Disney plans to slow down release of Star Wars movies

LOS ANGELES • There is a disturbance in the Force.

After the lacklustre performance of the latest instalment in the wildly popular Star Wars saga, Disney is tapping the brakes on the franchise - an acknowledgement that there can be too much of a good thing.

In an interview published on Thursday, its chief executive officer, Mr Bob Iger, told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney plans to slow down the Star Wars release schedule, admitting that it had been a mistake to shuttle a new film into cineplexes every year.

"I made the timing decision and, as I look back, I think the mistake that I made - I take the blame - was a little too much, too fast," he said.

"You can expect some slowdown, but that doesn't mean we're not going to make films."

Disney - which paid US$4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012 - had promised a new Star Wars movie every year after the hotly anticipated 2015 release of The Force Awakens: news they believed would delight fans around the world.

After all, The Force Awakens picked up 30 years after the events of 1983's Return Of The Jedi - and came a decade after the previous Star Wars movie of any kind.

But Disney, whose initial plan was to alternate releases between chapters in the main series launched in the late 1970s and one-off films expanding the Star Wars universe, seems to have learnt that anticipation is part of the equation.

Earlier this year, the standalone Solo: A Star Wars Story earned US$400 million (S$545 million) worldwide - a stellar result for most movies, but a mediocre return for a Star Wars film, leading many industry observers to speculate about franchise fatigue.

In contrast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was released six months before late last year, earned more than US$1.3 billion worldwide.

The next film - Episode IX, announced as the last instalment in the main Skywalker saga and directed by J. J. Abrams - is due for release in December next year.

"Star Wars became a global phenomenon, of course, as a rare and infrequently served delicacy," said Dr Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.

"Star Wars movies were like locusts or blue moons: impressive but not often. That's all changed and Mr Iger is probably right in his assessment," Dr Thompson said.

He added: "The franchise may be beginning to show its age, but slowdown or no slowdown, I expect to see lots more attempts to squeeze it for all it's worth."

Indeed, in February, Lucasfilm announced that the team behind Game Of Thrones would create a brand-new Star Wars series.

The films by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of HBO's Emmy-winning smash hit fantasy epic, would be separate from the main storyline and the trilogy being developed by Rian Johnson, writer-director of The Last Jedi.

"We have creative entities, including Benioff and Weiss, who are developing sagas of their own, which we haven't been specific about," Mr Iger said in the Hollywood Reporter interview, without giving more details.

"We are just at the point where we're going to start making decisions about what comes next after Episode IX," he added.

"I think we're going to be a little bit more careful about volume and timing. And the buck stops here on that."

Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst Jeff Bock said that despite the issues, the franchise was hardly in jeopardy.

"There is so much potential with the Star Wars television element that the movies can take a back seat for a while, if need be," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2018, with the headline 'Disney plans to slow down release of Star Wars movies'. Subscribe