AFP/Reuters/Los Angeles/New York
There is a disturbance in the Force. After the lacklustre performance of the latest instalment in the wildly popular Star Wars saga, Disney is tapping the brakes on the franchise – an acknowledgement that there can be too much of a good thing.
In an interview published on Thursday, chief executive Bob Iger told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney plans to slow down the Star Wars release schedule, admitting that it had been a mistake to shuttle a new film into theatres every year.
“I made the timing decision, and as I look back, I think the mistake that I made – I take the blame – was a little too much, too fast,” Iger said. “You can expect some slowdown, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to make films.”
Disney – which paid $4bn for Lucasfilm in 2012 – had promised a new Star Wars movie every year after the hotly-anticipated 2015 release of The Force Awakens, news they believed would delight fans around the world.
After all, The Force Awakens picked up 30 years after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and came a decade after the last Star Wars movie.
But Disney, whose initial plan was to alternate releases between chapters in the main series launched in the late 1970s and one-off films expanding the Star Wars universe, seems to have learned that anticipation is part of the equation.
Earlier this year, the standalone Solo: A Star Wars Story earned $400mn worldwide – a stellar result for most movies, but a mediocre return for a Star Wars film, leading many industry observers to speculate about franchise fatigue.
In contrast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was released just six months before in 2017, earned more than $1.3bn worldwide.
The next film – Episode IX, announced as the last installment in the main Skywalker saga, and directed by JJ Abrams – is due for release in December 2019.
In February, Lucasfilm announced that the team behind Game of Thrones would create a brand new Star Wars series.
The films by David Benioff and DB Weiss, the creators of HBO’s Emmy-winning fantasy epic, would be separate both from the main storyline and the trilogy developed by Rian Johnson, writer-director of The Last Jedi.
“We have creative entities, including Benioff and Weiss, who are developing sagas of their own, which we haven’t been specific about,” Iger said, without offering more details.
“We are just at the point where we’re going to start making decisions about what comes next after (Episode IX),” Iger told The Hollywood Reporter. “But I think we’re going to be a little bit more careful about volume and timing.
“And the buck stops here on that.”
For Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, Star Wars earned global adoration “as a rare and infrequently served delicacy – 15 years between the first two trilogies, another 10 before we saw the third”.
“Star Wars movies were like locusts, or blue moons: impressive but not often. That’s all changed and Iger is probably right in his assessment,” Thompson told AFP.
But he added: “The franchise may be beginning to show its age, but ‘slowdown’ or no slowdown, I expect to see lots more attempts to squeeze it for all it’s worth.”
Scott Collura, executive editor of entertainment website IGN, called the slowdown “a win for fans”, recalling the anticipation in the past when there were long gaps between movies.
“It won’t kill us to not have a new Star Wars film in 2020,” Collura wrote in an opinion piece.
Many fans have failed to embrace the younger generation of characters, like Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn in The Force Awakens.
“No one gives a flip about Rey, Poe or Finn,” commented user CMO175 on The Hollywood Reporter comments page, complaining about the fate of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.
Others said the movies had become too politically correct, with more women and ethnic characters, while some complained that the plots had become stale.
“Maybe having film releases spaced out a little more will give authors and artists some creative breathing room,” wrote Darth Nobunaga on the starwarsnet.com fan forum.
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