With the release of “#StarWars IX: #TheRiseOfSkywalker” just under 3 months away, we have noticed some troubling indicators with regard to the overall interest in the “Star Wars” franchise with both fans and the wider public at large.
Since The Walt #Disney Company purchased the “Star Wars” franchise from its creator George Lucas in late 2012 (the purchase announcement was made on Oct. 30, 2012 with the final acquisition occurring on Dec. 21, 2012), #LucasFilm became a subsidiary of Disney, similar to Marvel Comics, which was acquired by Disney in 2009.
First Blows to the “Star Wars” Fandom in 2013
Disney Kills the Highly Anticipated “Star Wars 1313” Video Game and the LucasArts Company
18 months prior to the announcement about Disney buying “Star Wars”, #LucasArts (which was then a subsidiary of LucasFilm) had announced on April 26, 2011, that it had acquired a license from “Epic Games” to develop a number of future video game titles using the “Unreal Engine 3” for a number of platforms. This was to include their development of a new video game entitled “Star Wars #1313”, which was to have been an action-adventure about a bounty hunter navigating Coruscant’s subterranean level 1313 underworld. LucasArts had trademarked the name “Star Wars 1313” in May, 2012; and the first official public announcement about the game came in early June, 2012 at E3 2012, with Spike TV broadcasting a sneak peek on June 4, 2012 that showed exclusive gameplay footage.
Thus, with video game enthusiasts and “Star Wars” fans greatly looking forward to playing “Star Wars 1313”, the first signs of trouble came on March 1, 2013 when it was reported that the game had been “on hold” ever since Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, but a LucasArts representative reported that “Star Wars 1313” was continuing production. Then, on April 3, 2013, it was announced that Disney had ceased internal development at LucasArts and laid off its staff, except for a skeleton crew of less than 10 employees that would allow LucasArts to remain open as a licensor.
As a result, all projects were shut down, including “Star Wars 1313”. A Lucasfilm representative stated, “After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization.”
Thus, with a single pen stroke at Disney, the highly anticipated video game “Star Wars 1313” was no more and 150 staff members at LucasArts lost their jobs. The closure of LucasArts itself was also not well received due to its long history of producing quality video games, including “Star Wars” video games.
More Blows to the Fandom in 2014
Birth of the EU (The Expanded Universe) in 1977
A longstanding part of the “Star Wars” universe that was not the direct creation of George Lucas became known as the #ExpandedUniverse, or #EU. The first entry into the EU was published in October, 1977 with the story “The Keeper’s World”, in Marvel Comics’ #Pizzazz magazine. The 2nd entry came in February, 1978 with the publication of the first “Star Wars” spin-off novel, “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” by Alan Dean Foster. The novel drew inspiration primarily from an early draft of the original “Star Wars” script. Although George Lucas’s name is on the cover of the original “Star Wars” novelization, Alan Dean Foster ghostwrote it.
In the 1993 book “Monsters and Aliens from George Lucas” written by Carrau, George Lucas wrote the following in the book’s foreward:
“Over the years, many artists and designers have contributed to the articulation of the various universes of Lucasfilm. Taking their cues from the minimal words of description on a script page, these talented men and women have sketched, drawn and/or modeled creatures of magnificent breadth, unimaginable terror, and mind-boggling eccentricity. Some of these creatures have made it into film, while others, because of the way stories unravel, have not (so far). But this does not mean they do not exist. For once something is created, no matter what the context, it takes on a life of its own.”
In 1991, Dark Horse Comics acquired the “Star Wars” license previously owned by Marvel and used it to launch a number of ambitious sequels to the original trilogy, which began with the popular “Dark Empire” series. At around the same time, Bantam Spectra published Timothy Zahn’s “The Thrawn Trilogy”, which were widely publicized as the “sequels which were never made”. They reignited the “Star Wars” fandom and sparked a revolution in “Star Wars” literature.
