by Disney star wars became a pioneering transmedia franchise. In 2012, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4.05 billion, about half in cash and the other half in Disney stock. Then-Disney CEO Bob Iger had hoped to acquire Lucasfilm for years, but he had avoided pushing the matter, determined to treat the legendary George Lucas as respectfully as possible. In his autobiography, The ride of a lifetime, Iger recalls a breakfast conversion with Lucas in which he challenged him; “What happens on the road? You don’t have heirs to run the business for you. They can control it, but they won’t direct it. Shouldn’t you determine who protects or continues your legacy?“
The first years were eventful. The next trilogy got off to a good start with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film that played the nostalgia card to the hilt and grossed over $2 billion worldwide. Unfortunately, the controversial reception of Star Wars: The Last Jedi caused Lucasfilm to overcompensate for a course correction, which led to criticism Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Meanwhile, Lucasfilm’s anthology films got off to a good start with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but flopped after the box office failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Patty Jenkins’ Thieves Squadron – currently scheduled for release on December 22, 2023 – will be the first release star wars film from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December 2019 – a remarkably long hiatus given that Lucasfilm originally planned star wars to become a box office mainstay.
Given all of this, it’s tempting to dismiss the Disney era as a failure. It would be a mistake; after all, even counting controversies and underachievements, star wars the movies have grossed just under $6 billion at the global box office since 2015. Additionally, the focus on movies obscures Disney’s true success; they transformed star wars into a true transmedia franchise.
Star Wars has always recognized the potential of transmedia
star wars may be best known as a blockbuster movie franchise, but in truth it has always recognized the potential of other mediums; the first official bound novel, that of Alan Dean Foster Spirit’s Eye Shard, released in 1978 – before The Empire Strikes Back. Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s that the old Expanded Universe really began to form, with the “Trilogy launched” launch a series of bestselling novels while comic books such as dark empire continued the story of the star wars galaxy in another medium as well. This led to the release of Shadows of the Empire in 1996, a transmedia initiative that weaved together the narratives of a comic strip, a novel and a video game – it even had its own soundtrack. Shadows of the Empire was ahead of its time, foreshadowing the transmedia orientation that became mainstream nearly 30 years later.
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, they made the controversial decision to erase the extended universe from continuity, branding it “Legends.” The decision was understandable, because wiping the slate clean erased an increasingly convoluted continuity and allowed them to build anew on the foundation George Lucas had built through his movies and TV shows. But there was a difference between Disney’s approach to canon and Lucas’s; it had taken a tiered approach to canon, with the EU having to fit around its works, but Disney insisted that in the new continuity everything was also canon. The links were no longer additional; now the central story could continue in them. The potential of this new approach was fully demonstrated with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, with a tie-in novel by James Luceno and a novelization by Alexander Freed expanding the narrative and proving to be essential reading. These have carefully woven the continuity of the star wars galaxy into a cohesive whole, presenting a complete history of the construction of the Death Star.
The Star Wars Transmedia initiative has proven to be a huge success
Recent years have seen star wars embrace transmedia in a way that makes Shadows of the Empire and even the books around Rogue One: A Star Wars Story seem tame. Lucasfilm has had particular success expanding into the small screen, producing a number of popular live-action and animated TV shows for Disney+. In reality, The Mandalorian – the first live-action star wars TV show – launched alongside the US release of Disney+, and its Baby Yoda twist was a major cause of the streaming platform’s initial boom. Lucasfilm has since brought back fan favorite Boba Fett for his own Disney+ TV show, and the excitement really couldn’t be higher for the next one. Obi Wan Kenobi – which brings back both Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, with Christensen finally getting his chance to play Darth Vader rather than Anakin Skywalker. The characters vacillate between different mediums, with previously anime-only Ahsoka Tano now played by Rosario Dawson (and set to star in her own Disney+ TV show), and even minor characters from books and comics appear on the small screen as well. .
Meanwhile, Lucasfilm Publishing is pushing its own transmedia initiative – Star Wars: The High Republic, which explores the state of the galaxy hundreds of years before the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The overarching narrative is told in novels, young adult books, comics, audiobooks, and even the very first star wars manga series, and the story has been carefully choreographed to ensure it weaves almost seamlessly across different mediums. There’s never been anything quite like it – and the High Republic setting seems to inspire others, with an upcoming Disney+ TV show set at the end of the era and even an upcoming star wars video game exploring the High Republic era. The secret of the success of Star Wars: The High Republic seems to be the singular vision that guides its story, with Charles Soule in particular seeming to be the common thread.
Star Wars transmedia was a phenomenal success
It is impossible to overstate how much star warstransmedia approach has been for Lucasfilm – and, indeed, for Disney as a whole. According to third-party analyses, The Mandalorian season 1 was the most popular streaming show in the United States in December 2019, guaranteeing the success of the launch of Disney +; it even beat major Netflix rivals such as the witcher. Growing attention to transmedia storytelling has led to increased engagement with the Disney+ platform as a whole; when The Mandalorian season 2 introduced characters who had previously appeared in anime television shows, this led to increased demand for both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and star wars rebels (according to Parrot Analytics, the request for Star Wars: The Clone Wars increased by 104% thanks to The Mandalorian race of season 2).
During this time, Star Wars: The High Republic was also a success – and, indeed, a major source of profit for Disney at a time when traditional revenue streams were being seriously disrupted. Star Wars: The High Republic is divided into three phases, the first of which has just been completed; a fan, writing on The geeky waffle, ran the numbers and realized that – because the story weaves through so many mediums – anyone who wanted to follow all of Phase One would have spent $436.49 in a single year. This, more than anything else, demonstrates why companies like Disney are investing in transmedia; they rightly recognize that there is a lot of money to be made out of it.
And the real irony, of course, is that fans love transmedia. While it’s expensive to get involved, fans who do are rewarded with a deeper and deeper relationship with the franchise. When a Tatooine Marshal created by Chuck Wendig appears in The Mandalorian season 2, they know who it is; when Grand Admiral Thrawn’s name is spoken in the post-Return of the Jedi time, they know what that means. When Luke Skywalker encounters a Jedi from the past in a Force vision, he interacts with someone he recognizes and he can place the former Jedi in his own personal timeline. when an audiobook references a scary song, they can recognize its importance and the dark side powers it points to. The tighter the transmedia threads are, the more rewarding the experience. And, of course, the more profitable it is for Disney – both in pure financial terms and in driving engagement with Disney+, a major corporate priority. Thus the Disney era of star wars must undoubtedly be considered a phenomenal success.
Next: After 30 Years, Thrawn Is Key To The Future Of Star Wars (Again)
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