Magazine article Variety

Does Hyperdrive Release Slate Put ‘Star Wars’ at Risk?

Magazine article Variety

Does Hyperdrive Release Slate Put ‘Star Wars’ at Risk?

Article excerpt

Does Hyperdrive Release Slate Put ‘Star Wars’ at Risk?

As new installments whiz by annually, concerns arise that franchise fatigue may not be far, far away

"STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI," which premieres this weekend, is the third Lucasfilm title to hit theaters in the span of two years. It emerges as an important test of whether the studio's aggressive release schedule will diminish the specialness for which the storied franchise has long been known.

Until 2015's "The Force Awakens," "Star Wars" movies arrived infrequently and were treated as major cultural events. Kids skipped school and braved long lines to fill multiplexes. The films were spaced three years apart, building anticipation in between pictures. Even the poorly reviewed prequel trilogy, starting with "The Phantom Menace" in 1999, had three-year gaps; "Phantom Menace" came 16 years after 1983's "Return of the Jedi." "The Force Awakens" bowed 10 years after "Revenge of the Sith," the last of the prequels.

Now, Disney plans to release a new "Star Wars" film every year through at least 2019. "The Last Jedi" will be followed next May by "Solo: A Star Wars Story," the second recent non-trilogy anthology film (after "Rogue One"). Then comes Episode IX, directed by J.J. Abrams, slated for release in December 2019. That same year Disney plans to launch its branded streaming service, for which Lucasfilm is developing an original TV series.

There's more: Last month, Disney announced that "The Last Jedi" director-writer Rian Johnson has been tapped to create a new "Star Wars" trilogy once the current one concludes. No release dates have been announced.

But questions of sheer tonnage arise: How vast can this universe become, and will the steady stream of films erode interest in the franchise over time, particularly in the era of Netflix binge-watching and peak TV?

"There's always a possibility of franchise fatigue," said JeffBock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. But he also noted that Lucasfilm's ambitious release schedule might be Disney's way of adapting to consumers' changing viewing habits. "In the day and age of streaming, you really get 15 seconds of fame as a franchise, or as a sequel," he added. "You really have to milk it for all it's worth while it's going on." Bock said a major asset was the studio's clear idea of where the narrative is headed. …

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