All this development began to feed back and reference itself and create cross-connections. West End Games (which had been producing “Star Wars” roleplaying games since 1987) produced roleplaying supplements based upon Dark Horse’s comics and Zahn’s novels. Novelists and comic creators used West End Games’ supplements as reference material. Sequels to the novels were being published as comics and vice versa, and the scope of the EU grew at a prodigious rate.
The bulk of the EU had detailed the “Star Wars” universe after the end of “Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi” because George Lucas had declared a number of topics to be off-limits for EU development, including the rise of the Galactic Empire, the personal histories of Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine, and the Clone Wars, prior to the development of his prequel trilogy and related material.
In the late 1990’s, “Star Wars: The New Jedi Order” (or NJO for short), which is a multi-author book series that was published by “Del Rey” between 1999 and 2003, was a collaborative effort conceived by representatives of “Del Rey”, LucasFilm, and “Dark Horse Comics” during meetings at Skywalker Ranch in 1997 and 1998. It consists of nineteen novels, three eBook novellas, and three short stories contributed by twelve authors in total. The NJO is a chronological storyline covering a four-year span of galactic history, beginning twenty-one years after the events of “Return of the Jedi” and telling the story of an invasion of the galaxy by a race of extra-galactic religious zealots known as the Yuuzhan Vong.
In addition to adding new possibilities that the prequel film trilogy offered, it contradicted a number of statements involving the Clone Wars in existing novels, including dates for the Clone Wars given in Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy”. This was retconned by explaining that the dates were given using alternate calendars.
Death of the EU (The Expanded Universe) by Disney
To the chagrin of most fans, the much-beloved EU (which had coexisted with George Lucas’ “Star Wars” since 1977) was effectively destroyed by Disney on April 24, 2014, when LucasFilm announced that the EU was being relegated and reorganized under the new non-canon “Star Wars Legends” banner to make way for a new line of continuity, led by the animated series “Star Wars Rebels” and the then in-development “Star Wars” sequel trilogy. Some new “Legends” material has since been released, but only the six original films and the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” movie and animated series would continue forward as being canon.
10 of the Things in the EU that Disney Erased
The following is a list of 10 things that Disney erased from “Star Wars” canon with their killing off of the EU as presented by ScreenRant:
- Nearly All of “Knights of the Old Republic” (video games)
- Mara Jade (Luke’s wife in the EU)
- The original Skywalker/Solo Family
- “The Force Unleashed” (video games)
- The original Emmy Award-winning Tartakovsky “Star Wars Clone Wars” (2003-2005 animated series)
- “Shadows of the Empire”, a multimedia project release by LucasFilm in 1996
- “The Ewok Adventures”, several made-for-TV films
- The Yuuzhan Vong
- The fate of Boba Fett
- Most of Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy”
2015: “The Force Awakens'” Monetary Success Leading to Unrealistic Expectations
While no one can argue that “Star Wars VII: #TheForceAwakens” was a massively successful monetary success for Disney & LucasFilm, that success also lead to some unrealistic expectations, not just for fans, but for Disney too.
While overall fan feedback for “The Force Awakens” was overwhelmingly positive, it’s very clear retrospectively that fans’ expectations for the next film would be equally high. This was actually a very dangerous position for Disney and LucasFilm to be in and given that they too were more than likely having their own unrealistic expectations regarding the success of the franchises’ next chapters, they were totally blindsided when the reaction to the next film would come in 2017. Let’s examine some of the lasting impacts from “The Force Awakens”.
- While most fans weren’t initially bothered by J.J. Abrams’ copying much of much of the plot from “Star Wars IV: A New Hope” for “The Force Awakens”, it’s clear that some fans began to re-examine their initial reactions once they realized this fact.
- While fans were overwhelmed to see Han Solo on screen again and while his death in the film wasn’t necessarily a surprise, the fact that he had backslid from being a Rebel Alliance General who helped defeat the Empire to being a lowly smuggler again was essentially a complete reversal of the growth that the character had over the course of the original trilogy. This fact has become increasingly understood since time has passed. And, sadly, this was a taste of things to come for the next film’s disappointments.
