Pop Culture #627

Pop Culture #627

For a while now the only real question around Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been, “How excited should we get about it – really excited, or super insane excited?” It’s already pretty clear how excited the movie business is, with cinemas basically clearing the decks by mid-December so the new film can have a week all to itself bringing in audiences before the Boxing Day releases. How much money can a new Star Wars film make? Especially one that, at least according to all the information currently on hand, is working flat-out to give the fans exactly what they want? You’d have to assume a box office payday north of a billon dollars is well within its – and studio Disney’s – grasp, which sounds impressive until you realise that there are reports that The Force Awakens has already raked in a billion dollars – in toy sales.
In fact, according to some estimates, Disney can expect to bring in anything up to five billion dollars in Star Wars-related merchandise sales over the next year, which does tend to put the real point of the film(s) in sharp relief. Ironically, pretty much every accusation levelled against original Star Wars creator and director George Lucas about how he steered the series off a cliff boils down to an accusation that he put toy sales first. By the time The Empire Strikes Back was released it had become clear that whatever money the films were bringing in was being dwarfed by toy sales, and Lucas was happy to go along with it. Out went downer elements like killing off Han Solo; in came toy-friendly elements like the Ewoks. But if toys are what destroyed Star Wars (okay, Lucas totally forgetting how to direct by the time of the prequels came around may have played a part), what makes anyone think Disney are going to treat the franchise any differently? In fact, considering just how much money Disney makes from merchandising – those amusement parks aren’t charities – and just how important it is for merchandising that characters remain unchanged (when was the last time Mickey Mouse did anything – and yet Disney still keeps making money off of him), pretty much the only thing the fans have to be happy about is that Disney will be better at exploiting the merchandising side of things than George Lucas was.
Disney knows their business well, and their business is as much or more about selling toys as it is about making movies: Pixar may still have a reputation for smart, entertaining animation, but it’s the merchandising-friendly Cars (and the sequels and spin-offs) that Disney wants. Likewise the Marvel movies are build around characters that can be sold: there’s a reason why the bad guys barely get a look-in with Marvel movies, and that reason has a lot to do with how few lunchboxes you can sell with the Red Skull on them. So those new Star Wars movies? Expect a lot of cool robots, cool spaceships, cool outfits, cool vehicles, cool gadgets and cool lightsabres. Cool stories where cool characters do things that maybe aren’t so cool? Maybe not so much.
Written by Anthony Morris