Can Disney and Lucasfilm Sustain a Continuing Star Wars Franchise?

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Can Disney and Lucasfilm Sustain a Continuing Star Wars Franchise?

The Weekend Warrior looks at the potential for Lucasfilm and Disney’s long-term Star Wars franchise plans

We’re a little over three months away from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and just a few days away from the release of the first toys from the movie. Everyone of all ages, men and women, both older fans and new, are getting super excited for the return of Luke, Leia and Han Solo, as well as the introduction of a new generation of characters, and so far, Lucasfilm has done a pretty good job keeping things under wraps and just teasing everyone enough which should allow The Force Awakens to be huge. 

A year later, we’ll get the first of the spin-off movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which we know even less about, and then five months after that, we’ll get Rian Johnson’s still untitled Star Wars: Episode VIII. A year after that, we get the second anthology movie based on Han Solo and then Colin Trevorrow’s Episode IX in 2019. Setting that last one aside, that’s four Star Wars franchise movies over the next two-and-a-half years, and as suggested in the title, I wonder whether Disney/Lucasfilm can sustain fan excitement for so many movies, especially once the story began in J.J. Abrams’ movie will come to a conclusion (presumably) in Episode IX?

Basically, that’s the overarching question that encompasses a whole lot of smaller questions—many which we can’t answer right now but ones that we should bear in mind if we want to start looking ahead and beyond The Force Awakens.

At this point, we don’t even know if any of the three actors from the original Star Wars will be around through however many more episodes are done—the idea is to do another trilogy—so will fans like the new characters introduced to follow them through more movies? Will the spin-off movies fare as well considering that they won’t include all the actors they know and love playing the characters?

I’m sure important questions like that have gone through many minds over at Lucasfilm and Disney after the bombshell purchase announcement of October 2012, and we’ve had to wait three full years to see the fruits of that enormous deal.

Obviously, much of the excitement surrounding The Force Awakens will be to see the return of Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca for the first time in 32 years, characters who were sorely lacking from George Lucas’ prequels, which focused more on the origin of Darth Vader while introducing a lot of new characters. And don’t get me wrong: some of these new characters created by J.J. Abrams and the writers look pretty awesome, but the nostalgia factor for a new “Star Wars” trilogy lies fully on getting some of the original cast back despite them all being quite old now.

Nostalgia has proven to be king this summer with the success of Jurassic World and the critical acclaim for George Miller’s return with Mad Max: Fury Road, but it’s just as important to remain faithful to what’s come before, something that Abrams is well aware of. So far, the studios have done just enough to tease the new movies without doing anything to make the cynical older fans feel they need to be cautious at getting too excited or setting expectations too high.

Over the next couple years, Star Wars will also be a merchandising bonanza in terms of everything from comic books to toys of all shapes and sizes as well as all sorts of product tie-ins since few companies will not want their name attached to that of “Star Wars.” It’s going to get crazy especially as we get closer to the holidays both this year and next.

On a box office level, expectations have already proven to be astronomical with one hapless soul already claiming a $300 million weekend for the movie – news is slow right now so who can blame them? The funny thing is that I already have my own prediction for how much I think Star Wars: The Force Awakens will make its opening weekend and also some idea how much it will make at least domestically – I just don’t feel like sharing it just yet. (Put it this way. Jurassic World should enjoy being the #3 highest-grossing movie while it can.)

There are still other things to consider, like how hard it is to do a successful trilogy. Even George Lucas’ prequel trilogy saw diminishing returns even as the quality improved, so there’s a chance that by the time we get to Star Wars: Episode IX, directed by Colin Trevorrow, older fans may have started to lose interest.

Another thing to remember is that over the next four years, Marvel Studios will continue releasing lots of movies as will Warner Bros. based on their DC Comics characters and who knows? Maybe there’ll even be a few new and original ideas in there (but probably not), so moviegoers will have plenty of other things to get excited about besides a new “Star Wars” movie every single year. All it takes is one of those movies not living up to expectations or failing to hit its mark and the backlash will begin.

Hopefully that won’t happen and the franchise is in pretty good hands with Kathleen Kennedy, although even she might admit that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may have been going to that well one time too many. (It still grossed $300 million domestic so clearly, there’s no underestimating fans when it comes to paying out good money to hate on something.)

In the best-case scenario, the spin-offs would do as well as the main trilogy and each successive sequel would make more money than the previous one. That said, we’ve seen countless times with trilogies (other than Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings”) that things just don’t work that way and even Jackson finally returning to Tolkien for “The Hobbit” trilogy showed diminishing returns with each successive film. The new “Star Wars” trilogy falls somewhere between the Lucas and the Jackson prequels, because it should be able to thrive based on the ten years of expectations since the last Star Wars feature film hit theaters, but The Force Awakens really has to deliver on those expectations.

In the comments below, let us know whether you think the new Star Wars franchise and all the side projects will live up to your expectations and whether you think you can remain equally excited in a few years after there have been a number of movies.