By Erik Day
Margin Notes is a creative aside from the Quill and Pint group. Writing-related thoughts, editorials and observations are fair game as we explore the context around the narrative.
How much is your opinion worth? As it turns out, about $15: the price of a movie ticket (or a hard-cover book). Whether you're a story-teller, a fan, or just looking for a distraction, your opinion matters. Why? Because you back up your opinion with where you invest your time and money… and your vote counts.
Take "Solo: A Star Wars Story." I did a little informal poll on it a few weeks ago, but the interesting part was the water cooler discussion that bubbled up offline. It turns out that "Solo" is one of the most expensive films ever made. Hold that thought…
Professional critics gave Solo generally good reviews, but it was the folks in the seats that voted with their feet. The picture grossed nearly $400M, but was still considered a box-office bomb. Given those numbers, it seems unbelievable, but that's where the "expensive" literally changes the narrative. Now we're getting into the nature of professional expectations.
Did Solo flop because of Director Ron Howard or the Kasdan writers? No. Based on conversations with dyed-in-the-Tattoine-wool Star Wars fans, that vote was already made before "Solo" ever came out. With some notable exceptions, the online rancor was just as bad as the Rancor Luke dispatched in Jabba's palace. Agree or disagree, those votes matter too.
So how does that work out?
It can really be encapsulated in one case study: a fellow Star Wars fan made his decision to boycott "Solo" after "Episode VIII: The Last Jedi." He wasn't excited about the direction of the franchise after so many low-level, common-sense gaffes. Wait, common sense isn't part of the equation in "Space Opera," right? It's fantasy… In Spaaaaaaace. Who cares if there's little disconnects to the internal logic?
Personally, I was forgiving about dropping bombs in space: that was a nod to the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers pulp-roots of Star Wars. On the other hand, the Case Study's kids thought that was incredibly dumb. Their incredulity represents the votes of an 8 and a 10 year-old and these kids were obviously paying attention in science class.
Good for them!
When it comes to epic science fiction (and merchandizing), though, those kids are important votes. If they lose interest, the parents aren't going shell out another $60 for a ho-hum reception. Disney heard that message loud and clear.
Was it really that bad?
There were parts of Rian Johnson's "Last Jedi" I loved, like turning the rogue hero trope on its ear, but I understood where those kids were coming from. The reality is that the audience problems start even earlier: the will-forever-be-too-soon-to-talk-about part that poisoned the well. You know the part: that scene in "Episode VII: The Force Awakens." Here begins rancor that not even Luke can defeat.
Without saying it… out loud… producers stumbled into a bigger blunder than a land war in Asia: using negative gratuitous sentiment to ratchet up dramatic tension. Now fast-forward from TFA to Solo: remember that sentiment part? Gaffes aren't even part of the equation any more. Fans are now wary of emotional investment in a character, especially one who's end we've already seen. That's "spoilers" on a meta-level (and a whole other conversation).
Seriously. Who thought this was a good idea (outside of Harrison Ford himself)? Not even going into Luke's TLJ "character development" (which ticked off the dad of those two kids), so let's circle back to TFA. From the producer's point of view, that story beat clears the narrative slate for a new wave of heroes and simplifies casting for a franchise that now spans generations – more than four decades – of audiences.
…But that was a beloved character. That was a character into which ticket-buying folk poured emotional investment. That investment was impaled and tossed off a bridge.
Bitter, party of 3 million? Your table is ready.
For Better or Worse: Your Votes, Their Stories...
We can guarantee that Disney is using the Star Wars box office as a lab across their franchises. What do they do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Avengers phase comes to a close?
Sure, there's differences in expectations between comic books and movies, between Star Wars and the MCU, but there are commonalities in human emotion and character investment. That's why there are so many differences between the comic books and movies, even when dealing with the same characters.
What about you? Did you see "Solo"? Why… or why not? Did you like it? Did your favorite character bite Thanos' dust at the end of Infinity War? Do you think they'll come back? As a writer, how much does audience expectation influence your plot? Head over to Facebook, vote in the poll and sound off in the comments.