So, it’s that day of the year when we celebrate all things Star Wars.
And now that I’ve spent the day teasing my Star Wars-loving work colleague by changing my Skype avatar to the Battlestar Galactica logo, I suppose I’d better actually talk about something vaguely Star Warsian… If that’s even a word?
I’m going to put it out on front street straight away for you…
The best Star Wars has to offer right now is on Disney+.
Yup, I said it.
The Mandalorian is BETTER than the latest saga movies.
Sorry Rey, Finn, Kylo and BB-8, but it’s absolutely true.
With that bold statement made, let’s take a deep dive into the current state of Star Wars, shall we?
While the Saga films have made big money at the box office they were critically a bit of a mess and, consequently, were the victim of diminishing returns.
I’m not making this up, honest!
Check out the global box office numbers for the latest Star Wars films (the Saga movies are bolded)…
• The Force Awakens – $2.068 Billion
• Rogue One – $1.056 Billion
• The Last Jedi – $1.332 Billion
• Solo – $393 Million
• The Rise of Skywalker – $1.074 Billion
Now, to throw that into perspective, let’s take a look at the last few films of the MCU. (In this case, the Avengers tent pole releases are bolded.)
• Avengers: Infinity War – $2.048 Billion
• Ant-Man & The Wasp – $623 Million
• Captain Marvel – $1.129 Billion
• Avengers: Endgame – $2.797 Billion
• Spider-Man: Far From Home – $1.131 Billion
If you think of the Saga films as being the equivalent of the Avengers movies, and the Anthology films being the same as the MCU solo outings, then something is startlingly clear…
Star Wars is trending the wrong way.
Which is surprising considering that both of these mega-franchises are being controlled by the House of the Mouse.
So, what the fuck is going wrong in a galaxy far, far away?
Well, I’m no expert, but I’m going to give you my personal opinion on the whys and wherefores. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments. I love a good debate! And, please…don’t think this is me knocking on the Star Wars films. I LOVE Star Wars. The original trilogy are three of my favorite movies, and Empire is just magnificent.
Also, and apologies to Disney and all the feminists out there, but slave Leia was a fundamental part of a 12-year-old Jon’s sexual awakening. Just saying…
But we probably shouldn’t talk about that…
Let’s concentrate on talking about the issues with the current Star Wars franchise, and the problem is especially stark when you look at two aspects of those lists above.
Let’s start by looking at the smaller movies.
Solo and Ant-Man & The Wasp (hereforth referred to as AM&TW) came out within about 6 weeks of each other in 2018. One featured one of the most iconic movie characters of all time. The other featured a bit player in the MCU.
Jon’s Take – Part 1
Solo took $393M on a $275M budget. That’s a profit of just $118M and you’ve got to imagine that a huge chunk of that was taken up on marketing.
AM&TW took $623M on a rumoured $162M budget. That’s a profit of $461M, almost 4x what Solo made.
AM&TW mopped the floor with Solo, and this is my opinion on why.
I like Solo as a movie. I like the story line, I like the characters, I like the special effects. It’s a fun little adventure with a charming cast…
But…was it a film anyone REALLY wanted?
It boggles my mind how so many seemingly clever people in charge of these huge franchises don’t seem to understand the attraction of their characters. Fundamentally missing the point. (Think Ghostbusters reboot, MIB International, Universal’s Dark Universe… even the DCEU!)
Han Solo works as a character purely because he swoops into Star Wars as a man of some mystery. He’s the perfect counter-point to the innocent Luke Skywalker. He’s a good-hearted cynic, who thinks he’s in it for himself right until he finds out at the end that he’s not.
That’s all we need to know about him.
I didn’t need a Solo backstory movie, and I think perhaps a lot of other people felt the same.
It also came too closely on the heels of The Last Jedi, which was out a mere 5 months before.
You know the problem here?
Money! It’s all about the money. And Marvel.
You’ve got to imagine that this conversation happened somewhere in the Star Wars meeting room at Disney…(and I in turn, imagine it looks like the Emperor’s throne room…but with a big table).
Look at how much money the Marvel branch of the business is earning! WOW!
Well, we could do that!
Hells, yeah! We have the OG mother-effing franchise! We could turn this into a money making machine like the MCU. Piece of cake!
But they have all these solo films. We can’t do a Luke film. Or a Leia film. Or a Han Solo movie. Those actors are too old now to support their own franchise.
Solo films… that gives me an idea! Hear me out… Prequels, baby!
I’m not sure…that’s not a good word to bandy around here…
Okay, fine. We’ll cater to the sensitive little fuckers and call them ‘Anthology’ movies instead. But here’s the twist. We cast new younger actors to play them in their youth!
I don’t know about this…
And what’s more, we ramp up production. Release 2 movies a year. Maybe more! The world’s our oyster! The MCU does it, so why can’t we?
Because we haven’t earned that sort of production yet? Are we sure that our fans would accept that?
Pffffft, of course, they will!
