We’re pretty well-versed (some may say a little too well-versed) in the build-up to new Star Wars movies, but with Lucasfilm’s franchise hanging on a knife edge ahead of the finale of the sequel trilogy, it’s likely that we’ll see a change in approach over the coming months from the studio. So, here’s what to expect as we start to build up to the release of Star Wars: Episode IX.
Where are we up to with Star Wars in 2019?
We find ourselves at a crucial moment in the future of the Star Wars franchise. While the sequel trilogy has already been on a rollercoaster ride under the direction of J.J. Abrams and Rian Johson in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi respectively, there’s so much more at stake for the galaxy far, far away.
Disney brought Star Wars roaring back into cinemas to exceptional acclaim with the released of The Force Awakens in 2015 and Rogue One in 2016, both films proving massive box office hits, and modern favourites among critics and most fans alike.
However, that early success has turned to chaos following the hugely controversial debate surrounding 2017’s The Last Jedi, and where that film leaves the series that’s so close to the hearts of so many. And to make matters worse, the devastating box office failure that was Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018 has left Disney and Lucasfilm in a tight spot, likely forced to rethink their strategy to continue expanding the Star Wars universe.
Compared with the consistent performance of the ever-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fortunes of the Star Wars cinematic universe have been worsening dramatically over the last four years, leaving the series’ future on a knife edge that few could have foreseen when The Force Awakens was breaking box office records left, right and centre.
Disney’s initial plan was to expand the Star Wars universe with a seemingly incessant run of spin-off ‘anthology’ movies. At first, with the success of Rogue One, it seemed as if fans and general audiences were keen on the idea, but Solo’s failure reversed those expectations, with more and more pointing to a growing phenomenon of Star Wars fatigue.
The Force Awakens made $2bn worldwide because it was the cinematic event of the decade, with the anticipations and hopes of a 40 year-old franchise being brought to life for the first time in years. Cut to four years later, however, and you’ll see a consensus that no longer sees Star Wars as something truly special as it felt back then, which is what has left the franchise on such a knife edge ahead of Episode IX.
What can Episode IX do to turn the tide?
Episode IX will be the deciding factor in the future of Star Wars for decades to come. Disney have endless TV shows, spin-offs and more in the works already, but if Episode IX fails either at the box office or with the critics and fans, then there’s a real chance that Star Wars as we know it will be pretty much dead on arrival as we head into the 2020s.
So, what can Episode IX do to turn the tide? Well, the biggest dilemma for the film itself lies in the story. At present, only a select few know how the sequel trilogy will come to an end, but the responses to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi leave Episode IX in a very awkward middleground about what sort of artistic direction to take.
J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens was acclaimed as a roaring return for classic Star Wars after the disappointments of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, but was met with scepticism from many who saw it as derivative of A New Hope. Contrast that with the fortunes of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which was a stunningly original piece of filmmaking that told a unique and riveting story, but was a real shock to the system for many die-hard Star Wars fans that saw a beloved property being taken in a direction that was completely foreign to them.
So, which direction does the story take? Will we see a return to emulating classic Star Wars as in Abrams’ The Force Awakens? Or will the franchise push forward with a grounbreaking but controversial new style as in Johnson’s The Last Jedi?
With J.J. Abrams on board to direct and write once again, it seems most likely that Rian Johnson’s vision will be toned down quite a lot. As a result, expect to see some backpeddling on some of the twists and revelations of The Last Jedi in Episode IX, as Disney and Lucasfilm attempt to wrestle control of a series that seems to have got out of hand over the last couple of years.
After all, a nice, safe finale to the series is the easiest way to go for Disney, and while it certainly won’t reach the lofty box office heights of The Force Awakens, nor the universal critical acclaim of The Last Jedi, it could be the best long-term solution to keep Star Wars alive for the years ahead, even if it may not sound particularly inspiring.
What can we expect in the build-up to Episode IX?
If there’s one thing that we’ve learnt through recent years, it’s that Disney are absolute masters of marketing and the world of blockbuster anticipation. The immense popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is testament to this, while the successes of smaller, lesser-known properties like Guardians Of The Galaxy and Rogue One prove that Disney can make pretty much anything a worldwide hit.
However, with the main Star Wars saga, Disney has a lot to live up to in the build-up phase, a symptom of the feverish anticipation that surrounded the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, something that arguably hadn’t been seen in Hollywood since The Phantom Menace, or perhaps even ever before.
If you followed the build-up to The Last Jedi two years ago, you will have likely felt a little underwhelmed in the fact that it was never quite as exhilarating as the anticipation for The Force Awakens, an inevitable consequence of releases only two years apart, but nevertheless a major burden on Star Wars fever, which was borne out as The Last Jedi took $700m less at the worldwide box office than The Force Awakens.
So, what Disney need to do in the build-up to Episode IX is create that same feverish and frantic anticipation that endured for over 12 months in 2015. Of course, with the state that Star Wars is in at the moment, it’s impossible to keep that excitement holding strong over the course of a whole year, so expect to see the film’s marketing campaign reduced to a much shorter timeframe over the next year.
At this point in 2015 (early February), we had already had a teaser trailer and the release of The Force Awakens’ title, along with a rapidly-growing campaign that saw Star Wars taking over pretty much all aspects of life.
Cut to today, however, and we’re still almost entirely in the dark about Episode IX, suggesting that Disney are indeed going to be keeping the marketing campaign for the film as condensed as possible in order to create that feverish excitement once again.
So, when will we get the Episode IX title? That’s certain to come before the end of April, with Star Wars celebration taking place in mid-April. A teaser trailer could come at Celebration too, but it’s likely that we’ll see one before the end of May, the historical month for Star Wars releases prior to the sequel trilogy, and home of Star Wars Day on May the 4th.
However, unlike The Force Awakens, Rogue One and to an extent The Last Jedi, the big focus will be on the last 6 weeks before release in December 2019, in order to create as much frantic excitement as possible, while also reminding more casual audiences that there’s another Star Wars film around the corner.
Solo failed for two reasons. Firstly, it was a film that very few people asked for, meaning there was a disproportionate lack of interest, while it was also released only 6 months after The Last Jedi, the controversy of which had already left almost everyone exhaused with Star Wars.
Episode IX, however, opens 18 months after the last Star Wars film, the longest timeframe between releases since 2015, something that can only work to its advantage.
What should we expect from Star Wars: Episode IX over the next 10 months, then? Well, not a lot to begin with, but with a very gradual building of anticipation from the beginning of spring onwards, Star Wars fever will likely explode towards the autumn period, as Disney aims to bring success and prosperity back to the beloved franchise under immense pressure.