Disney dominates Hollywood, looming over the film industry like the evil empire from “Star Wars,” grossing more than $5.61 billion worldwide by June 2019 — far more than any other studio.
After the record-breaking profits earned from “Avengers: Endgame,” and the acquisition of rival studio 20th Century Fox for $71.3 billion, Disney’s monopoly of the entertainment industry looks more concrete than ever.
Disney seems to own everything: Marvel, ESPN, Hulu, “Avatar,” Pixar and “Star Wars.” Yet there are cracks in the seemingly indestructible Death Star that is the Walt Disney Corporation.
After “Mulan” and “The Lion King,” Disney is running out of animated classics to remake. The hype for “Avatar” has faded after a full decade without any sequels. After “Endgame,” Marvel has mined its best source material, especially after losing Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, the heir apparent to Iron Man.
And what of “Star Wars,” the supposed crown jewel?
After buying Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in 2012, Disney initially believed it had struck gold, as “The Force Awakens” was a massive success, breaking opening weekend records, grossing over $2 billion and mostly scoring rave reviews from both critics and audiences.
Yet, after mixed reviews for “Rogue One,” the divisive “The Last Jedi” and the underwhelming “Solo,” fans have become exhausted with “Star Wars.” They stuck around for the two films following “The Force Awakens,” yet box office totals declined until “Solo” flopped hardcore.
Disney, fearing a decline in profit margins, has launched an all-out assault on multiple mediums to rescue “Star Wars,” releasing multiple trailers and making announcements for upcoming projects at the recent D-23 convention.
The mouse has turned back to J.J. Abrams and his nostalgia-dependent brand of filmmaking to recapture the magic of “The Force Awakens.” Abrams and Co. have already raised fears that Disney is recycling old material to lure fans back into theaters with the Emperor being revived.
Nostalgia is at the forefront in “The Rise of Skywalker” trailer released at D-23. The clip begins with iconic shots from the original trilogy before ending with clips from Disney’s trilogy. The effort to link the upcoming release with Lucas’ projects is clear with Luke’s monologue about the passing of the torch.
It links Rey’s maturation and the new trilogy as the natural next phase of the “Star Wars” franchise. The clip smooths over changes that Abrams might make, such as resurrecting Palpatine, since the new trailer linked the new film to the originals.
The clip also featured Finn, Rey and Poe on a new desert planet that is not Tatooine or Jakku as they look out onto a village. Shots of Rey training and a massive number of First Order Star Destroyers raise the stakes. It culminates with beautiful shots of Rey and Kylo fighting on top of a Star Destroyer and a Death Star-esque beam.
The trailer is mostly earning buzz for its use of the color red, particularly with C-3PO and Rey. The prissy British android has suspiciously red eyes, while Rey is showcased in a show-stopping final shot with a double-edged lightsaber as a Sith. Rey’s dark side persona has launched a flurry of internet theories.
“The Rise of Skywalker,” especially under Abrams, looks to be a return to the classic storytelling of the original trilogy that muddles the line between nostalgia and copying previous entries.
Critics’ main gripe with “The Force Awakens” is the film’s glaring similarity to the original two films. Additionally, movie review YouTube channel RedLetterMedia claims that the “Star Wars” source material is limiting because any film that does not feature similar elements such as the Skywalkers or Stormtroopers will fail.
This assertion is supported by the failure of the prequels, which for all their faults did change the formula. Fans now ask whether Disney can ever make a movie that deviates from the classic formula fans have already become tired of, as shown by the failure of “Solo” at the box office.
Disney’s solution to this problem is to create new stories that change the typical routine on a different platform: television. This has already proven successful with the TV show “The Clone Wars.”
Disney announced that multiple new “Star Wars” TV shows would air on the company’s new streaming platform, Disney+. On Disney+, all of the mouse’s greatest creations will be available to watch. Creators can experiment with the “Star Wars” formula on the new channel, telling new stories that are perhaps grittier and more “adult” in nature.
Furthermore, streaming new programs on Disney+ solves another, far more important problem that Disney faces.
While Disney has unmatched success at the movie theater, the entertainment industry as a whole is undergoing a massive change due to streaming services. The single biggest threat to Disney’s movie empire is the very real possibility that audiences will no longer want to sit in a movie theater when they could stay at home.
Movie studios are terrified of Netflix and the power the newcomer is obtaining in releasing its own projects. Netflix has proven the company is not to be trifled with, as demonstrated by its projects receiving bundles of Emmy and Oscar nominations. Netflix is becoming increasingly powerful, and Disney is getting scared.
Disney made its first move by buying Hulu. The mouse has announced a bundle of ESPN+, Hulu, and Disney+ for $12.99. The new Disney bundle is the same exact price as Netflix’s most popular plan, a direct attack against the streaming juggernaut.
Disney’s guinea pig project on their streaming service is “The Mandalorian,” a grim look at the “Star Wars” underworld of bounty hunting and smuggling. The project boasts some big names, with Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) serving as showrunner and starring Pedro Pascal (“Game of Thrones”), Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad), Carl Weathers (“Rocky”) and legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog (“Aguirre: The Wrath of God”).
“The Mandalorian” follows a lone gunslinger, played by Pascal, as he journeys throughout the galaxy on odd jobs and missions, far from the reach of any centralized government. So far, “The Mandalorian” appears to be stylizing itself as a Western, like the kind that inspired the original “Star Wars” film.
The new series takes place a few years after “Return of the Jedi” amidst the fall of the Empire yet before the subsequent First Order. Away from the big screen, Disney looks ready to make a series geared to a mature audience, not straying away from violence or villainy in “The Mandalorian.”
Other big news came from the announcement of a live-action series centered around Obi Wan Kenobi, also to be released on Disney +. Reprising his role as the Jedi Master is Ewan McGregor, whose performance has always been considered a bright spot in the failed prequel trilogy.
The series will take place eight years after “The Revenge of the Sith” and will follow Kenobi’s struggle for survival after the fall of the Republic.
Make no mistake: Disney and “Star Wars” still dominate. Yet, other companies, such as Netflix, are growing in power. The success of “Star Wars” has not been a guarantee as Disney believed the franchise would be. They will now have to truly up their game in order to keep the fans invested. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.