With yesterday marking the end of “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker’s” third weekend in theaters, and the first weekend without a holiday, we are finally getting a better idea of where the latest Lucasfilm project will end up when everything is all said and done. And unfortunately for the studio, the Skywalker Saga finale looks like it’s going to be a disappointment.
Once again, we have to begin a discussion of “Star Wars” box office with the disclaimer that the numbers we’re talking about are really big and would be amazing for 99% of films being released in theaters. However, we’re talking about one of the biggest, most iconic franchises distributed by the biggest studio in the world. So, don’t bother with those comments and gifs showing people crying into piles of cash. At the end of the day, the Mouse House wins and gets richer. But that doesn’t mean “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is an out-and-out success. On the contrary, in the grand scheme of things, JJ Abrams’ latest film will likely go down as one of the bigger disappointments of the franchise.
With three weekends of data, we’re able to begin predicting the end result of ‘Rise of Skywalker’ and, frankly, it’s not great. Many are predicting that with a domestic cume of only $450 million and an international total of approximately $920 million, the final Skywalker Saga film is going to finish its run with an estimated $550 million domestically and roughly $1.1 billion worldwide. Of course, depending on its legs the next couple of weeks, that could go down to just over $1 billion globally and $520 million domestically, but it’s likely not going to go up drastically, at all.
Compared to the $620 million (domestic) and $1.33 billion (worldwide) totals of ‘The Last Jedi,’ the numbers for ‘Rise’ have to be considered a financial disappointment for Disney. Reviews have been mixed, for sure, but when you look at the general consensus amongst fans, director JJ Abrams turned in a decent finale to the Saga. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that ‘Rise of Skywalker’ is driving return business as much as something like ‘The Force Awakens’ and isn’t bringing in those curious casual fans that would go to the cinema for an event film if the reviews and word-of-mouth are strong enough.
Obviously, the sky isn’t falling and Disney isn’t going to throw “Star Wars” in the trash. But the trend of diminishing returns on the sequel trilogy, especially when many assumed ‘Rise’ would outgross ‘The Last Jedi’ (not to mention the whole debacle with “Solo” in 2018), it’s clear that the franchise is at a crossroads. Frankly, a new “Star Wars” film doesn’t have that excitement and “event” feeling that the franchise once held, even during the Prequels era.
In a perfect world, Disney would give Lucasfilm at least 5 years to figure out the next move for the franchise, allowing the studio to let fans “miss” the galaxy far, far away for an extended period of time. That might allow the “Star Wars” franchise enough time to recharge its batteries and come back strong with something that might rejuvenate and unite a contentious fanbase.
Instead, we know that Disney is only going to give the film franchise around 3 years to rest, with numerous “Star Wars” projects debuting each year on Disney+. So, like it or not, George Lucas’ franchise has lost that excitement and “special feeling” that came with each film. It’s just another product, as Martin Scorsese would say.
So, with that in mind, there are two paths that Lucasfilm can take with the franchise. First, it can continue to “pause” the films and really hammer out a game plan, no matter if that takes 5 years or more. Then it can slow down the release of TV series, letting fans miss the franchise and better prepare for the next phase of the story. However, what’s more likely is that this is the new “Star Wars” status quo. Films will be released every couple of years, making roughly $1 billion, and TV series will populate Disney+, making sure that fans don’t forget about the galaxy far, far away.
Let’s be honest, Disney is a business and “Star Wars” is no good unless it’s making money. Long sabbaticals don’t earn money, no matter how much they might help creatively.
So, as we enter 2020, we still don’t have answers about what the future holds with “Star Wars.” Kevin Feige’s got a film that feels like its still years away, Rian Johnson is working on his “Knives Out” franchise and is likely done with “Star Wars,” and there’s supposedly a film coming in 2022 but there’s been no director announced or plot teased. At least there’s “The Mandalorian,” which shows that there’s the potential for quality non-Skywalker storytelling on TV, but the future of the streaming series seems heavily reliant on prequels set during the Skywalker Saga.
Instead of providing a satisfying finale and box office dominating conclusion, “The Rise of Skywalker’ just highlights the issues that have plagued the franchise for years now, both on-screen and at the box office. And it doesn’t appear that it’s getting any better anytime soon.