Actually, I’m sorry guys, but I don’t think we will.
So in summary… Too many films in too short a time that included a film that no one was truly excited about. The MCU was smart in plugging these smaller ‘palette cleansing’ films between their ‘tentpole‘ releases. AM&TW was one such film, giving a sense of light relief after the heavy ending of Infinity War. Plus, at this point, the hype train was building off the back of the last Avengers movie and everyone wanted more MCU on the way to the inevitable conclusion coming a year later in Endgame. In contrast, The Last Jedi had split the Star Wars fan base and followed that up with a movie that not many were excited about.
That was a mistake.
Now, let’s take a look at the bigger movies. The ones that ended their respective sagas/phases.
April 26th 2019 and December 20th 2019.
The former broke the all-time box office record. The latter under-performed massively.
So, what went wrong for BB-8 and chums?
Jon’s Take – Part 2
MCU beat Star Wars to the market by 7 months and set a massive precedent.
It took a very skillfully-built franchise run of 21 interconnected movies and capped it spectacularly in a film that completed a number of very emotional story arcs in an incredibly crowd-pleasing manner with more than a dozen moments that make you laugh, cry or fist pump excitedly.
We were invested in these characters. That trinity of IronMan, Cap and Thor were beloved and we all wanted to see how their stories ended.
See that picture above…that’s FROM the film ‘Endgame’. Remember that. It’ll be important later.
The Rise of Skywalker had a daunting mountain to climb to even match that, and in truth…it had no chance. The films before it had already squandered its chances.
The Force Awakens made bank. But was heavily criticized as a re-run of A New Hope. And it was – you can’t avoid the comparisons. But that was kinda okay because after the prequels had disappointed so much, confidence needed to be won back.
The Last Jedi came next and split the fan base. You can count me in the camp of fans who actually liked it. I love the concept that Rey is NOT special. She’s not connected to the Skywalker family and that’s okay. Many other fans did not see it that way, though. The mystery of her heritage had been much debated since The Force Awakens, so for many, this seemed like a huge anticlimax. Plus, if she wasn’t connected to Luke or Leia, then were we supposed to be rooting for Kylo as the lone ‘Skywalker’ in the saga?
Then came Rise. It was kind of dour in tone, and the reveal that left people scratching their heads and mouthing…
JJ Abrams seemed to pick apart all the groundwork had been laid in the previous movie, and the franchise started to stink of something that was NOT a common vision. The MCU had Kevin Feige guiding it and pulling it in one direction… Star Wars seemed all at sea with no true heading.
But the final nail in the coffin of the Skywalker saga was the fact that they wasted their own famous trinity by not having them share the screen together. At no point were Luke, Leia and Han on screen at the same time. And after the sad death of Carrie Fisher prior to the final film, we all knew that it wasn’t going to happen.
To me, it feels, again, like they fundamentally missed the point and failed to understand their audience.
I like Rey, Finn and BB-8. I even begrudgingly like Kylo. And it’s fine to have them in the movies to bring in new fans and a youth movement. But MANY of the fans of those films are an older generation that loved the original trilogy. We wanted to see the end of the story for our old favorites and, to us, that was FAR more important than whatever happened with Rey and Kylo.
After all the hype of having the original trio back onscreen, we were shafted royally.
Remember that image of the Avengers above, being from the movie…
Well, all Star Wars could give us was cool concept art. It was a promise unfulfilled.
And as the film series went on, I think the hardcore old school fans became more and more disenfranchised with the series.
You can see it in the drop in box office performance with each movie.
It was compounded by the fact that Rise couldn’t stick the landing in any way close to the same fashion Endgame did. It was disappointing and the word of mouth was not great, hence the repeat business that had driven the Marvel movie to almost $3 Billion was hard to come by.
Now, there is some good news on the horizon for the Star Wars fan on the street.
First up, the powers-that-be over at Disney have hired Taika Waititi to direct a new Star Wars film. Personally, I think that this is an awesome move. He was a breath of fresh air into the MCU with Thor: Ragnarok, and the SW universe desperately needs a new vision. He’ll bring back the humor too, something this franchise badly needs!
This could be the best thing that’s happened to it in years.
Secondly, there’s a second season of The Mandalorian on the way. If it’s anything like the first season, then we’re truly in for a treat.
Which brings me back to my opening statement.
If you want truly epic Star Wars, then get yourself on Disney+ and watch The Mandalorian. It’s fucking amazing! It has truly awesome moments that give you all those goose-bump feels that Star Wars should.
Plus it has… **SPOILERS**
The writing is clever, the characters compelling and it’s forging its own unique mythos. Yet, it is packed with clever references to the wider mythology both obvious and subtle.
I hope that they decide to do the anthology films as a series on Disney+ instead. It allows a wider canvas to paint on, and if they can be as smart as Mando in their execution, then we’re in for a treat. Fingers crossed!
Hope you had a great May 4th.
Live long and prosper.
P.S. So Say We All!
P.P.S. This is the way!