With Marvel announcing ten new projects for 2020 and 2021, should Star Wars take the same approach and would it be as successful?
Last Saturday, Kevin Feige stole the Hall H stage at San Diego Comic Con by unveiling the next ten projects of “Phase 4” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While superhero fans rejoiced and buzzed with excitement, it sparked a new discussion: should Star Wars, also falling under the Disney umbrella, follow suit?
Although Lucasfilm could, it likely won’t and doesn’t need to—at least anytime soon. Here’s why:
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Fans, and even George Lucas himself, have always seemed to treat Star Wars like a rare delicacy. Traditionally, fans waited three full years between the original and prequel trilogy films, leaving them with an eagerness to find out what happens next to our heroes. This made the next installment even more tempting.
In the meantime, anxious Star Wars fans got their fix through books, comics, video games, and animated television to remain engaged in a galaxy far, far away before savoring every minute of the films when the finally arrived.
This waiting game makes Star Wars unique. It’s why The Force Awakens, which fans waited over ten years for, is the highest grossing movie at the domestic box office; why Disney placed the saga films two years apart with a standalone in between; and why they earned its $4 billion investment back in just three years.
Not knowing what comes next in the franchise keeps the discussion alive. It was smart for Lucasfilm to have kept the discussion purely on The Rise of Skywalker at Celebration Chicago, rather than dropping a five- to ten-year plan.
The potential for such a reveal at next year’s Celebration is high, but I also don’t expect Lucasfilm to show their cards all at once. Live-action TV, such as The Mandalorian and the untitled Cassian Andor series, changes the game for Star Wars in “off years,” akin to Marvel’s Disney + approach.
Traditionally speaking, though, Star Wars is a dish best served over time and with room to breathe.
Speaking of breathing room, Solo: A Star Wars Story had none. Following the enormous success of The Last Jedi’s $1.33 billion worldwide gross, there is no denying Solo fell short of Disney’s box-office expectations. With only five months to build hype, and up against Avengers: Infinity War’s marketing push, Solo was bound to struggle.
Solo pulled in $392 million, making it the lowest performing Star Wars film of the Disney era. Yes, $392 million is still a lot of money, but in the eyes of Hollywood executives green lighting these projects, it didn’t perform. As someone who loved the film, I admit it was ill timed and couldn’t fill seats.
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter in September 2018, Disney president Bob Iger took the blame:
"“I made the timing decision, and as I look back, I think the mistake I made — I take the blame — was a little too much, too fast. You can expect some slowdown, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to make films. … I think we’re going to be a little bit more careful about volume and timing. And the buck stops here on that.”"
That “slowdown” is why we’re waiting another three years for a theatrically released Star Wars film following The Rise of Skywalker. The approach feels slightly extreme but will also give Lucasfilm a moment to catch their breath and plan out the next five to ten years of Star Wars. It also indicates Iger believes Star Wars can’t pull the same stunts as Marvel (yet).
The “Marvel Method” Took Time
Looking at the box office alone, one could argue that Marvel was oversaturated when “The Infinity Saga” launched. However, Feige & Co. overcame this through time and risk-taking to eventually produce the highest grossing film of all time in Avengers: Endgame.
When the saga began in 2008, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk were released 41 days apart, the latter of which became the worst performing MCU movie to date. Marvel tried the two-movie method again with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011—the third and second worst performing MCU films, respectively; along with Hulk, they’re the only three MCU films to gross less than $500 million worldwide.
It was clear that audiences needed to truly buy into the shared universe idea before taking on the additional ticket costs.
Audiences surely bought in when Marvel’s The Avengers, the only film in 2012, grossed $1.518 billion worldwide. From there, a confident Marvel switched to two films every year starting in 2013 before moving to three films a year in 2017. During that time, they took new risks by introducing heroes like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy to the general audience.
Marvel built a universe that worked not only through compelling stories and captivating performances, but also through an enormous library of source material. Fans had expectations and wanted as many of their heroes as possible on the big screen. Marvel delivered and handed us a loaded platter at Comic Con.
Speaking strictly in terms of ticket sales, you could say Solo is to Star Wars as The Incredible Hulk was to the MCU. It takes time for this formula to work, even for a franchise as big as Star Wars. Marvel, whose comics date back to 1961, took eleven years to be gutsy enough to announce seven projects in 2021 alone. Star Wars’ time will come.
Disney’s D23 Expo takes place next month, and fans will get a look at future Disney + original content and a behind-the-scenes look at future Star Wars and Marvel projects.
Although Lucasfilm will want to keep the focus on Episode XI and The Mandalorian, we could get new announcements during the event, which runs from Friday, Aug. 23 to Sunday, Aug. 25.