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Disney and Star Wars: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

“This will begin to make things right.”

Not only is this the first line of dialogue in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it is also a promise to the fans burnt out on the criminally undercooked prequels. They say that the first step in solving a problem is to admit that there is a conceivable problem; Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios took the helm and, with the faith of millions of hardcore Star Wars fans, began to produce new and exciting installments to the spanning saga. But that was just the beginning. While appeasing the fans of the main story arc, plans to produce spinoff films started to emerge from the Disney camp, stories to fill in the gaps of the Star Wars Universe, whilst simultaneously acting as a distraction for the fans eagerly awaiting their next Skywalker fix. On 16th December 2016, audiences were treated to their first Star Wars spinoff: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Rogue One amassed a monumental $155 million domestically, making it the second largest theatrical opening in history. To this day, the film has generated a global sum of roughly $775 million, and this number continues to grow. However, it’s not just the gross sum that continues to grow; audience brand-familiarity has overcome the fact that, tonally, Rogue One is a completely different beast than its trilogy-based brethren. Audiences have seen a different side to their favourite franchise, and the numbers suggest they want more. The effects of Rogue One‘s individuality are made abundantly clear almost immediately, as director Gareth Edwards removes the iconic opening crawl synonymous with every previous Star Wars film. The historical context of a Galaxy occupied by the Empire’s tyrannical rule provides the film with its initial hopelessness – it’s a place where the existence of the Jedi have been reduced to a myth. The squabbling rebel forces are painted in a light previously unexplored in past Star Wars entries, with extremist factions causing just as much trouble for the Empire as they do their own comrades, assassination missions blurring the lines between good and evil, and the arrogance of vanity taking precedence over ideology. These elements all reinforce the idea that this particular spinoff isn’t afraid to highlight the true extent of the dark side. Our protagonists are not always heroic, nor do they ever set out to be; personal vendettas fueled by the injustice of a dictatorship form the backbone of Rogue One, and, while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly refreshing to watch something completely different with the Star Wars brand attached.

If anything, Rogue One has proven the creative potential for future Star Wars spinoffs. President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy has years of experience with brand management, and under her leadership this iconic franchise will continue to flourish undeterred by potential market saturation. The fact is that Star Wars is as big as it ever was; their current strategy of placing spinoffs between the core trilogy installments encourages creative freedom for the production teams, and something to look forward to for its millions of fans. Original spinoffs also act as a platform in which new up-and-coming directors can showcase their unique talents. One-off stories rid themselves from the strain of a serialised set of films, instead opting for a self-contained story, and the perfect training ground for new production teams. By choosing to portray its own canon, the Star Wars Universe can grow organically, as new and original ideas are generated by the passionate people who grew up watching the films – essentially this a reinvigorated legendary franchise with a new lease on life.

A Han Solo movie was recently announced, with Alden Ehrenreich in the eponymous role as our favourite scruffy-looking nerf herder. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of The Lego Movie fame will be helming this new adventure, pitched for a December 2018 release date, and while this is only speculative, their humorous style is likely to be imprinted on the finished film reel. There’s no reason a Star Wars film can’t take a more comical approach – this kind of tonal shift could provide a stark contrast to Rogue One‘s morose mood, while also retaining the right to display the epic battles we’ve come to expect from a Star Wars film. Taking an audience on a journey while uncovering mystical new planets, races, enemies, heroes, and villains helps unearth the limitless facets of the Star Wars Universe and the untapped potential for further exploration. Rumours of a Boba Fett movie have also been circulating around the internet; it’s exciting to guess where his story will take us and how the director will retain audience attention when the main character is a (mostly) silent bounty hunter.

Lucasfilm and Disney will need to refrain from over-relying on sequels and “milking” the property dry, however. Predictability through sequels has reared its ugly head far too often in recent years, but now Disney has an opportunity to avoid this common misstep. The stories need to be simple and fun if they are to continue to appeal to their current large audience – the last thing Star Wars needs is franchise fatigue when it only came out of hibernation last year. Let’s not forget though, Disney has great experience with blockbuster franchises, and they will have learned from their mistakes in the past. The MCU is still going strong, as it allows its character’s narratives their own breathing space between the Avengers-style sprawling epics. As long as the spinoff movies continue to incorporate diversity, patience, and an open mind towards tonal shift and genre nuance, this iconic brand will continue to inspire and entertain the new and old generations for many years to come.

This really is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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Films, games and music: the big three! If you like any of these, chances are we're going to get on just fine. I'm just a balding, goggle-eyed 26-year old Masters graduate from the UK, and I'm here to talk games! Let's dance.

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