Disney is hoping that you’ll really really like the new Star Wars franchise. The first new movie, from director J.J. Abrams, has already started filming and today Disney announced a second standalone movie in the works. The first standalone will be directed by Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards. Now Fantastic Four‘s Josh Trank is taking another standalone film. There’s no word on what (or who) the standalone films will be about but many people have speculated that they will look at the history of some of Star Wars‘ most-beloved characters.
Disney seems to be emulating its Marvel strategy here by teeing up a bunch of franchise films so there’s at least one every year. That strategy has been incredibly successful for the studio so far. Over the past two years Disney’s Marvel films have grossed a total $4 billion at the global box office and the studio is quickly rolling out new films. Later this summer we’ll have Guardians of the Galaxy and then Avengers 2 hits theaters next May.
Will Star Wars follow the same path to the studio’s bottom line? Betting on Star Wars is probably the safest bets you can make in Hollywood but it’s still not a sure thing. The last three Star Wars films did well at the box office but the sequel movies earned less than the first. The Phantom Menace brought in $1 billion at the box office (over multiple releases). Attack of the Clones earned $650 million and Revenge of the Sith brought in $849 million.
Normally, you would expect to see sequels bringing in more money than the original film. The drop off may be due to the fact that the newer movies weren’t universally loved. Many fans saw them as a dilution of the brand that they had become so attached to as kids.
If Star Wars is going to be the kind of money machine Marvel currently is, the films need to be great. If the first movie leaves fans feeling confused and frustrated, it might be hard to get them to stay on board for future films. And it might hurt the chance of creating a new Star Wars juggernaut that reaches into all aspects of Disney’s business (from TV to theme parks to publishing) to create a virtuous money spiral.
Disney executives and J.J. Abrams are definitely aware of this. They’ve assembled a really intriguing cast (which now includes Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Game of Thrones‘ Gwendoline Christie) and are surely handling the Star Wars legacy with kids gloves. Disney reportedly spent big money to lure Harrison Ford back to the franchise.
But the spin-off movies could be on trickier ground. If they tackle the back stories of characters like Lando Calrissian or Boba Fett they risk messing with characters many people have incredibly strong connections to. Again, it will come down to getting the movies right which might mean cutting back on the parliamentary gook that weighed down the last three films and upping the emotions and humor.