Three years after Disney's shocking acquisition of Lucasfilm, a little film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the zeitgeist by storm, earning positive critical reviews and gobs of money at the box office. Just about every financial record fell in Episode VII's wake, as the return of the galaxy far, far away brought in a whopping $936.6 million domestically and $2 billion worldwide. It's safe to say it kicked off the new era of Star Wars on film in the best way imaginable, and viewers everywhere are excited to see the franchise continue.
The Mouse House has made it a goal to release a fresh Star Wars installment annually for at least the next handful of years, and this December sees the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A spinoff set before the events of the original film, the movie is obviously a different kind of beast when compared to the continuation of the core Skywalker saga. It sports a roster of (mostly) new characters and narrative wise isn't connected to Force Awakens at all. While it should be a massive hit this holiday season, anyone thinking it can match the performance of Episode VII would be foolish. Fortunately, Disney seems to have the right mindset.
While addressing an audience of investors (hat tip Vulture), Disney CEO Bob Iger stated "We never felt it would do the level that Force Awakens did," referring to the commercial prospects of the forthcoming film. It would be difficult to envision a scenario where any movie could gross that much. Star Wars, of course, is one of pop culture's most recognizable brands and The Force Awakens marked the first time in a decade a new project was coming out. Anything, even next year's Episode VIII, would be hard pressed to reach that level of hype and anticipation. The pre-release buzz for Star Wars 7 was unprecedented and cannot be replicated due to the circumstances.
But just because Star Wars movies are happening more frequently now doesn't mean that interest in the property will greatly diminish (at least for now). Many people are looking forward to Rogue One, and it's topped several most-anticipated lists for 2016. The presence of well-received trailers and the return of famed villain Darth Vader have certainly had a role in this, and some fans are convinced Rogue One will be another worthwhile entry in the series. Even if the word-of-mouth isn't as strong as it was for Force Awakens, it should still do fine at the box office. Divisive works such as Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad raked in large amounts of cash during their respective theatrical runs.
It will be interesting to see what Disney's benchmark for a "successful" Rogue One will be. Will the studio be disappointed if it fails to bring in $1 billion? Certain Marvel films, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man were considered viable even though they didn't reach those heights, but Star Wars will probably be held to a higher standard than an (at the time of release) obscure comic book title. Prior to The Force Awakens, the highest worldwide total for a Star Wars film in its original release was The Phantom Menace's $983.6 million. Revenge of the Sith grossed $848.8 million in 2005, and even the "low" point of Attack of the Clones's $640.9 million was great on a $115 million budget. Anything in that range would most likely be acceptable.
All in all, Rogue One marks a fascinating time in Star Wars history. Disney is banking heavily on the anthology films as part of their master plan, recently receiving a pitch for the third standalone that's due in 2020. Arguably, the Star Wars Story line is more important than the numbered episodes in the long run since they represent an opportunity for the franchise to go off in different directions and play in new genres, instead of sticking to the classic space opera feel. If Rogue One is a hit, then the studio will be in great shape. As long as they don't set expectations too high, all should be fine in the galaxy.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in U.S. theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.