And it begins... No, not prequel comics or Force Friday toy showcases for the next Star Wars release, although those are coming too. The marketing campaign for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story begins in a matter of hours, as Disney and Lucasfilm will air the first Star Wars Anthology's teaser trailer tomorrow morning.
In typical blockbuster franchise fashion, we already have a little teaser of a teaser for Rogue One as Disney self-promotes one of its properties (ABC's Good Morning America), to be followed next week with Marvel's Doctor Strange having its first teaser trailer debut (airing during ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live!) just as The Jungle Book and Captain America: Civil War open in theaters.
Year by year Disney's annual movie release schedule continues solidifying into a structured and familiar, well-oiled, merchandise-friendly machine with each release tying to TV events and vice versa, all promoting each other, or via other Disney-owned properties. From a Pixar movie or two per year, two (and soon three) Marvel Studios releases per year, a Disney animation flick to go along with a live-action retelling of a classic animated fantasy story (The Jungle Book this year and Beauty and the Beast next year), to an Oscar bait late-year serious movie and a sprinkle of Johnny Depp epics. But Star Wars is at the top of the lucrative pile and serves as the anchor of each year.
This is what makes the Anthology experiment as exciting as it is important. It's a way for the Star Wars brand to embrace different styles (John Williams is not scoring Rogue One, for instance) while telling new stories outside of the main saga and keeping the brand top of mind in pop culture in between episode releases.
2015's record-breaking Star Wars: The Force Awakens couldn't have been timed better thanks to its delay from summer to December. It freed up shelf space from Marvel toy lines and animated merchandise for an onslaught of Star Wars collectibles - so much so that the unveiling of these toys got their own worldwide live event. It was huge, and licensing alone earned Disney billions in revenue before Star Wars 7 even opened in theaters. For that reason it's easy to see why Star Wars 8 moved to December, and we wouldn't be surprised to see that become the case every year going forward.
Needless to say, this formula worked last year and Rogue One will do the same. But before we can get to the toys in September (this year's Force Friday event date), casual moviegoers need to know the movie even exists, and in the case of Rogue One, its development has been kept relatively secretive. At last year's Star Wars Celebration event - just over a year ago when Rogue One was announced - director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) revealed basic plot details alongside concept art. From that we knew Rogue One takes place before the events of the original trilogy, following the early Rebellion stealing plans for the Galactic Empire's first Death Star.
We also know from some leaks and other reports that we'll see classic vehicles, weapons, and characters, but alongside the return of the old X-Wings and Stormtroopers, we'll get new ones too. That's the only little bit we get teased in the teaser-for-a-teaser up top. These Stormtroopers seem to be an elite special forces type of soldier, rumored to be called "Death Troopers".
Expect to see a brief look at the stars of Rogue One and emphasis placed on the Death Star in tomorrow's trailer releases. It needs to hit home the nostalgia for fans in the same way The Force Awakens trailers did.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.