For all the hate that Star Wars has been getting lately, you'd think that Disney (NYSE:DIS) is down to panhandling to keep the franchise alive.
Social media, vloggers, and die-hard fans of the galactic series have been warning that the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride that opened earlier this month at Disney World was going to be a dud and that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was going to be a theatrical disappointment. Reality has been far kinder to the House of Mouse.
When it comes to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and final installment in the original series did have a disappointing opening weekend. Weak critic scores and folks bellyaching about the film before it was even released may have hurt initial demand. Generally deteriorating multiplex traffic trends didn't help, either.
However, we're now seeing that folks actually enjoy the movie that the critics are dissing -- a reversal from Star Wars: The Last Jedi that won over 91% of the official film critics but just 43% of the viewers, according to reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The new film has an 86% audience approval rating, falling behind only the original classic trilogy.
I have a good feeling about this
Armed with strong word of mouth, The Rise of Skywalker is holding up better than recent installments. On Thursday, the seventh day of its official release, the film topped what The Force Awakens scored in ticket sales on the same day four years earlier.
The news gets even better when pitted against The Last Jedi: The latest film has outgrossed the previous entry in each of the past four days, including nearly doubling what The Last Jedi rang up in domestic ticket sales on the seventh day of its release.
Disney already has the five highest grossing movies of 2019, with Frozen II recently making the cut. The media giant will be the studio behind the six biggest winners by the time the 2019 release slate plays out.
The news gets even better when it comes to Disney's theme parks. Folks have been gravitating to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida since the Rise of the Resistance attraction opened on Dec. 5. I finally had a chance to experience it myself this past weekend, and it truly raises the bar on what a theme park attraction can be in capable hands. The number of jaw-dropping "How did they do that?" elements on the next-gen ride is why Disney watches over the most visited theme parks on the planet.
Even Disneyland, the original park that's been struggling after back-to-back quarters of year-over-year declines in attendance, is starting to bounce back. The park had to stop selling tickets on Friday morning because it was filled to capacity, and even the Anaheim, California, transit system issued a warning on delays related to the heavy traffic in the area.
🚩#ALERT: Due to extreme traffic around Disneyland® Resort, all ART Routes are likely to experience delays through New Year's Day.— Anaheim Resort Transportation (@RideARTbus) December 27, 2019
We appreciate the patience of all of our riders during this highly congested holiday season.
This may be the peak holiday travel season, but with Disneyland criticized for blocking access to so many of its pass holders this time of year, it's an impressive feat to have to turn away new money because the original park is at capacity. The best thing about Disneyland's recovery is that it's happening before its own version of the head-turning Rise of the Resistance attraction opens in mid-January.
It's all coming together, and worrywarts arguing that Disney was fumbling the Star Wars franchise spoke before seeing the bigger picture. The new film (and even the success of The Mandalorian on Disney+, which concluded its initial season on Friday) are feeding into the appetite of park visitors.
With Disney shares closing in on all-time highs, it's fair to say that the market gets it in tapping it as a top consumer discretionary stock. Some people were just too quick to conclude that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge was going to be a flop to realize that it was just the first phase of something that will evolve over time. There were also alleged leaks of The Rise of Skywalker suggesting a product that wouldn't please the franchise's fans, but just 14% of the folks seeing it aren't walking away happy.
Disney and Lucasfilm are getting the last laugh here, and for now they're laughing all the way to the bank.