming subscription streaming service. That news came shortly after the announcement the guys currently serving as showrunners on “Game of Thrones” had been tapped to develop a new series of films that are separate from the Saga movies and those coming from Rian Johnson.

Putting aside (at least for now) the fact that the field of Star Wars creatives are overwhelmingly white guys, all of that amounts to a lot of stories from a galaxy far, far away that are coming down the road.

The question of whether or not this is too much remains to be seen. We’re just months away from getting our fourth Star Wars movie in under three years and the franchise is wrapping up the very popular “Rebels” show on Disney XD. Also happening are multiple books for both older and younger readers as well as a multitude of comics series for a variety of audiences.

What I feel like we’re missing most from the “good old days” of Star Wars fandom is time to really live with and reflect on any one thing.

Continue reading “No Time To Look Back With So Much Star Wars Coming”

Picking Up the Spare: Logan, Pitch Perfect 3 and More


Before the movie was released, 20th Century Fox reportedly worked directly with Twitter to analyze fan conversations, sentiment and intent around it, drilling down into very detailed information and using it to gauge the movie’s chances for success.

Pitch Perfect 3

Apparently (and I’m taking some of this with a grain of salt) the U.S. Department of Defense was heavily involved in the production – including script approval – of the movie, which is being slammed as a piece of pro-globalization military propaganda. No one show this writer Top Gun. As I said weeks ago, the marketing *was* kind of weird, particularly in how there was suddenly this espionage caper being tacked onto the franchise, albeit one that flitted in and out of the campaign.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Another very cool set of artistic posters have been released that were given away at select IMAX screenings, each one depicting a pivotal moment from the film.


Another poster has come out for the movie’s wide release (which was just pushed back a week to allow for more word of mouth to build) that puts all the characters against a faded American flag. This one is pretty great and better than the first one largely because it at least comes closer to putting the three main characters on an equal footing.

The Greatest Showman

A couple new posters have come out, including one that presents a very Drew Struzan-esque picture. Seriously, if we’re going to go back to this approach I’m completely on board but let’s give credit where it’s due.

You remember how the marketing for the film couldn’t (at least after the first trailer) keep the characters from singing? That emphasis on the music has helped the soundtrack not only hit #1 on the Billboard charts, but do so two weeks in a row, only the fifth such album in the last decade to score consecutive top slots.

Molly’s Game

Jessica Chastain is hosting “SNL” this weekend, giving the movie a nice additional boost and certainly taking advantage of her position as a supporter of all the women coming forward with stories of sexual harassment and abuse.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The VR adventure based on the movie is coming to virtual reality arcades around the world, allowing players to immerse themselves in a story where they guide and help characters from the film.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

There’s a Reason Solo: A Star Wars Story is Still Coming Out In May

He and Chewie have been in tight scrapes before, but nothing like this.

I’ve written repeatedly in the last couple years about how Disney’s release plan for the Star Wars films, at least those after 2015’s relaunch with The Force Awakens, is executed on a consolidated schedule compared to many other blockbuster franchises. In each case, the marketing for the next movie has to wait until the release window for the previous one is fully closed. So Rogue One’s campaign didn’t begin until The Force Awakens was on home video. The Last Jedi’s didn’t start until Rogue One was on home video.

With each movie coming out in December and the home video release generally happening in May, that’s just a seven month window for the marketing to operate within. That’s unusual in today’s marketplace, where IP-driven franchise films routinely have trailers drop a year or more out from release. It keeps the potential for audience confusion and burnout down, though, since the public only has to focus on one Star Wars movie at a time.

Precedent is about to be broken with this May’s release of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Continue reading “There’s a Reason Solo: A Star Wars Story is Still Coming Out In May”