Commentary

Iger's Star Wars Strategy Pays Off With 'Rogue One' Launch

The revenue story line was predictable despite some brutal reviews: “No Surprise: ‘Rogue One’ Triumphs at Box Office,” the New York Times tells us. But the plot for the Star Wars franchise is much, much richer than this one-off that scored decently on Rotten Tomatoes’ critics consensus (84%) and is teetering on an A- (90%) from more than 50,000 audience members who rated it over the weekend.

“‘Rogue One’ draws deep on Star Wars mythology while breaking new narrative and aesthetic ground — and suggesting a bright blockbuster future for the franchise,” is the Tomatometer recap.

But one can’t ignore a few rogues who were tripping over commas en route to scathing assessments that had no impact on the movie “collect[ing] an estimated $155 million at theaters in North America, on par with expectations and the second-biggest December opening on record [not factoring in inflation], behind last year’s ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ reports the NYT’s Brooks Barnes. 

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“The director of ‘Rogue One,’ Gareth Edwards, has stepped into a mythopoetic stew so half-baked and overcooked, a morass of pre-instantly overanalyzed implications of such shuddering impact to the series’ fundamentalists, that he lumbers through, seemingly stunned or constrained or cautious to the vanishing point of passivity, and lets neither the characters nor the formidable cast of actors nor even the special effects, of which he has previously proved himself to be a master, come anywhere close to life, writes Richard Brody in The New Yorker under a headline that asks “Is It Time To Abandon The ‘Star Wars’ Franchise?” altogether.

Fat chance of that.

“Forget Rogue One, Disney Is Rebuilding the Entire ‘Star Wars’Universe,” reads the hed atop Kim Bhasin’s piece for Bloomberg Friday. “The first feature film outside the main stories is just a small part of a wholesale remaking of George Lucas’s saga,” the subhed tells us.

“Hundreds of authors, artists, and game developers drew from the stories told by creator George Lucas, crafting what would be called the Expanded Universe, Bhasin explains. “Then Disney tore it all down.”

“Nobody mines their properties better than this company,” Bloomberg Intelligence media analyst Geetha Ranganathan tells him. Indeed, “since the reset, Disney has released dozens of new books to populate the Star Wars canon. Many are part of multi-platform revenue pushes that provide more layers to existing properties,” reports Bhasin.

And plenty of critics enjoyed themselves as much as anybody else who navigated icy roads to get to the cinema in the northern U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, “in release in about 70% of the overseas market, ‘Rogue One’ sold an additional $135.5 million in tickets, according to Disney,” writes Barnes.

“Brutal, Beautiful And Better Than 'The Force Awakens',” reads the headline over a spoiler-filled review by Forbes contributor Paul Tassi. 

“This is the start you hope for. This is the start you wish for,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “We’re ecstatic about the very excited response from audiences,” writes Tre'vell Anderson for the Los Angeles Times. And that’s because “its stellar performance for the Burbank entertainment giant, which paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012, bodes well for the multiple other ‘Star Wars’ movies planned during the next several years.”

“This was a little bit of a litmus test of what these standalone films can mean, both storytelling-wise and commercially,” Hollis tells Anderson — “noting that the spinoffs have the potential to ‘create a way in’ for new Star Wars fans. ‘But the bar that we have to hit is very high.’”

“The success of ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ shatters any doubts that the world of Jedi knights, shadowy totalitarian governments, and bug-eyed aliens is much bigger than the saga of the Skywalker clan,” writes Brent Lang for Variety. When Disney CEO Bob Iger bought Lucasfilm and “promised to ‘grow’ the franchise,” Lang tells us, “he wasn’t just talking about making a new trilogy, though one started with the release last year of ‘The Force Awakens,’ nor was he intent on doing a few theme park rides and cartoon TV series. He wanted to, in essence, Marvel-ize the galaxy far, far away.”

And even if the New Yorker’s Brody and some others aren't marveling at the current execution of that strategy, there’s clearly a universe of true believers who are making Iger look like the franchising genius some say he is.

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