The Dark Side
The annual “Star Wars Celebration,” Disney’s official convention honoring its film property, is like Christmas for me. I wait all year for it, and usually enjoy every second. I’m not a Star Wars fan by any stretch of the imagination. The movies have never interested me, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. However, some of the most entertaining content I watch all year comes from Star Wars. I’m referring, of course, to the glorious schadenfreude that comes every time Disney botches an announcement about the franchise.
Regardless of your thoughts on George Lucas’ creation, it’s hard to remember an instance of such a valuable property being so badly mismanaged. You know things are bad when a kid from the midwest, with zero interest in either Star Wars or management, has such strong feelings about the matter. Box office returns have been steadily declining, due to some combination of over saturation and rumors of behind-the-scenes drama. The release of a Star Wars movie, once the biggest event in all of pop culture, has become a routine occurrence, almost an afterthought.
Perhaps the most striking misstep is the utter lack of long term vision in place. When Disney released The Force Awakens, it was a critical and commercial triumph. Everyone thought they had laid the foundation for another successful trilogy. However, instead of continuing down the same path, they gave Rian Johnson complete creative control over the next film. He made up his own story, and the resulting Last Jedi received mixed reviews. In an attempt to right the ship, Disney lured JJ Abrams back to direct the third movie in their trilogy, and allowed him to retroactively change the events of The Last Jedi to fit the story he wanted to tell.
It truly blows my mind that they went into production on a trilogy of films without having all three of them planned in advance. Why they didn’t know where they wanted these characters to start and end. It explains a lot about the haphazard storytelling, and fans’ increasingly mixed responses. But the mismanagement certainly doesn’t end there. Of the five Star Wars movies that Disney has made, they’ve fired directors on three of them. That means that 60% of the time, the biggest media company in the world can’t hire the correct director in advance. When you have unlimited money and access to the top talent in the world, there’s no excuse for that.
The best way to rectify fans’ concerns about too many movies with too little focus? More movies, apparently. Disney began development on dozens of spin-off films, including two completely unique trilogies. They seemed to be throwing everything at the wall and hoping something stuck, rather than carefully executing a coherent vision.
Star Wars will always make money, but it could be making so much more. There are very few blue-chip intellectual properties in the world, and Star Wars is easily at the top of the list. Yet it is constantly topped by Marvel, a brand that was going absolutely nowhere when Disney bought it. Yet through careful long-term planning and coherent execution, Kevin Feige and his team made superheroes cool again and turned Marvel into the gold standard for film franchises. The whole situation proves that the best resources can only take you so far. If you aren’t planning in advance, and don’t have a bold long-term vision, your ceiling lowers significantly. Disney has been learning that the hard way.