Is Disney Getting Ahead of Itself With its 'Star Wars' Spinoffs?

Disney is going full steam ahead with the 'Star Wars' franchise, having already announced the directors of two of its stand-alone films that will hit theaters between core episode releases. Is it trying to accelerate the franchise too quickly, though?

Jun 9, 2014 at 12:35PM

On June 4, Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) and its Lucasfilm studio announced that director Josh Trask had been brought on to direct another stand-alone spinoff of the "Star Wars" franchise. While this immediately drew references to Trask's current work on the Fantastic Four reboot and raised questions about what it might mean for that fledgling series, there's perhaps a more important question that should be asked. Is Disney getting too far ahead of itself with "Star Wars"?

The 'Star Wars' slate
Director J.J. Abrams is currently working on "Star Wars: Episode VII," slated for release on Dec. 18, 2015. The film will serve as not only the beginning of a new trilogy of "Star Wars" films, but also as a launching point for annual "Star Wars" releases (similar to the twice-yearly superhero film release schedule used by Disney's Marvel Studios). If Lucasfilm is going to release a new "Star Wars" film each year, it obviously needs to get started making the films.

Trask's selection as director of a "Star Wars" spinoff is the second such announcement that's been made recently; on May 22, it was announced that Godzilla's Gareth Edwards would helm the first spinoff that is scheduled for a Dec. 16, 2016 release.

While a specific date for Trask's film wasn't included in the official announcement, it can be assumed that it will land on or around Dec. 15, 2017. This will bridge the gap between Episode VII and Episode VIII, but it will also mean that fans are getting twice as many stand-alone films as main story pieces in the meantime.

Too much filler?
With the decision to declare much of the existing "Star Wars" content on the market as definitively non-canon, the stand-alone films (along with other offerings such as the upcoming "Star Wars: Rebels" animated series on Disney XD) will serve as key pieces of the official "Star Wars" history. This can be good for those fans who want every piece of the franchise that they can get, but it may also cause friction in some cases if Han Solo or Boba Fett's on-screen origins contradict popular content from the old Expanded Universe.

More importantly for Disney, the stand-alone films may end up diluting the impact of the "core" episode films. Fans will have taken in several more stand-alones than "core" films in the years that it takes for the next trilogy to hit theaters, and this "Star Wars" saturation could result in decreased enthusiasm for future installments (especially if the stand-alones don't meet the standards of the "core" films ... or if they prove more popular).

These are not the films you're looking for
When it comes down to it, it would be silly to assume that Episode VII will be anything but a hit. The often-reviled Phantom Menace earned more than $1 billion in theaters worldwide, and brought in $64.8 million on its opening weekend in the U.S. alone. Fan disapproval was seen when Attack of the Clones opened two years later, but even it brought in a worldwide total of $649 million. These films are "Star Wars" films, and they're the first "Star Wars" films that are being done without George Lucas ... people will come to see them in droves, either out of excitement about new "Star Wars" movies or curiosity to see what Abrams does with the franchise.

Right out of the gate, Disney will have a successful franchise on its hands. Most likely, it will have a franchise that it will be able to keep going for several years. Some older fans may feel like they aren't real "Star Wars" films as they'll likely be more effects-oriented (similar to the prequel trilogy and Abrams' "Star Trek" films), but they will likely continue to perform well and give Disney a similar dominance during the Christmas season as it has during the summer with its Marvel offerings. The problem will be whether "Star Wars" can keep up the momentum.

Core "Star Wars" episodes may start to get lost among spin-offs and stand-alones, and certain characters may start to become caricatures of themselves as the series goes on. This will not only alienate some fans, but may also lead to some of the same problems that the Expanded Universe had as writers of new films try to find ways to top what's already been done. This could lead to major problems for the franchise, and may even result in Disney delaying future releases while it tries to figure out where to go with a franchise where everything's been done on-screen except having Jedi tossing around Star Destroyers with Force powers.

But what if new 'Star Wars' works?
Of course, some of these worries are based on the idea that the "Star Wars" franchise will split into "core" films and unrelated stand-alones that focus on the cool characters from the previous movies. It's entirely possible that Disney will be more organized than this, especially when you look at the Marvel universe from which the "Star Wars" releases seem to draw their inspiration. The stand-alone films that Edwards and Trask are working on may actually tie in to the main episodes in some ways, providing additional backstory that's relevant to the trilogy without being absolutely essential. If this is the approach that Lucasfilm takes, it's possible that the studio could avoid "Star Wars" oversaturation.

The key issue will be whether the studio simply focuses on telling tales from the "Star Wars" universe or if each film seems to try and top the rest. Escalation for the sake of escalation won't end well. Instead, the filmmakers should take the time to flesh out the universe and explore all that it has to offer instead of simply trying to make "Star Wars" synonymous with "bigger space battle and longer lightsaber fight than you saw in the last movie." If they can do that, then the franchise will be in good hands.

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