Three years after the franchise returned with force in 2015, Disney is giving the Star Wars franchise a break - and that's a very good thing. There's no D23 expo this year, Star Wars Celebration is skipping 2018, and Lucasfilm isn't doing anything at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. After four years of nonstop Star Wars releases, it's a grinding halt.
Star Wars will still be there, of course. New TV show Star Wars Resistance premieres in the Fall and there's Galaxy's Edge at Disneyworld rolling forward, but in terms of major events there's nothing of the scale audiences have become accustomed to until Star Wars 9 in December 2019.
In the wake of Solo: A Star Wars Story and its box office failure, this may appear like Disney's just running off to lick its wounds. However, while it's definitely offering an opportunity to address key issues (such as Solo's poor marketing), there are more detailed reasons why this is a good move.
The Last Two Star Wars Movies Have Split The Fan Base
The last two Star Wars movies have proved to be fairly controversial. Star Wars: The Last Jedi grossed over $1.3 billion at the global box office and was adored by critics, but the Star Wars fanbase was left deeply divided. Rian Johnson's smart, subversive approach to the franchise simply wasn't what many old-school Star Wars fans had expected: its irreverent tone contrasted with the wider franchise, and a number of plot twists were perceived as unsatisfactory. Luke Skywalker's portrayal proved to be especially divisive; even Mark Hamill admitted he was initially wary. While the controversy clearly didn't affect the film's performance all that much, it nevertheless had a big impact on the discourse.
Then there's Solo: A Star Wars Story, which has become the franchise's first flop. Behind-the-scenes drama had given the film bad press, and a lackluster marketing campaign failed to persuade fans to care. Making matters worse, it was scheduled to release on Memorial Day, a weekend now viewed as dangerous for any would-be blockbuster.
For the first time since Disney's purchase, the buzz around Star Wars is veering strongly negative. The Last Jedi divided fans and Solo - while a perfectly good film - has simply failed to perform. A period of quiet reflection could easily allow this to die down.
Star Wars Fatigue Is Closing In
Looking beyond the films, there's other evidence Star Wars could be suffering from a degree of fatigue. Star Wars merchandise has been a big business since 1977, yet recently sales are dropping. Despite a range of innovations, including Hasbro's Force Link technology, Star Wars sales were down in 2017. Blame has been placed on The Last Jedi, which failed to introduce compelling new characters. Rose Tico, DJ, and Admiral Holdo failed to resonate; meanwhile, costume designs for characters like Poe Dameron and Rey were too similar to those sported in The Force Awakens, meaning collectors showed little interest. Action figures related to Solo, on the other hand, felt uninspiring, and the film's poor box office performance is sure to have left children and collectors alike disinterested in the figures.
Matters are made even more difficult by a shakeup in the retail environment, with Toys 'R' Us - which comprised about 15% of the market - closing down. This takes out one of the franchise's biggest retailers, and is sure to make a further dent in 2018's sales. Disney is smart to take a break, and will no doubt be carefully assessing what happens to the market over the next few months. This would then allow Lucasfilm to launch a reinvigorated merchandise campaign next year.
Star Wars isn't dying, but it's not in the same high state it was just a year or so ago. The films have inevitably become less of an "event," and so they're risking being just another would-be blockbuster competing in a highly competitive environment. The young Han Solo movie was generally believed to be a test at whether or not Lucasfilm could shift to releasing two films a year; instead, it looks as though the gap between Solo and Star Wars 9 is a much-needed chance for the franchise to regroup - and that entire strategy may need to be reassessed.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019