December 27, 2014 – The signs are everywhere. 2015 will be not just a “memorable” year for the Star Wars franchise and fans worldwide. It will be GREAT, SPECTACULAR, or whatever superlative adjective you wish to insert here. And here’s why:
● Reboot of the Franchise: Forget the lead-heavy prequels, the wooden dialogue and awful scripts of Star Wars Episodes I, II and III. While still considered canon, Disney and Lucasfilms will largely ignore these three films going forward. Many will look at the coming premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with fresh eyes and treat it as the first real Star Wars movie to be released since Return of the Jedi in 1983. That’s 32 years of hoping and waiting for you longtime fans and cinephiles, but all indications are that Episode VII will be spectacular.
● New Direction: Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the script for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), was recruited to help co-write and rework the initial script for Episode VII. Kasdan and director J.J. Abrams realized they needed to return to classic storytelling while building a bridge toward the future. Episode VII, after all, is the first of three scheduled sequels, and both Kasdan and Abrams realize they have a pretty long tightrope to negotiate without falling off. The trick is to present a compelling story that moves the Star Wars arc forward while paying homage to the original trilogy. To do this, they have recruited many of the original cast (Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker; Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia; Harrison Ford as Han Solo: Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca; Anthony Daniels as C-3PO; and many others). At the same time, they have cast some rather young and talented actors who will likely carry the sequel going forward. We do not know how much of the script is focused on the old-timers (will some of them just appear on screen for a brief cameo appearance?) and how much of the heavy-lifting is assigned to the newer actors. Rumor is that Mark Hamill, having disappeared for 30 or so years, will be the focus of Episode VII. But at his current age of 67 years and because this is a sequel, we suspect the baton (or green lightsaber?) will be passed on to the newer actors to complete the sequel. The combination of old and new actors and interwoven storylines promise to make 2015 a watershed moment for the Star Wars franchise.
● Star Wars Theme Land: No secret here – Disney’s CEO, Bob Eisner, announced several months ago that he would be announcing major plans in early 2015 for a radical exploitation of Star Wars on the ground as a new Star Wars-themed land or area. We are likely to see new rides, attractions, dining options and character interactions at both Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Both theme parks already have a dedicated attraction (Star Tours II), and Walt Disney World has been hosting its annual summertime Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the last decade and a half. What we don’t know is the budget and size of the Star Wars Land expansion.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios may see the most change because of some recent closures of older attractions (Backlot Tour; American Idol Experience) and the expected demise of other areas (Lights! Motor! Action! and Indiana Jones, to name a few). Orlando also has a lot more room and opportunity, compared to Anaheim, for a radical re-imagining of how to present Star Wars as an interactive experience. While current budget realities will not allow for construction of a completely new theme park at Disney World (Disney already has four in Orlando – Magic Kingdom; Epcot; Animal Kingdom; and Hollywood Studios), the time is ripe for Hollywood Studios to receive a major overhaul. In addition, Disney is feeling the heat and competition from its neighbor down the interstate, Universal Orlando, which has seen spectacular growth and profits from the opening, in the last four years, of its two Harry Potter-themed lands, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley. Disney realizes it must up its game to retain market share, and 2015 promises to be the year that the Walt Disney Company finally unveils its grand plan for its theme park division.
● Economic Growth: The United States is ending 2014 with spectacular growth and numerous signs of a resurgent economy. Though many U.S. citizens may not feel it or mentally realize right away, and though other economies are still in a bit of a slump (Europe) or moribund (Japan, South America, Russia), the statistics point to high growth in 2015. The U.S. economy grew at a surprising 5 percent rate in the third quarter of 2014 and added 320,000 jobs in November, the best of an unprecedented 57 straight months of private-sector employment growth. The U.S. unemployment rate is now 5.8 percent (compared to Europe’s 11 percent). The Dow Jones just hit an all-time high at 18,000 and U.S. consumer confidence is soaring, inflation is low, gas prices are plunging (now averaging $2.38 per gallon), and the U.S. budget deficit is shrinking from a high of $1.2 trillion in 2009 to less than $500 billion in 2014. The American automobile industry is booming again, the United States is now a leading oil exporter (imagine that?!), and U.S. wind power has tripled while solar power has increased tenfold in five years.
So what does all this great economic news mean for the future of Star Wars? Everything. A resurging economy is more than a stack of spreadhsheets in the black. A booming economy also has huge psychological impacts, affecting how decisions are made in the boardrooms of Disney, Hasbro and others, and how consumers respond in kind. Higher profits for the Star Wars juggernaut (movies, toy products, games, theme parks) mean greater and faster expansion in the years to come. In many ways, 2015 is already here.