Between Solo under-performing and The Last Jedi sparking fan outrage, it’s good that the Star Wars franchise is now more divisive than ever.
In 1977, when George Lucas released Star Wars, the sci-fi adventure was never expected to be a hit, much less a global phenomenon. Indeed, Fox had considered the film a minor B-movie effort, while Lucas was so sure it would flop that he planned to go on vacation when the film opened. Of course, the rest is history, but the impact Star Wars has made on the way films are made in Hollywood cannot be downplayed. Star Wars made close to two and a half times the gross of its closest competitor that year, and held onto the title of the highest-grossing film of all time for five years. Alongside Jaws, it helped to birth the summer blockbuster genre and paved the way for decades of change in Hollywood. Star Wars cemented a new truth to the film industry: High-concept family fare franchises were the way to go.
Star Wars is now eight films into its franchise, along with two major cinematic spin-offs as well as an array of TV series, books, video games and much more. Thanks to a much-hyped acquisition by Disney, Star Wars is now part of the expanded universe franchise age it helped to birth, and, as such, it’s required to appeal to the widest demographics possible. For the most part, the investment has been highly worthwhile for Disney, as The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi became two of the highest grossing films ever. However, what was once seen as the safest bet in Hollywood, as well as the most commercially viable property on the market, has seen its fortunes turn somewhat. The box office numbers for Solo: A Star Wars Story were well below early projections, suggesting that fatigue with the franchise may be hitting audiences earlier than Disney had hoped. The release of The Last Jedi saw a small but highly vocal subset of the Star Wars fandom reject the film’s plot and character choices, and kick-started the so-called backlash to the franchise. For a series that is specifically designed to be universally appealing, Star Wars has started to get divisive - and that’s a good thing.
- This Page: Why Star Wars Shouldn't Try To Make Everyone Happy
- Page 2: The Last Jedi Made Star Wars Divisive in the Best Way Possible
Star Wars Doesn’t Need To Play It Safe Anymore
By and large, Star Wars has made itself as appealing to as many people as possible. These are big films that cost a lot of money to make – Solo’s budget was around $250m alone – and reaping back the costs requires reaching every demographic. This is nothing new, and indeed it seems to be the current model of choice with the major studios and their Summer releases. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, has perfected the mold of the PG-13 effects-heavy action-adventure tale that appeals as much to kids as it does adults.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Obviously, it’s been highly successful for many years now, but it’s also something audiences are extremely familiar with - to the point of exhaustion. As demonstrated by franchise hits like Deadpool, there’s great rewards to be found in taking risks with the formula, be it through taking a more adult approach or changing up well-worn tropes. The people at Lucasfilm probably aren’t wild about how disappointing Solo’s numbers were, and while the film was reasonably well received, the major criticisms of it lay in its supposed predictability. For many critics, the film didn’t do anything new with the material, and that worked against its favor.
Star Wars Never Truly Appealed To Everyone
It’s something of a fallacy to claim that Star Wars was a worldwide hit. For one, the original franchise never played in China, and now, as the country’s box office has become the planet’s biggest and most coveted, the series continues to disappoint with that audience. Even with major Chinese stars in its cast, including Donnie Yen, Rogue One didn’t perform as desired in the country, and Solo opened at number three on the weekend box office. The Last Jedi managed to perform strongly internationally without hitting the profits in China that these kinds of films are expected to. Usually, an inability to succeed in the most money-laden movie market on earth would be a bad sign for your franchise, but it could be the boost Star Wars needs going forward.
It would greatly benefit Disney and Lucasfilm alike to just acknowledge that Star Wars is never going to be a big deal in China. As much as they want to make it happen, it probably won’t. While it’s unlikely they’ll totally bypass releases in the country, it could only be a good thing to cut back on the costly nationwide advertising campaigns. There’s no need for Star Wars to be made reliant on a market that doesn’t exist. Disney do well enough in China thanks to Marvel and their own animated films to stop vainly trying to chase success for Star Wars in that particular market. There’s an obvious audience for these films, but it doesn’t have to be the one that experts keep telling the industry is the most necessary part of meeting the profit margins.
Outside of China, audiences and critics alike are asking for something riskier. Even it doesn’t play well to absolutely everyone, there will be passion for those who appreciate the new directions taken. While they’ve given it a pretty solid shot, it’s impossible for any series of films to appeal to everybody, and Lucasfilm would do well to embrace that reality and build on it. In fairness, Star Wars have already delivered on that promise too.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019