A Disturbance In The Force

“Do or do not. There is no try.” -Master Jedi Yoda

The iconic quote from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back sums up the conundrum the Star Wars franchise finds itself in.  For 40 years it was enough to make a Star Wars film, toss it into theaters, and watch people fork over money to see the film. They’d buy soda and popcorn (extra butter, please!), maybe some snowcaps. Then there were the toys.  Oh the toys! Overpriced plastic but so cool and bringing the imaginations of millions of kids to life.

But now a franchise that’s been a touchstone to three generations of fans seems to be running out of fuel faster than Princess Leia’s ship in The Last Jedi.  This week Disney-Lucasfilm decided to pause production on most future installments of the franchise.

We have a feeling that when Disney paid $4.1 billion for the franchise, they never imagined pressing pause.  The financials would almost seem to demand going full steam ahead. Early results were spectacular! The Force Awakens awakened fans worried that the mediocre-at-best Revenge of the Sith would be the final word on the series. The movie is the top grossing movie of all time.

Story time

Then came Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which did well as the first venture outside of the “Episode #” series.  Fans liked getting the back story to the movie that started it all.

It also introduced the “_______: A Star Wars Story” franchise. And this is where things get shaky.  The films are still expensive to produce, but aren’t going to make nearly the money the Episodes make.  But Disney execs must have been drinking too hard at the cantina in Mos Eisley on Tattooine, because they believed they could just fill in the blank, story and characters be damned.

And it all came to a head last month with “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” The movie was cursed from the outset.  The first directors were fired for not sticking to the script. It opened at the peak of summer tent poles, between Avengers and Deadpool. And it came just five months after The Last Jedi, which at best can be described as “a movie.”

When the money was counted, it only made about $83 million opening weekend. To suggest that a Star Wars film would open south of $100 million is apostasy. Yet it happened.

And so Disney took the franchise out of hyperdrive.

A Long Time Ago..

Star Wars is now a franchise surviving on nostalgia.  The series got its start back in the day when Jimmy Carter was in office and $1.25 for a gallon of gas was considered outrageously expensive. Tastes have changed, movies have definitely changed. The original trilogy wrapped in the mid-80s.  When it came back after 16 years later all it had to offer was Galactic C-Span and Jar Jar Binks and only marginally improved for the next two.

And while the first two films of the revival were well received, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi really alienated the fan base. It was riddled with pointless subplots that went nowhere, and the main plot was little more than a slow-speed chase like you’d see any given Wednesday on an LA highway.  New characters weren’t fleshed out, old characters barely had a chance to shine.  And don’t get us started on the fact they killed Leia, then brought her back to life, and will now have to kill her again now that Carrie Fisher has actually died.

But people still hit theaters and dropped cash. But for Solo, with the bad taste of Last Jedi still lingering in their mouths, marginal fans had other things to do and buy. Younger fans aren’t nearly as attached to the franchise as their parents.

And with Incredibles 2 opening with $180 million, Lucasfilm is officially relegated to the third biggest studio at Disney, behind Marvel and Pixar.  This is not a good look for an iconic franchise you paid $4.1 billion.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” -Master Yoda

So what’s next? Episode IX is still in production and will be out for Christmas 2019. But the Obi-Wan and Boba Fett Star Wars Stories are on hold, as is the next trilogy which is set to be written by Game of Thrones alums.

But didn’t we learn all we needed to know about Boba’s origin when we saw him on Kamino with his dad in Attack on the Clones?  And you just know if they went unchecked that producers would eventually make a Jar Jar Binks origin story, proving that the Sith had taken over Hollywood.

It’s likely we’ll go two years without a Star Wars installment after Episode IX comes out next year.  Disney will likely take the time to rethink rollout and marketing strategies.

Hopefully they’ll take time to flesh out new characters and give them compelling narratives. Relevant stories for a new generation.

This comes at a bad time for Disney. In addition to pausing a major investment, it also had to shell out an extra $20 billion to buy part of the FOX catalogue. But that will reunite the Marvel Universe and bring more prestige and cash, so it’ll work out.

But in the meantime, they still have the comics, the TV series, the books, the video games, and, next summer and fall, immersive Star Wars theme parks opening in Disneyland and Disney World.  They’re gonna be just fine.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

A Flameout. The über-strong drink was young Han Solo’s cocktail of choice. It’s super spicy! And it’s also what Disney is trying to avoid with future Star Wars films.

Cheers!

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