Friday, April 19, 2013

How much Star Wars is too much Star Wars?

English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films

Disney announced two days ago that their new plans, having previously purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion, aren't just to make a new trilogy of Star Wars episodes, nor even to make a few spin-off films set in the same universe.  No, they are planning to make one Star Wars movie every single year, with off-shoot films alternating with official new 'episodes'.  How much Star Wars is too much Star Wars? The idea of a new trilogy of Star Wars films, set to debut ten years after the finale of the prequel trilogy, is perhaps also exciting, even as J.J. Abrams replacing George Lucas as the proverbial leader of this specific universe calls for cautious optimism (Is Star Wars without any real input from George Lucas really Star Wars?  Discuss...).  But how long will the casual fans remain excited about the prospect of new Star Wars films when they appear as frequently as Thanksgiving dinner for years and years on end?

Disney clearly wants to milk the cow for which they just paid $4 billion.  From a viewer standpoint, this development really doesn't matter.  If you don't want to see a new Star Wars film every single year, then don't go see them.  If the new Disney-produced Star Wars films end up being hopelessly diluted by virtue of spreading the franchise (and available man-hours/legal tender) too thin, then just pretend they don't exist and enjoy the first six films accordingly.  Frankly, the idea of doing a few Star Wars standalone films in between the major 'Episodes' makes a certain amount of sense, setting up a film franchise similar to how comic books are written.  You have various standalone titles, and then a big crossover event where everybody gets together.  Obviously Marvel, which is now also of course owned by Disney, has been building towards this for the last five years, with the big question being whether the stand-alone films like Iron Man 3 will still appeal to audiences now treated with a massive crossover event.

Of all the existing franchises, save whatever becomes of the DC Comics universe, Star Wars is arguably the only one that can sustain a Marvel Studios type model, as technically any random character with a blaster or a light saber can be a Star Wars character (one could argue the same for Star Trek except the success or failure would depend on the quality of the characters more than the technical aspects).  I would argue from an artistic point of view that over-saturating the market with Star Wars films is a mistake, especially if every other entry will be an official Episode, as that's obviously not the comic book model discussed above.  And double that 'especially' if the offshoots are mostly going to be of the 'Young Yoda' or 'Baby Boba Fett' variety as previously announced rather than the Zack Snyder-helmed Seven Samurai-ish adventure that was rumored and then debunked in record time a few months ago. I won't pretend that I'm terribly optimistic for what's coming, both from a standpoint of this apparent shoveling of nonstop new films and the apparent lack of imagination on display in terms of how to expand the universe.  And this is from someone who likes the prequel trilogy more than most.

But the other shoe that may drop will be a financial one. Sure the first new Episode of Star Wars will likely be a massive global blockbuster, but how will Star Wars Episode 16 perform?  Unless Disney is somehow going to get away with doing Star Wars movies on the cheap, each official Episode will likely cost whatever the upper-realms blockbusters happen to cost at the given time.  As such, in order to make profits, each Star Wars film will theoretically have to gross towards the upper-ends of what constitutes a global blockbuster each time out.  Will the off-year films be cheaper offerings where a mere $500 million in global box office is required to break into the black?  I don't know, but at least when it comes to the official chapters (think of them as the mythology episodes of The X-Files), fans won't tolerate a full-blown Star Wars film done on the cheap ala 20th Century Fox'A Good Day to Die Hard. If the mystique of continuing Star Wars films wears off after several years of non-stop output, if stands to reason that the fifth consecutive chapter might not generate the kind of excitement and/or box office that the first new chapter will come 2015. What will happen if the returns no longer justify top-tier budgets?

But, to end on a somewhat positive note, Disney is trying something a little different.  They are taking one of the most vibrant and resilient franchises of all time and attempting to create a variation on the genuinely groundbreaking Marvel Universe film franchise.  Maybe it will work for long enough to justify the expense, making the Star Wars series into a newfangled James Bond-type series where we just get another fantastic adventure every time out.  Or maybe the thrill will dissipate all too quickly due to over-saturation and Disney will turn Star Wars into the fantasy franchise equivalent of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?.  I don't know how this will all work out, but I think we'll learn very soon if there is such a thing as too much Star Wars.

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