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Will “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” rebalance Disney’s universe?

by Ace Damon
Will “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” rebalance Disney’s universe?

THIS WEEK “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will dominate the global box office and will likely delight fans across the galaxy. However, the "Star Wars" franchise has not been the success story of its owner, Disney, as another blockbuster factory, the Marvel Film Universe, which this year produced the highest grossing movie of all time, "Avengers: Endgame". It's worth telling the story of why, because hitting "Star Wars" would boost Disney's long-term ambitions in its business, from toys and theme parks to its latest venture, television broadcasting.

True, Disney's "Star Wars" returns would be the envy of any Hollywood studio. Disney acquired franchise owner Lucasfilm from creator George Lucas for $ 4.1 billion in 2012. The four "Star Wars" films it has since produced grossed nearly $ 5 billion in ticket sales. . Disney has also made billions in merchandise sales, theme park passes and promotional calls. He created a live action television series "Star Wars", "The Mandalorian", to launch his new streaming service, Disney +.

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But unlike Marvel movies, which have generally grown more successfully with each chapter, Disney's "Star Wars" trajectory has been difficult. The first installment of the new Skywalker trilogy, "The Force Awakens", released in 2015, grossed $ 2.1 billion at the box office (the third largest total in history) and a staggering $ 780 million in profit. But the second, "The Last Jedi," earned 36% less at the box office (and was about half as profitable, industry sources say). And while Disney's first "Star Wars" movie, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," was the second highest grossing movie of 2016, the second, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" , released two years later, reportedly lost $ 77 million (the first "Star Wars" movie to lose money). Toy sales have also fallen since 2015; Hasbro attributed a drop in sales in 2017 to weaker "Star Wars" trade than expected.

The downward path continued. "Galaxy's Edge", a theme park attraction that was under construction a few years ago, failed to attract the expected crowds, a rare shortcoming for Disney. And following the failure of "Solo," Bob Iger, the company's chief executive, announced a hiatus in "Star Wars" movies after "The Rise of Skywalker" completes the trilogy. Iger said the company acted too quickly in producing "Star Wars" movies; After "The Rise of Skywalker", there will no longer be a theatrical release of "Star Wars" for at least three years and possibly more.

Marvel's Film Universe, on the other hand, has been an increasingly reliable cash machine since its first film, "Iron Man," appeared in 2008. Only one of the sequels failed to beat its predecessor at the box office. And Marvel is speeding up production: in 2019, it released three films; in 2021 it will launch four. Why didn't "Star Wars" go so well?

One reason is poor administration. Iger said Disney tried to do too quickly. In the five films made so far (including "Rise of Skywalker"), five directors have been fired or replaced. Two of the photos required expensive remakes. At least two films were postponed six months after the initial release date. A trilogy planned by Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, appears to have been archived. Another set of three from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss was canceled in October (although this was partly attributed to the decision to sign a lucrative development deal with Netflix). Marvel's Film Universe, by contrast, has been carefully planned years in advance over the past decade. There were no such redos.

Another possible reason is that "Star Wars" did not travel as well as Marvel's superhero films. China, now the world's second largest movie market, has proved especially difficult terrain. The first three Star Wars films, released between 1977 and 1983, were not shown in Chinese theaters. The prequel trilogy, which lasted from 1999 to 2005, was released before the cinema boom in China. As a result, the first real exposure of the Chinese public to "Star Wars" in the cinema was "The Force Awakens", the seventh entry in the Skywalker saga. By then, mythology had become quite complex (and the original heroes very old). Disney's spinoff movies were also prequels of the 1977 movie.

Marvel's Film Universe, meanwhile, came about when Chinese film business was taking off. "Avengers: Endgame" received $ 660 million in ticket sales in China in 2019, making it the fourth most successful movie in China's history. He also outperformed the previous Avengers movie, "War of Infinity," by 77 percent. "The Force Awakens" earned only $ 125 million in ticket sales, and each subsequent "Star Wars" movie earned less. "Solo" bombed in China, as it did elsewhere, raising only $ 16 million.

However, there is still a lot of hope for the franchise. With its new films, Disney has made a concerted effort to bring more diversity to the "Star Wars" universe. The ostensible hero of the franchise is now a woman. Her co-stars are black, Guatemalan Americans, and Vietnamese Americans. The core of these films – the tension and conflict between warrior Jedi Rey and the evil aspirant Sith Kylo Ren – is a compelling human drama. "The Mandalorian" also showed that Star Wars can tell much smaller stories than good and evil throughout the galaxy, as well as stories that aren't about the Skywalker family. A supporting character on the show, "Baby Yoda" (nicknamed the audience), is one of Google's most searched terms in America of 2019 – even though it didn't appear on screen until November.

As Yoda can tell, a bright future, Disney can still see. Disney +, the streaming service, lets you establish a direct relationship with "Star Wars" fans, making sudden hits like "Baby Yoda" more valuable than in an earlier era. It introduces more young viewers to the "Star Wars" universe (they can watch the other Disney + movies), plus toys, theme parks and the rest of Disney's products. And Disney + can also introduce fans to all of their content, including Marvel and Pixar movies and the animated classics, "Star Wars."

But a brief break in production, as Mr. Iger announced, is probably wise. Disney and Lucasfilm can learn from the "Star Wars" movies they have done so far, devote time to plotting new stories and revitalizing the franchise. The audience will still be there. There is a popular saying that "no one hates" Star Wars "more than" Star Wars "fans. With this kind of passion, the Force must remain strong with Disney for a long time.

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