The 8 Ball 11.06.12: Top 8 Steps to Success For Disney's Star Wars Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 11.06.2012
From releasing the theatrical cuts of the films on Blu-Ray/DVD and moving forward with a live-action TV series to leaving The Clone Wars alone, branching out beyond the core characters and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 steps for success for Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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You may have heard that a little movie studio bought a little independent company that makes a tiny sci-fi franchise. You know, Disney...Lucasfilm...Star Wars. The internet just about imploded last week when this was announced, and fans are still bouncing off the walls in both ecstasy and nerd rage. We here at 411 had a lot of opinions about it, but the overall sentiment was that this is something to be excited for. Disney has a lot of things they can do from here; some would be good ideas, some bad. So this week, I thought it would be fun to look at how I think Disney could find some real success with the Star Wars franchise and avoid some of the pitfalls that they potentially have looming.
Caveat: Pretty self-explanatory this week. The only thing to note was that there were no honorable mentions, as that seemed a bit silly with this topic.
#8: Don't Screw With The Clone Wars
Let's be honest...The Clone Wars has had an up-and-down kind of a road. The animated series got off to a very strong start in 2003, about a year following the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Genndy Tartakovsky and Henry Gilroy created a series that helped reinvigorate some enthusiasm for the series after fanbase loudly voiced their displeasure with the first two films. Then Gilroy moved on to co-write the animated Clone Wars movie and it all went to hell, with some of the most ridiculous characters in the franchise's history including an offensively transgendered Hutt and an incredibly annoying apprentice for Anakin in Ahsoka. The television series that followed largely redeemed the concept though, making Ahsoka a much more likable character and giving us a young Anakin that we can actually respect.
Now that Lucasfilm is in Disney's hands, there is already word that the studio is planning on moving the show off Cartoon Network after the current season expires and move it to their own Disney XD. That's perfectly fine and understandable; Cartoon Network is owned by Time-Warner and thus is Disney's hefty rival. Why not use Star Wars to get attention on your own network? That being said, Disney needs to be cautious not to screw with the success of the show. Switching networks won't kill the show but if they try to "tweak" the show to fit certain demographics and network vision then they will have a recipe for disaster. Disney's actions with The Clone Wars may not seem significant but I believe that it is deceptively important as it will be the first product in which we will see what the studio plans to do. There are those who are just waiting for Disney to screw this all up, and anything that swings public (and fanboy) opinion into the negative could well have terrible repercussions on the rest of the franchise.
#7: Star Wars Live-Action TV Series
For the past couple of years, George Lucas and Star Wars producer Rick McCallum have spoken fairly extensively about the fact that they have a large quantity of scripts written for a potential live-action Star Wars TV series. McCallum most recently spoke about them in June, saying, "we have spent three and a half years on and there are 50 hours totally scripted... Well, they're all second draft scripts and it would probably take a year of prep before shooting would start, but that's because they're all very complex." He added that the stories were adult stories, describing it as "Deadwood in space." So why hasn't this mythical ball of potential greatness been realized? Cost. McCallum continued, "The situation we have is that each episode – or if you put two hour long episodes together – is bigger than any film we've ever done. It's on the Avatar level and we'll only have about $5-6 million we can spend on each episode." Frankly, those aren't TV shows, those are their own films. If you can't fit a television show within a $5 million to $6 million budget than you don't have a TV series.
That being said, a reasonable TV series set within the Star Wars universe should not be infeasible. Marvel appears to be pulling it off; they have Joss Whedon writing a pilot for Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. that doesn't focus on the epic effects-driven cinematic scope of the films but still ties firmly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That should be a model of how to do a Star Wars TV series. Set the series not around the epic wars and Jedi/Sith battles and such; focus it on a smaller but quite possibly more interesting aspect that you can fit into a sane budget. Seriously, think about how much of a coup this could be for Disney. Consider if you will a weeknight night ABC television block consisting of Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. and Star Wars. The network would win the night. Every week. Even in repeats. This should be a no-brainer.
