by Gene Turnbow
In this 1977 image provided by 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, Imperial stormtroopers look for the lost droids in a scene from "Star Wars." The intergalactic adventure launched in theaters 35 years ago on May 25, 1977, introducing the world to The Force, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo and a pair of loveable droids named R2-D2 and C-3PO. (20th Century-Fox Film Corporation)

In this 1997 image provided by 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation, Imperial stormtroopers look for the lost droids in a scene from “Star Wars.” The intergalactic adventure launched in theaters 35 years ago on May 25, 1977, introducing the world to The Force, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo and a pair of loveable droids named R2-D2 and C-3PO.  This image, though, is from the Star Wars Special edition – the giveaway is the stormtrooper riding the dewback in the background, which did not appear in the original film. Thanks to Krypton Radio fan Zrath Smiley for catching the error!

Yesterday at CinemaCon, Disney Studios announced that starting in 2015 there is going to be a new Star Wars movie every year. They’ll start with the J.J. Abrams directed Episode VII in summer of 2015. The plan is to release a standalone spinoff the following year — probably one of the projects focusing on Boba Fett or Han Solo — and alternate between numerals and spinoffs from there.

Assuming the films are successful, this means the total number of Star Wars films will nearly double by summer 2019. Presumably, Disney is hoping that each of the spinoffs will form their own franchises, much like X-Men and The Avengers.

I’m sure a lot of Star Wars fans are excited about this, but what Disney is planning may turn out differently than planned, and here’s why:

  • Part of what makes Star Wars wonderful is that it’s exotic.  What happens to our love of Christmas when it’s Christmas every day?  Will a steady diet of Star Wars make it mundane and unappealing?  It’s possible to oversell something.
  • There are already two major comic book companies duking it out with major blockbusters several times a year.  How much action blockbuster appetite is there in the marketplace now, and can it support what’s already being done?  What if the excitement for all this eye candy cools because of a glut of content in the next three years?  Movie productions can’t turn on a dime when it takes two years to make one.
  • Disney is now driving the boat.  The just laid off 150 of their own motion picture production staff, and gutted the 2D animation department.  They effectively closed LucasArts as a software development company and it’s going to do nothing but licensing now.  In the meantime, their CEO Bob Iger got a 20% raise in 2012.  You can guess where his raise came from.  How are they going to sustain production at this pace?  Clearly they’re backing away from making their own movies and plan to farm out all the work.  But to whom (see the next bullet point)?
  • The VFX industry over the last few months has just imploded due to predatory business practices on the part of the major studios, driving many into bankruptcy.  Big names like Dreamworks, Digital Domain, Rhythm & Hues and Disney itself have laid off workers by the thousands.  Where are the effects for these shows going to come from?  Rhythm & Hues, for example, won two Oscars and two BAFTA awards for their work on Life of Pi – and while they were accepting their awards in London, that same evening in Los Angeles they were getting the “don’t bother coming in to work on Monday” phone calls and being stiffed for their last paychecks.

There’s an elephant in this room. Production companies, specifically Disney, are pushing away everything that isn’t a sweet spot profit center in their business models.  This is short sighted and, in the end, self-destructive.

There is a very very large difference between what Disney says they’re going to do, and what may actually happen.  We can hope that all goes well – but there are many hurdles to overcome, and careers are in jeopardy as we speak.

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