Disney (NYSE:DIS) CEO Bob Iger recently confirmed that "at least three" new Star Wars spin-off films were in the works, running parallel to its three upcoming main films, Episodes VII, VIII, and IX. Disney has stated in the past that the first two spin-off films (also referred to as "origin films" by Disney CFO Jay Rasulo) were tentatively scheduled for 2016 and 2018, to pick up the slack between the upcoming films in the new trilogy. Episode VII is expected to hit theaters in December 2015.

The first two spin-off films will reportedly star fan favorites Han Solo and Boba Fett, while fans have speculated that other future films might star Yoda or Darth Maul. What's clear is that Disney is planning on expanding its Star Wars Universe -- which it acquired by buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion in October 2012 -- the same way it expanded the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Star Wars Anthology

Source: Lucasfilm.

The economics of Star Wars
Many fans consider George Lucas more of a visionary than the ideal writer and director for the franchise. Lucas -- who wrote and directed Episodes I,II,III, and IV -- is frequently criticized for his writing style and over-dependence on CGI special effects in the later installments.

But whatever your personal opinion of George Lucas, his ultimate plan for Star Wars was brilliant. He first let viewers see the end (Episodes IV to VI), then when those kids grew up, he revealed the beginning (Episodes I to III). Now, as the kids who grew up watching Episodes I through III have kids of their own, Lucasfilm is releasing Episodes VII to IX -- completing a four-decade long domination of three generations of viewers.

By 2010, that master plan had generated $4.55 billion in box office receipts, $9 billion in action figures and toys, and $1.6 billion in video games from LucasArts. Disney plans to replicate that business model, double its efforts with spin-off films, and place it beside Marvel as its second universe of long-term revenue growth.

A clean slate
Disney made it clear that its new trilogy will not take into account events from the Expanded Universe (EU) of Star Wars -- which includes all the comic books, novels, games, and spin-offs that have accumulated over the past few decades.

This erases notable events such as Luke's marriage to Mara Jade (although Mara will possibly appear in Episode VII), her subsequent death at the hands of Han and Leia's son Jacen Solo, and the death of Chewbacca. Disney rebranded the entire EU as "Legends," simply meaning that those events never actually happened.


Mara Jade, one of the most well-known characters introduced in the EU. Source: Comicvine.com

A lot of longtime fans were upset about the reset, but it makes sense -- the average moviegoer would have been confused if the new trilogy included all of the events that occurred in the EU.

The business of origin films
The big problem is that "spin-off" and "origin films" have a lot of trouble measuring up to the original films. Two recent examples are Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) Elektra (2005) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).


Production cost

Global box office

Rotten Tomatoes

Elektra (2005)

$43 million

$57 million


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

$150 million

$373 million


Source: Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes.

Although neither film completely bombed, both were poorly received by critics. Elektra was spun off from Daredevil (2003), but suffered because it just highlighted the fact that Jennifer Garner's Elektra wasn't actually interesting enough to carry a film without Daredevil. X-Men Origins: Wolverine made a different mistake, by altering Sabretooth's origin to the point that it didn't flow into his previous depiction in X-Men (2000).

The problems Fox experienced with Elektra and X-Men Origins: Wolverine highlight the mistakes that Disney could make with Boba Fett and Han Solo spin-off films.

Although Boba Fett only played a minor role in the original trilogy, his popularity prompted George Lucas to turn Boba and his "father," Jango, into central characters in Episode II: Attack of the Clones -- in which Jango was revealed to be the genetic template for the Clone Army. However, a Boba Fett solo film could suffer the same fate as Elektra -- he's just not interesting enough to carry an entire film.

Boba Fett

Is Boba Fett an overrated character? Source: Starwars.com

Meanwhile, a Han Solo spin-off, possibly starring younger versions of Han, Lando, and Chewbacca, is an interesting concept. However, the actor portraying a younger Han Solo would face the daunting task of filling Harrison Ford's shoes. However, I believe that a Han Solo origin film might succeed if Disney hands the film over to The Avengers director Joss Whedon, who created the similarly themed, cult favorite sci-fi series Firefly.

Do or do not, there is no try...
In conclusion, new spin-off films could quickly turn Star Wars into a second pillar of growth for Disney alongside Marvel. Since Disney started booking full profits from its Marvel films (starting from The Avengers), its Marvel films have grossed more than $4 billion over the course of four films in two years.

Disney's Studio Entertainment revenue has remained fairly unchanged since it acquired Marvel in 2009. The segment generated $5.98 billion in revenue in 2013, compared to $6.14 billion in 2009. Yet during that period, Disney gradually shifted film production to Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm -- letting those popular studios do the heavy lifting to avoid accidentally releasing in-house turkeys like Mars Needs Moms, John Carter, and The Lone Ranger.

However, Disney needs to plan its steps for Star Wars carefully, since missteps could alienate both longtime fans and new audiences. Let's just hope that Disney heeds Yoda's advice to avoid the "quick and easy path" when it comes to the future of Star Wars.

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Leo Sun owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.