Disney's Star Wars much more than just films

Cult following: Star Wars fans at Armageddon expo in Auckland

Disney's $US4.05 billion acquisition of LucasFilm – and the accompanying announcement this week it will make more Star Wars films – will undoubtedly be met with some scepticism by many fans.

They will be worried what the owner of Mickey Mouse may do to their beloved sci-fi franchise.

Could Mickey make a cameo? Will Princess Leia wear black ears and a Minnie Mouse dress? Could the Big Bad Wolf replace Darth Vader?

Probably not.

And judging by what Disney did with Toy Story 3 after buying Pixar in 2006 – that film grossed more than $US1 billion – the Star Wars films are in good film-making hands.

Disney is no stranger to actions films, either, recently making The Avengers – starring Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson – which has grossed more than $US1.5 billion.

But fans of the original three films will likely be disappointed whatever Disney does with the upcoming films, as they were with George Lucas' work on the three prequels.

As NBR's technology editor Chris Keall argues, while "the original Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back were classics, Mr Lucas' further work on the franchise was creatively exhausted, over-written and smothered by excessive CGI".

Perhaps, but judging by box office takings, fans watched them anyway.

What the films have made

The figures quoted below have all been adjusted for inflation

Mr Lucas' three prequels were met with disdain by critics and fans for introducing strange, gimmicky characters such as Jar Jar Binks.

But the films achieved relatively high box office success – the first one, 1999's The Phantom Menace, grossed $US724 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

That makes it the 16th highest-grossing film in history.

The first Star Wars film released, however – 1977's A New Hope – takes the cake, raking in $US1.4 billion gross at the box office, the second highest-grossing film ever.

No 1, incidentally, is 1939's Gone With The Wind, grossing $US1.6 billion.

Four of the six Star Wars films make into the top 20 highest-grossing films. All six movies have made $US4.4 billion at the box office.

The potential is there for Disney to capitalise on that. The Star Wars brand is enormously popular, so it is very likely its films would be successful.

The real money for Disney, however, is not in the films, but merchandise.

Merchandising the key

The Star Wars franchise brought in $3 billion in licensing revenue last year alone, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

All most anything one can think has had the Star Wars logo slapped on it: books, comics, toys and TV shows.

LucasArts has published more than 150 computer games since 1977, with more being made all the time.

There are board games, too, such as Star Wars Monopoly and Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.

But there are also endless possibilities for merchandising other things, as pointed out by Business Insider.

Ideas include a Jubba The Hutt beanbag chair, Princess Leia hair headphones and a Death Star-shaped barbecue.

Never mind the silly suggestions, the franchising potential for Disney is huge.

As Forbes' Dorothy Pomerantz points out, Star Wars has 17,000 characters living on thousands of planets, spanning 20,000 years.

However ridiculous that sounds, there is a seemingly endless scope for spin-offs.

Fanatic fan base

Whatever Disney decides to do with its newly acquired merchandise machine, Star Wars already has a large, dedicated and excitable fanbase.

For example, some Wikipedia articles under the Star Wars name include: Languages in Star Wars, Physics in Star Wars, Star Wars Gangsta Rap, Star Wars Technical Commentaries and Lightsaber combat.

There are also 1.5 million members of an online role-playing game called Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Others write fan fiction, or log on to one of several hundred fan sites to discuss all things Star Wars.

It appears there is just about anything Star Wars fans will buy, play and discuss.

And from that perspective, there seems little Disney could do to botch it up.

It has bought a successful, resourceful company and an iconic brand, with which it has the potential to earn billions more dollars. 

callison@nbr.co.nz

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4 Comments & Questions

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It will also be interesting to see what Disney does with online distribution.

Lucasfilm did not place any of the Star Wars films in the movie section of the iTunes AppStore, for example (looking at iTunes US; I'm not aware of any other commercial service that carried them, either).

Hopefully Disney - which has been pretty good online - will take a more progressive approach.

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Good to see iTunes AppStore steering clear of CGI dreck.
Oh, has anyone found Jar Jar Binks' cap?

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I'm excited to hear that there will be three more movies but honestly, they shouldn't be based after the original trilogy, which is the assumption by fans.

I find that the time that The Original Trilogy was based in was incredibly boring. If they made films based on the old republic era I would be warped.

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Dont forget it was Disney who burdened us with 90 year Copyright.

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