#6: Branch Out Beyond the Core Characters
One of the biggest things that killed the prequels right out of the gate (although no one knew it at the time) was the fact that they were telling the origin story of one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history in Darth Vader. There was no way that the prequels could have ever lived to what fans were hoping for and while I'm not trying to say that there weren't issues with the story that were completely unrelated to fan hopes, similar characters would not have been hated nearly as much if they weren't Darth Vader and company. Early rumors (and let's be clear: "rumor" is all that they are) place Episode VII through Episode IX centered largely on the core characters from the first trilogy. I'm not at all saying that you don't include them in some way, but you can't rely on them. Mark Hamill is sixty-one, Harrison Ford is seventy and Carrie Fisher is fifty-six. These are not what you want for your action leads. In addition, Disney will find that they have the same problems with follow-ups to the original trilogy that Lucas had with the prequels; whatever they come up with, they can't top what fans are expecting. So don't try. Make them present, and maybe even pivotal, but they can't be the leads. Setting Jar Jar (and perhaps Shmi Skywalker) aside, some of the most well-received characters in the prequels were new ones like Qui-Gon, Darth Maul, even Dooku. And there are a lot of potential characters from the Expanded Universe to include, from Mara Jade Skywalker and Thrawn to Kyle Katarn from the games, the next generation of the Skywalker clan and so on.
And if Disney doesn't want to follow the path down the Expanded Universe, that could be okay too. I would prefer that they follow the EU many of us Star Wars fans known and love, but I can see where they might not want to go down that road. They still need to make sure that they aren't resting the success of the franchise on characters that will not be able to hold up to what fans want from them. Besides, the original trio of leads won't be around forever, so it's time to look at the franchise's legacy right away. Even three films are going to take a long time and that needs to be taken into account.
#5: More Prequels (But Further Back)
You know what this franchise really needs? More prequels. Now put the blasters down; I'm not suggesting Star Wars Episode 3.5: Vader Yells "Noooo" Again or anything of that nature. I don't think we need to revisit the rise of Skywalker ever again. I would rather see it go back further. Let's go way back...as in, about 4,000 years back to the time of the Old Republic. That era of Star Wars history is pretty well beloved thanks to the games and stories that have populated the world, and you know that that inner Star Wars geek inside of you wants to see Revan realized in live action glory. Obviously that has a risk related to the above entry as fan anticipation would be very high for the iconic characters of that franchise as well, but it would be far less than that of Anakin and the others; more importantly, the stories are well removed from the Imperial era that is so well-documented. You don't need to start throwing characters from The Old Republic MMO into the game or anything (though I think it would be bad-ass to see Satele Shan in the flesh, personally) but you would still have a built-in fanbase and an era that would not only have the same kind of epic battles that made the franchise so beloved, but would also allow to tell the kind of stories that could make for truly great films.
#4: Effects Aren't Everything
There are times looking at the Star Wars prequels that you become completely disassociated with the story, and I'm not necessarily blaming all of that on the story or the acting. Part of it was that George Lucas wanted the film to be visually dazzling. And don't get me wrong; there are times that the films are so beautiful that you want to pay more attention to the backgrounds than you do the story. That's a problem. I can look at plenty of CGI landscapes without paying the price of a movie ticket. If your film looks too much prettier than the story has weight, people will reject it. And what's more, there are times within the prequels that there is so much CGI that I just don't care. The stakes are lower when you're looking at a video game but you don't have your own controller. Have you ever just sat there for two hours and watched someone else play Knights of the Old Republic? As great of a game as it is, it's kind of boring to just watch. This is why Disney needs to do two things. First off, they need to invest in a writer who can make the events occurring on the screen draw your attention as much as the shiny pretties in the background. Second, they need to tone down the CGI a bit. Even the best CGI is still clearly CGI. Practical filming always seems better if it is a comparable visual look to the CGI. Of course some things you can't do practically, but you should always strive to do that and that's something Disney could improve about for the franchise.
#3: Create Two Markets: Kids and Adults
This shouldn't be that hard, and I hate to keep pointing to Marvel but they have proven how easy it is. In fact, so has DC; comic book companies have managed a feat that studios often seem incapable of doing and that's appeal to people of all ages in different ways. Ewoks, Gungans, funny droids all have their place within the Star Wars universe. Whether we like it or not, it's true. But it is possible to put out properties with such things to appeal to kids and then others that appeal to adults; more importantly, it is possible to appeal to one without making it inappropriate or unappealing to the other. Again, going back to Marvel they have cartoons that are more kid-oriented but are enjoyed by adults, and the films are clearly for adults but appeal to children as well and never reach an inappropriate level for them.