- Adding to the hype that was being built for the next film in the series were the unanswered questions that were created by “The Force Awakens”:
- Who are Rey’s parents?
- Where did Snoke come from?
- Why did Luke run away?
- What happened between Luke and Kylo Ren beforehand?
After seeing “The Force Awakens”, many fans did their own theorizing about the film’s unanswered questions & cliffhangers, which only added to the hype leading to the next installment that wouldn’t happen for another 2 years.
Mishandling fans’ expectations could have dire consequences for LucasFilm and Disney and it seems unlikely that Disney or LucasFilm appreciated or recognized this fact moving forward.
2016: “Rogue One’s” Success, Adding to Disney’s Unrealistic Expectations
Still riding on the wave of success from “The Force Awakens” a year earlier, Disney & LucasFilm had more reasons to celebrate with the financial success and overall positive response from fans for “#RogueOne: A Star Wars Story”. Set before the events of “Star Wars IV: A New Hope”, the film’s nostalgic look back at the Empire and the events that lead to the Rebel Alliance acquiring the plans to the Death Star, while not an entirely positive story, was still a hit with fans.
Naturally, this lead to Disney and LucasFilm execs believing that both the sequel trilogy and planned one-off films were all destined to be successful, but fans were still wondering about what was going to happen in “Star Wars VIII”, which they would know one year from time time that “Rogue One” was released. Expectations and excitement were still high.
2017’s “The Last Jedi”: The Turning-Point for the “Star Wars” Franchise… for the Worse
When “Star Wars” fans eagerly walked into theaters in December, 2017 to see “Star Wars VIII: #TheLastJedi”, the excitement and eagerness was palpable. Most couldn’t wait to find out who Snoke was, who Rey’s parents were and the stories behind Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. Surely this film would answer these questions and surely it would be as fantastic and crowd-pleasing as “The Force Awakens” had been 2 years prior.
But, that’s not how things turned out.
When fans exited theaters in 2015 after seeing “The Force Awakens” for the first time, there was cheering and applauds. People were excited. When fans exited theaters in 2017 after seeing “The Last Jedi”, there was silence. People were bewildered and some were shocked by what they had just seen.
What happened? Well, Rian Johnson, the film’s director and principal writer, hadn’t seen things quite the way J.J. Abrams or even George Lucas did in the original movies. No, Rian Johnson had decided that the franchise was stale and that he needed to push the “Star Wars” story into a new direction, a direction that he had come up with by (as far as we know) all by himself. There is no evidence that he consulted with anyone. He just went headlong into his own take on the franchise with the blessings of Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, the head of LucasFilm.
What was Rian Johnson’s take? Destroy everything that preceded his personal vision of “Star Wars”. Luke Skywalker, instead of finding answers to what went wrong, had gone into hiding to bemoan not only his own decisions & actions, but to conclude that the Jedi Order itself needed to die. His time was spent milking blue milk from enormous sea creatures while his X-Wing fighter sat deep in the waters next to the island. Aside from the caretakers who also resided on the island to look over the first Jedi Temple, Luke was alone and had concluded that everything that he had previously done was for not. In other words, what was the point of everything that had occurred during the original trilogy or even the prequels? Luke blamed the Jedi Order for failing to recognize the dark side and Darth Sidious and for that reason, they had to die, as well as to ensure that the Force wouldn’t try to create yet another ultimate dark sider.
But, Rian Johnson didn’t stop there. His use of unusually timed humor during what were very intense and serious moments effectively removed the seriousness of those situations. Prime example: at the start of the film, Hux is preparing to destroy the Resistance base on the planet below. Poe flies out in a single fighter and then starts a corny dialog between himself and Hux. It was poorly timed humor. Then, there were the Resistance’s space bombers “dropping” bombs on a large First Order Dreadnought ship. How do you “drop” bombs in outer space where there’s no significant gravity? This made no sense, nor did the overly melodramatic bomber pilot trying to reach her remote control to drop the bombs. Then, there’s the slow chase by the First Order following the handful of Resistance ships that remain with occasional laser canon blasts that are slightly out-of-range to do any damage. Leia’s “Mary Poppins” moment didn’t help things along either, nor did Finn & Rose running off to a planet to find a “code breaker”. Poe, the hero from “The Force Awakens”, being declared a mutineer and Holdo’s inability to explain what her plan was also added to the lack of enthusiasm in watching the film.
