How Disney and Lucasfilm Are Remaking Star Wars in the Image of Marvel Studios
On the day Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, the company wasted no time making it clear what it was buying for $ 4.05 billion, announcing that it had three new Star Wars films in the works be. In a shareholder visit on the day the deal was announced, then CEO Robert Iger explained the company's ambitions: "Our long-term plan is to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years."
Eight years later, it's fair to say that Disney's ambitions for the Star Wars franchise are a lot bigger, with at least 10 different series in the works for Disney Plus. Most were announced last week during the company's Epic Investor Day presentation. The latest on fan favorite character Boba Fett was announced at the end of the teaser after the credits for the season two finale of the first live-action Star Wars television series, The Mandalorian.
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If this sounds familiar, it's because it's a franchise tactic that has been astronomically lucrative in use by Lucasfilm's sibling, Marvel Studios, for over a decade.
It's also Lucasfilm's second attempt to copy it.
At the time Disney bought Lucasfilm, the company was feeling flicker than it had been in years thanks to Marvel Studios, the iconic pop culture brand that Disney acquired in 2009. In May 2012, "The Avengers" debuted with record breaking success, thus redefining the filmmaking franchise and transforming it into a series of creatively interwoven films that were brought together at an unprecedented pace. Two or three Marvel Studios projects open every year. By comparison, Iger's initial prediction for a new Star Wars feature every "two or three years" was as slow as a dewback trampling the sands of Tatooine.
So the company quickly turned around and urged Lucasfilm to release a new Star Wars film each year with a number of unique features set in between the ongoing Skywalker Saga films in the larger Star Wars world. Once that final trilogy was completed, these yearly one-offs could spawn their own sequels and spread Star Wars far beyond anything previously attempted with the franchise. George Lucas made three Star Wars films from 1977 to 1983, then three prequel films 16 years later from 1999 to 2005. Suddenly Disney would double the number of live-action Star Wars films in just six years. With a secondary universe in books, cartoons, and comics developed over decades - just as extensive as the core canon of Marvel Entertainment - the company relied on the Star Wars franchise to be able to build its cinematic footprint so quickly.
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At first the plan seemed to be working: The 2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - about the doomed efforts to secure the Death Star plans - was an unqualified blockbuster that grossed $ 1.06 billion worldwide . The next one-off film, "Solo" from 2018 - the genesis of the young Han Solo, played by the relatively unknown Alden Ehrenriech - opened just five months after "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" and was bombed with 393 million dollars worldwide.
Granted, "Solo" received bad press after Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy fired directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller during production. Follow-up funding from her successor, Ron Howard, has increased the budget to $ 250 million. "Solo" was the first Star Wars film to lose money.
But even if “Solo” had a smooth shoot on a more reasonable budget, the underlying problems were obvious from the start. Unlike the Marvel Studios films, "Solo" didn't really add to any bigger story or shed light on a previously unknown quadrant of the creative Star Wars galaxy. It answered questions - from Han Solo's encounter with Chewbacca to his last name - that the audience didn't necessarily want to know at all. And the most critical thing was to bet on nostalgia for a character synonymous with the actor who played him; As charming as Ehrenreich could be in the role, without Harrison Ford, “Solo” would lack its core attractiveness.
However, instead of viewing "Solo" as an object lesson for future films, Disney pulled out completely and abandoned the entire Star Wars Story business - including the films about Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi - before it even started. The studio imposed a three-year moratorium on Star Wars films after "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" in 2019. In an April 2019 interview with Bloomberg TV, Iger called it, with characteristic discretion, "a pause" and "a little pause" - a rare (if reasonably phrased) glimpse into Disney's strategic thinking outside of the company's quarterly investor reports.
However, the underlying message felt clear: Disney and Lucasfilm had gone too far, too fast. Efforts to marvel at Star Wars were frozen in carbonite, the future of which was uncertain.
It turned out that all Disney needed was a silent warrior and his indescribably cute baby companion. While it was impossible to quantify that Disney Plus was refusing to release the audience numbers, the wild success of "The Mandalorian" proved that the Star Wars franchise could thrive beyond the confines of the Skywalker saga. It was the spark that Lucasfilm needed to hyperdrive the Star Wars franchise.
Many of the new Star Wars series announced for Disney Plus last week revolve around familiar characters: the spin-off films Boba Fett and Obi-Wan were reborn as streaming series; Diego Luna is headlining a "Rogue One" prequel series called "Andor"; Justin Simien ("Dear White People") develops a Lando Calrissian series; and Lucasfilm Animation and Industrial Light and Magic are making an animated series about R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Crucially, Lucasfilm also adopts the full Marvel format by interlocking "The Book of Boba Fett", "Ahsoka" and "Rangers of the New Republic" within the timeline set by "The Mandalorian". All of these series are produced by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, the two characters at Lucasfilm who, even more than Kennedy, come closest to the kind of overarching vision that Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige made so famous. And they will all "culminate in a climatic story event" in the clumsy language of the Disney Investor Day announcement. In other words, Lucasfilm is aiming for its own "Avengers".
The big question now is whether this will all work. After the box office flop for “Solo”, many observers wondered whether Star Wars wasn't as creatively elastic as the Marvel Studios films, which differ greatly in tone and approach - from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” to "Guardians" of the Galaxy "or" Thor "to" Thor: Ragnarok "- and yet somehow share the same core sensitivity. So far, every Star Wars project, whether for film or television, has felt more or less like Star Wars, and there's not much yet to suggest that the new shows will continue to get lost. It's hard to imagine that Lucasfilm would make a Star Wars show nearly as inventive as Marvel's first Disney Plus show, "WandaVision". In the meantime, Feige is developing his own Star Wars film.
In an interview with Variety in October about Pedro Pascal, the star of "The Mandalorian," Favreau, who directed the first two "Iron Man" films, made it clear that he understands the challenges of trying the Expand the scope of Star Wars.
"I learned a lot from my experience at Marvel where it was very organic about how it was going to play out," said Favreau. “They look for larger storylines and characters that might come together, but also smaller stories of individual characters that might go off [on their own]. The key here is to keep the quality and never scale so far that we're out of sight lose what's important to us and what people like about the show. "
Lucas has made no secret of his deeply ambivalent feelings about what has become of his idea. But if Disney can make the Star Wars expansion a success - and if Marvel Studios has proven anything, it is possible - the studio would not only place Star Wars on the same footing as its Marvel counterparts financially, but also live with them Lucas prophecy the day Disney bought his company: "We could do Star Wars for the next 100 years."
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