Disney‘s (NYSE:DIS) Star Wars franchise is on shaky ground. The Mandalorian is a clear hit and a marquee title on Disney+, and anticipation for the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on the streaming service suggests there’s still plenty of life in the property. But notable and frequent failures for the franchise have been piling up, and the pull of the galaxy far, far away appears much weaker than it did just a few years ago.
The company’s theme park push for Star Wars has been a disappointment so far, and the franchise’s next steps on the big screen are unclear amid signs of waning interest and a surprising string of project cancellations. Outside of adding a big asset to Disney’s streaming platform, it’s fair to say that the franchise has been underperforming as of late.
The Fall of the House of Skywalker
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is set to hit theaters on Dec. 20, but hype for the concluding chapter of the sequel trilogy seems surprisingly scarce. “Hype” may not always be easy to quantify, but marketing presence for the film has been shockingly light, and online engagement for the franchise appears to be slipping by some metrics. Google Trends analysis shows that overall search interest in Star Wars has trended downward since the release of The Force Awakens, and search-topic interest in The Rise of Skywalker looks to be substantially lower than either of the previous entries in the sequel trilogy.
While news stories once circulated about Rise of Skywalker potentially outpacing pre-sale tickets for Avengers: Endgame (a movie that grossed $2.8 billion globally), subsequent tracking suggests that Skywalker may have the lowest opening weekend of the new mainline sequel trilogy. Tracking released at the end of November suggested the film will open between $175 million and $200 million, and a report published at Deadline described the ticket pre-sales for the film as “strong, but not overly robust.” For comparison, TheForce Awakens delivered a $248 million opening weekend in 2015, and The Last Jedi recorded a $220 million opening in 2017.
Episode IX will very likely pass the billion-dollar mark at the box office, but reception for recent entries in the series and signs of weaker demand for the next theatrical release suggest that some of the franchise’s potential has been squandered. When Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, it wasn’t just buying a famed production studio and the hugely successful Star Wars property. It was buying access to the largest, most devoted, and most engaged fan base in movie history.
The franchise’s prequel trilogy attracted no shortage of criticism, but recent entries in the franchise appear to have alienated many hardcore fans with their treatment of classic characters. The Last Jedi has an audience approval score of just 43% on review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, and criticism of the film from series leads including Mark Hamill and John Boyega suggests the picture was controversial even in the internal world of Lucasfilm productions.
It’s worth keeping in mind that user scores are subject to manipulation from both impassioned detractors and supporters. However, it also seems clear that Episode VIII was a divisive series installment that caused disappointment with its portrayal of Luke Skywalker and other legacy characters, a reappraisal of the setup presented in The Force Awakens, and reduced affection for the franchise’s new batch of heroes.
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