Then, came Rian Johnson’s answers to the questions that fans had from “The Force Awakens”. Were the answers exciting and pull the audience into the film more? No, the answers to all of the fans’ unanswered questions were “nobodies” and “it doesn’t matter”. Talk about let-down.
Financially, “The Last Jedi” did okay, but in the long run, fans started to walk away from the franchise. Suddenly, all of the hype that had persisted for 2 years was gone and people weren’t talking about the franchise that much either.
The damage was done.
2018: The First “Star Wars” Movie Flop in Franchise History
Only 6 months after “The Last Jedi” had opened in theaters, the next one-off “Star Wars” movie opened: “#Solo: A Star Wars Story”. Telling the story of Han Solo many years before “Star Wars IV: A New Hope”, the film focused on how Han acquired the beloved Millennium Falcon, how he met Chewbacca, how he met Lando Calrissian and how he piloted the famous Kessel run. It was the franchise’s first financial flop.
Directed by Ron Howard after LucasFilm’s Kathleen Kennedy had fired the film’s first two directors, after lots of reshoots, the film opened in May, 2018, to underwhelmed audiences. For those who actually went to the theaters to watch the film, they weren’t sufficiently wowed by the film’s plot to encourage others to see it. Those fans who chose not to see it may have done so out of a desire to boycott the film after their angry reactions to “The Last Jedi”, or they may have been suffering from franchise fatigue.
Suddenly, the cash cow that Disney had seen “Star Wars” being for its current and longterm financial future was no longer guaranteed and the planned other one-off films were put on indefinite hold by LucasFilm.
2019: “Star Wars Resistance” Canceled; Little Enthusiasm for “Ep. IX: The Rise of Skywalker”
“Star Wars Resistance”
We posted not too long ago the release of the trailer for the 2nd season of “Star Wars #Resistance”. In that announcement, it was also revealed that its second season would be its last, which is far shorter than the two animated “Star Wars” TV series that preceded it:
- “The Clone Wars”, which ran for 5 seasons on the #CartoonNetwork & a partial 6th season on #Netflix for a total of 133 episodes. When the series premiered, it became the most-watched series premiere in Cartoon Network history with 3-million viewers. It’s average Nielsen ratings were around 2-million viewers per episode.
- “Rebels”, which ran for four seasons on the #DisneyXD network for a total of 75 episodes. Worldwide, it delivered a total of 6.5 million viewers when it premiered on various networks. On the DisneyXD network it premiered with 2.74 million viewers and garnered an average of around 400,000 to 500,000 per episode.
In comparison, “Star Wars Resistance” premiered on the DisneyXD network with around 330,000 viewers, and has averaged less than 400,000 viewers per episode. Unlike the preceding two animated series, “Resistance” was designed specifically to appeal to a younger audience. This meant flat graphics and one-dimensional characters. Unlike its predecessors, it definitely had very little (if any) appeal to adult “Star Wars” fans and its viewership is so low that it isn’t worth continuing beyond a 2nd season.
Time wise, the events of “The Clone Wars” occur between movie episodes II and III, “Rebels” occurs between episodes III and IV (closer to IV), and “Resistance” occurs before and immediately after the events of episode VII. Thus, “Resistance” occurs during the Disney sequel trilogy, while the other 2 occur during and immediately after the prequels.
Lack of Enthusiasm for “Ep. IX: The Ride of Skywalker”
There is a definite lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming “Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker”, which is supposed to be the final episode of the Skywalker saga. This lack of enthusiasm can be viewed in several ways:
- Lack of “Star Wars” related activity on social media.
- Low Google search trends for “Star Wars”.
- Low number of viewers for the teasers released for “The Rise of Skywalker”.
