Is Star Wars Okay?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters on December 20th but the hype around Disney’s 4 billion dollar franchise just isn’t there, and it hasn’t been for a while now. If you have lived in the media bubble since 2016, you may believe the only objection to the franchise’s direction comes from a shady group of people. If you are outside of the bubble, you are well aware that Disney’s Star Wars has struggled to connect to its audience, to say the least. But why? What happened to Disney’s cash cow that has left fan interest and box office numbers completely subverted?
By now we all know the story surrounding The Last Jedi but the problem goes deeper than one bad film. Sure The Last Jedi made 700 million dollars less than The Force Awakens did in 2015, but that won’t tell you the story. Turmoil has been the mainstay of Kathleen Kennedy’s era at Lucasfilm. Virtually every project she has worked on has led to behind the scenes drama. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars story saw nearly the entire film rewritten and millions were spent on reshoots before the final product was released to a lukewarm response from audiences. Shortly after this, another Star Wars film was met with behind the scenes drama as Phil Miller and Chris Lord were fired as the directors of Solo: A Star Wars Story due to creative clashes with Kathleen Kennedy. This led to another round of massive reshoots as well as talk that Alden Ehrenreich was so miscast as Han Solo, they needed to hire an acting coach during filming for the movie…ouch.
Then came The Last Jedi, a film that definitely divided the fan base under the direction of Rian Johnson. Shortly after this film and hearing about the dysfunction of the Han Solo movie, fans were not hyped about seeing another Star Wars movie going forward leading to Solo bombing at the box office just 6 months later. As Disney was quickly losing the plot of their billion-dollar franchise, the tabloid drama began to dominate the headlines distracting from the bigger picture.
The media began to point the finger at what they described as “Star Wars’ toxic fanbase”. Last year, Fans were blamed for actress Kelly Marie Tran deleted her Instagram account due to harassment despite the fact that Tran herself never stated that as a reason. Some outlets even blame the fans for running Star Wars lead Daisy Ridley off of social media, a narrative that was never confirmed by Ridley herself. As the media focused its anger at the fans, the kingdom of Disney’s Star Wars was falling apart. Solo’s failure lead to multiple Disney’s Star Wars spinoff movies such as Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi to be scrapped or restructured as Disney Plus content. Rian Johnson, who was scheduled to have his own Star Wars trilogy had his plans shelved indefinitely. Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss walked away from plans to create their own trilogy of Star Wars movies. One of the strongest franchises in the world was crumbling in front of our eyes and the series finale hasn’t even premiered yet…that leads us to Rise of The Skywalker.
The last chapter of the Disney era trilogy is ongoing the same behind the scenes turmoil as all the others. From stories of the film’s poor test screenings to director J.J. Abrams struggle to creatively right the ship away from his predecessor Rian Johnson. A struggle so bad that are rumors that the film still isn’t finished weeks before it’s release. Over two years of anger, chaos, and disappointment has lead to pre-order sales of Rise of The Skywalker to be disappointing for the Mouse and early projections have the film being one of the lowest-grossing of the series between Solo and Rogue One.
Is Star Wars Okay? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the final test for this once storied franchise and if it fails, the fallout could be devastating for a studio but more importantly, a once-loyal fanbase. It is hard to imagine a world where we may never get another major Star Wars film in theaters again, but after continued box office disappointments, Disney may look into leaving the big screen altogether. As of this writing, there are no plans for Star Wars films after 2019 as Bob Iger has confirmed. Disney is on a push to reach 60 million subscribers to Disney Plus meaning that everything that was planned for the big screen has now shifted to their streaming service as seen with The Mandalorian. Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy is signed to stay until 2021, however after many projects have fallen apart, it would be difficult to see her remaining following a disappointing Episode 9 performance. If failure is an option, that means Disney will be forced back to square one after burning out the goodwill of a property in just four years.
The outlook is not strong for the company, but what about the fans? The cultural relevance of Star Wars is too big to ever truly die but it is mortally wounded. Ticket sales are down, merchandise sales are down, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge theme park was considered a flop by many, and fans are being blamed for the issues surrounding the films. Disney’s plan was to hook a new generation of fans to their cash cow for the next 40 years just like George Lucas did in the 1970s but that is not happening. Disney can create the largest superhero soap opera the world has ever seen, they can create the happiest place on earth, they can create one of three separate online streaming services, but the one miracle they can’t create is audience buzz for future Star Wars film. Star Wars fans will return out of pure habit to see how the story of Rey and Kylo comes to end, but much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they may view this final film as their curtain call to a once vibrant fandom.