Editorial: Disney Created Its Own Star Wars Problem

Editorial: Disney Created Its Own Star Wars Problem

Bob Iger’s recent announcement that Star Wars films would go on “hiatus” from the cinema following Rise of the Skywalker came as both a shock and an all too logical conclusion. Many predicted the move months before, pointing to Solo’s diminished box office returns and the shortened gap between its release and The Last Jedi as catalysts. Both contributed to the problem, but they also lead back to an issue that has permeated Disney for over thirty years: oversaturation and mass production. The hard truth is that Star Wars’ shelving is the latest example of Disney’s history of self-inflicted wounds.

This lineage dates back to the troubled production of 1985’s bomb turned cult classic animated film The Black Cauldron. The film’s ballooning budget and constant production setbacks marked the dimmest period of what fans refer to as Disney’s Dark Age. Disney’s long-celebrated animation studio was nearly dissolved after the film flopped hard at the box office. The studio survived this scare, but not without drastic changes imposed by the company’s leadership.

Disney’s animation team relocated to a warehouse in Glendale and production cycles were shortened. The moves promoted higher output at the sacrifice of animation quality. The results were fantastic at first, ushering in a new golden age of Disney animated films during the 1990s. But that success tapered off as its compromised narrative and animation quality became more apparent. Disney entered another valley and didn’t escape until Frozen took the world by storm.

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It’s a cycle that repeated itself time and time again within Disney’s walls. Pixar’s focus has shifted from creating emotional, original stories to churning out sequels ever since Disney bought the studio. The company’s live action film studio is now waist deep in a wave of safe bet remakes that continually uninspire. ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel and Disney XD’s broadcast schedules blend into one another outside of a few remote standouts. Not even Disney’s theme park division has been exempt from this quantity over quality disconnect (Disney Quest, EuroDisney, California Adventure).

All of this brings us back to Star Wars. Lucasfilm’s approach to creating content stood in direct opposition to Disney’s strategies. Say what you will about the prequels, but George Lucas understood the risk of producing too many stories within the Star Wars universe. He knew this because Star Wars has its own history with oversaturation and the resulting drop in quality. The films may have lengthy gaps between them, but its many book series and rash of prequel cash-in videogames garnered the same diminishing returns over time. It’s no wonder that there was an air of skepticism that accompanied Disney’s purchase of the franchise.

Iger’s comments proved that the skeptics were right. Disney’s one film a year schedule didn’t even make it past the end of the Skywalker saga. But not even the announced hiatus is halting Disney’s Star Wars machine. The Mandalorian, a new season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and a live action Cassian Andor series are being developed for Disney’s streaming service, Disney+. Rian Johnson still has a film trilogy in development. David Benioff and Dan Weiss (Game of Thrones) are working on a separate slate of films. That’s a fairly large docket for a franchise that is taking a breather.

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Don’t get me wrong: I am glad that Disney is continuing to tell stories within this universe. I’m happy that the franchise ended up in the hands of a company that is willing to do something with these characters. It’s better than letting them lie dormant. It’s the reason why I waited in line almost an entire day to see The Force Awakens on opening day. It’s why I cried at the end of Rogue One and left The Last Jedi with my stomach in knots. But it’s also why Solo felt so blah outside of Donald Glover’s performance as Lando.

Fans want stories worthy of being told within the franchise and Disney has to realize that a self-correction is in order. And if the fans’ voice isn’t enough, why not heed the concerns of Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill: “Well, there shouldn’t be [a limit to the storytelling], as it’s a canvas that’s so infinite … I will say they should pace themselves, because you don’t want to over-saturate it.”

How do you feel about Disney’s self-inflicted Star Wars problem? Let us know in the comment section below!