Below is a graph from Google Trends showing how much the term “Star Wars” was searched for over a span of the past 5 years.
Google Trends results for the search term “Star Wars” over the past 5 years.
What this graph reveals is obvious: “Star Wars” was a very popular search term before, during and after the release of “The Force Awakens”. It was searched for far less before, during and after “The Last Jedi” was released. And, with the release of “The Rise of Skywalker” only 3 months away, there’s barely been a tiny bump of interest for “Star Wars”. In fact, the lowest search interest for “Star Wars” has been in the preceding few months. There was a tiny bump upwards when the first teaser for the film was released, but that interest quickly faded the bump for the 2nd teaser released during D23 was smaller.
Now, let’s look at how viewed the trailers for the Disney “Star Wars” films have been doing.
- The first full trailer for “The Force Awakens” was released on Oct. 15, 2015. It’s had over 104-million views with 729,000 likes and 23,000 dislikes at the time that this blog post was written on Sept. 22, 2019. 97% viewers liked the trailer, while only 3% disliked it.
- The first full trailer for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was released on Aug. 11, 2016. It’s had over 38.5 million views with 303,000 likes and 12,000 dislikes. 96% of the viewers liked the trailer, while 4% disliked it. Compared with the trailer for “The Force Awakens”, only 37% as many people watched the trailer. That’s a reduction of 63% views.
- The first full trailer for “The Last Jedi” was released on Oct. 9, 2017. It’s had over 55.5 million views with 766,000 likes and 44,000 dislikes. 94.6% liked the trailer, while 5.4% disliked it. It’s had 53.4% as many viewers as “The Force Awakens”. That’s a 46.6% reduction in views.
- Since a full trailer for “The Rise of Skywalker” hasn’t yet been released, we’ll use its first teaser instead. The first teaser was released on April 12, 2019 and has had 32.8 million views with 516,000 likes and 81,000 dislikes. 86.4% of viewers like it, while 13.6% of viewers disliked it. Only 31.5% as many viewers have watched it as compared with the first trailer for “The Force Awakens”, which is a 68.4% reduction.
The trend with the Disney “Star Wars” trailers and teasers is downward, both in terms of the number of people wanting to watch them and the number of people who like them. The number of dislikes for “The Rise of Skywalker” teaser is not only much greater than the full trailers for the previous films, it’s also larger than the previous films’ teasers.
How do the Disney “Star Wars” movie trailers & teasers compare with the trailer for Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” trailer?
- The trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” was released on May 14, 2019 and has over 128-million views. 2.9 million viewers liked it, and 57,000 viewers disliked it; which translates to 98% liking the trailer and 2% disliking it. 123% as many viewers have watched the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” as “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens”, while the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” has only been out for 131 days (4 months and 8 days) while the trailer for “The Force Awakens” has been out for 1,438 days (3 years, 11 months, 2 days). In other words, 123% as many viewers have watched the trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” as compared to “The Force Awakens” in only 9.1% of the time.
- As compared with the first teaser for “The Rise of Skywalker”, 390% more people have watched the first trailer for “Avengers: Endgame” as compared with the first teaser for “The Rise of Skywalker”.
The 2nd teaser for “The Rise of Skywalker” that was released in August has fewer viewers than the first teaser. Thus, the downward trend in interest continues.
While Disney has had initial success with “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”, “The Last Jedi” appears to have caused serious damage to the interest that fans still have in the franchise as evidenced by the flop of “Solo” and the lack of enthusiasm now for “The Rise of Skywalker”. The early cancellation of the animated series “Resistance” after 2 seasons is yet another indicator.
Additionally, reports regarding much lower than expected attendance at the “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” areas at Disneyland and Disney World appear to be additional indicators, as well as reports of low “Star Wars” toy sales and the rumored recent pulling of all Disney “Star Wars” film titles from the shelves at BestBuy.
The multiple sets of numbers don’t lie and only time will tell whether “The Rise of Skywalker” can restore fan enthusiasm in the “Star Wars” franchise.