Now, if anyone knows how to do this, it is the people at Disney. They've seen their fellows at Pixar appeal to all ages simultaneously in a way that no one else has done quite as successfully; by the same token they have seen Marvel do the aforementioned "levels" of maturity under their watch. This is one of the reasons why Disney is potentially the perfect home for Star Wars. There can and should be kid-oriented content in the Star Wars universe, without question. And there can and should be adult-oriented content. Disney just has to figure out how to mix them right, and I think that they can.
#2: Respect the Fans, But Don't Cater To Them
Look, I'm a Star Wars fan. I think that goes without saying (I'm writing this column, after all). I've seen and own all the movies, even if I haven't bought any of them on Blu-Ray; I have many toys and I have played almost all the Star Wars video games. I run a bi-weekly Star Wars-set pen-and-paper role-playing game. I've watched The Clone Wars, I think The People vs. George Lucas is a great documentary; long story short (too late!), I am a Star Wars nerd. I also have some very strong ideas about exactly what should be in the franchise in terms of plot, characters, scenes, fights, species and so on. And by no means whatsoever should Disney feel the need to do exactly what I say. Let me say it again: I am a Star Warsfan. I am not a Star Warscreator. I haven't done the research to see that my thoughts would be what anyone else wants and frankly I have the luxury not to give a rat's ass what anyone else wants, as have all of us reading this. (I assume that Kathleen Kennedy and others at Lucasfilm are not reading this; call it a hunch.) That is the right that any fan has, to dream and hope and rant and rave. If I really want to see my stories told, I can write fan fiction. A Star Wars creator, on the other hand, doesn't have the luxury of doing everything every fan wants. It isn't possible. At some point, they need to service the story and what would make the best story without a bunch of auxiliary members of the 501st standing over their shoulder and telling them what they NEED to be doing.
On the flip side, they can't ignore the fanbase. One of the biggest problems with the end of the Star Wars franchise under Lucas was how adversarial he became with Star Wars fans. Now I'm not trying to say that Lucas is a bad guy; he's actually a pretty damned awesome guy, both as a person and as a content creator. He allowed fans to create their own fan films and fan edits without claiming any sort of copyright infringement and he is a humanitarian as well. But he took a stance at some point of "the fans hate me anyway, so screw their thoughts on the franchise." And that created a certain level of hostility in fans toward the franchise that wouldn't have otherwise been there. There is some responsibility to the fans, but it has to be a measured responsibility. This is probably the trickiest thing Disney will have to do, but they have the skills to do it.
#1: Release the Original Theatrical Cuts of Star Wars on Home Video
The image above is not an original theatrical cut-specific image. You can't find decent-quality images of the original theatrical cuts, because one of those adversarial points Lucas had was his stubborn refusal to release the theatrical cuts on Blu-Ray and later DVD versions. We were getting his most recently-amended vision whether we preferred it to the original or not. Again, he has the right but it wasn't perhaps the best move to engender fan support. More to the point, it was flushing some potential profits down the toilet. Let's throw some numbers at you: the Blu-Ray release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga made $84 million dollars in 2011. That's more than 94% of the movies released theatrically in 2011, and that's also with only three months of the year available to count from the point they were released in September. And that was with a sizable portion of fans that, like me, utterly refused to buy the films on Blu-Ray. Why would I? I have non-mucked-with versions on DVD, although even those have the Special Edition changes. If the original theatrical editions were released on Blu-Ray, it pretty much goes without saying that you would get not only most of those $84 million worth of fans who bought the original (we as a society are used to double-dipping DVDs), but those who didn't buy the original. What's more, the release would engender an immediate statement of goodwill; I daresay that few things would bring more positive word of mouth than a symbolic gesture like this. Profit + Fan goodwill = Winner. It's just that simple.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Eight (1971) Episodes Watched: 587 Last Serial Completed:Colony in Space - When the Time Lords discover that the Master has stolen their secret file on the Doomsday Weapon, they realize that they have only one recourse and send the Doctor and Jo--without their knowledge or consent--to the planet Uxarieus. There, they become enmeshed in a struggle between an agrarian colony and a powerful mining corporation, with the Master himself pulling strings from the shadows. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 42
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.