Is Star Wars in Real Trouble?

Disney’s new streaming service is expected to launch next year and all indicators point to it relying heavily on content from a galaxy far, far away to drive subscriptions.  We all know that Episode 8: The Last Jedi was, to put it mildly, controversial, and the latest installment of the series, Solo: A Star Wars Story, crashed and burned like a Tie Fighter navigating an asteroid field.  But Star Wars has been a powerhouse franchise for over 40 years, can it really be in any kind of serious trouble?  Here’s 3 reasons why it is:

(Spoilers for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi to follow)

Lack of Creative Focus and Direction

  • The new episodic installments, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, were helmed by two different writers and directors, with no pre-established outline and this led to a severe case of narrative whiplash from one movie to the next.  Will Luke’s reaction to his lightsaber being returned to him pay off on the dramatic cliffhanger from TFA?  Nope.  How much more will we learn about the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke?  Nothing.  Who are Rey’s parents?  Who cares?
  • With everyone’s expectations famously ‘subverted’, what are audiences left to speculate about between movies?  So much of fandom is the buzz and discussion that occurs between installments.  With very little to speculate upon because you are now assuming your expectations will be subverted, the fan produced content that would normally be occupied by theorizing and discussion is instead full of divisive rancor (not that kind) and industry gossip about the future of Lucasfilm executives.

Nostalgia is Not a Renewable Resource

  • Han Solo is dead.  Luke Skywalker is dead.  Even Leia, who shouldn’t be dead, sadly is as well, and won’t be returning aside from a few previously filmed clips.  The new trilogy has already chewed up and spit out the most iconic characters from the beloved original trilogy over the course of only 2 episodes.  We now know how these characters’ stories end and if a fan isn’t particularly taken with the new cast, then there is really nothing left for them in Episode 9.  Worse, for Disney, their attempt to go back and look at these characters using new actors and new stories failed miserably with Solo: A Star Wars Story and even the announcement of a Boba Fett standalone movie couldn’t generate the excitement it would have at an earlier date.
  • The incredible box-office performance of The Force Awakens was mostly built on the 32 year pent-up demand for a well-received Star Wars movie.  You only get to go to that well once, and now with movies in the franchise coming out every year, the anticipation for each episode dwindles more and more.  Star Wars films are all very similar to each other, unlike the Marvel movies which differ quite a lot in the stories they tell and their tone, just look at Avengers: Infinity War in comparison to Thor: Ragnarok.  A Marvel-esque schedule doesn’t fit in a galaxy, far, far away.

Star Wars is No Longer Too Big to Fail

  • China is the single most important market today in the race for Box Office dollars and Star Wars is a non-entity there.  In a humiliating turn, The Last Jedi in its opening weekend in China, finished 2nd to The Ex Files 3: Return of the Exes which was in its second weekend.  You read that right.  The latest episode of the Star Wars saga finished behind the second sequel to a romantic comedy that is literally titled as a satire of Return of the Jedi.  Solo’s performance was even worse. In 2018, if your movie can’t perform in the Asian market, it can no longer be considered the top dog.
  • And speaking of being the top dog, the mantle of industry behemoth has clearly passed from Lucasfilm to its fellow Disney property, Marvel Studios.  Marvel’s movies are consistently grossing more at the box office now, and worse for Star Wars are capturing the imagination of this generation’s youth.  Sadly, not only is Star Wars no longer the most important franchise in the industry, but no longer the most important in its own company.

Can anything be done about this decline?  Sadly, it’s doubtful.  It’s too late to course correct the sequel trilogy and with J.J. Abrams returning to write and direct Episode 9, more whiplash is likely.  Somehow resurrecting the original beloved characters is either impossible, with Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford not able or willing to return, or in the case of Luke Skywalker, would come off as desperate and craven.  And the structural problems the franchise has in China as well as it’s second banana status at Disney doesn’t seem likely to change.  I suppose, what we can do is now accept that Star Wars is a movie series like any other and simply enjoy it as such.  The last hope for the franchise may very well be the Jon Favreau helmed series on the streaming service.  Will the heroes of Star Wars make their most important escape, not from Hoth, but from the big screen to your televisions and tablets?

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