News broke this week that Walt Disney executives, apparently unhappy with the tone of their forthcoming Star Was spin-off film Rogue One, have ordered four weeks of re-shoots this summer to lighten it up, as it currently plays “too much like a war movie.”
This is a mistake.
On the one hand, I understand their concern:
- They have a multi-billion-dollar brand to protect.
Star Wars Episode VII made more than $2 bn. worldwide, and the canonical Episodes VIII and IX will have similar box office expectations.
Should a poorly-received Rogue One only gross (gasp!) $800 million, it could conceivably damage the audience reception (and box office) of the forthcoming primary chapters.
2. They have “Star Wars” to protect.
For me “brand protection” writ large refers to the company’s broader intellectual property and reputation – this is Disney, after all – the house of Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Marvel superheroes — simply put, the entire brand is built on appealing to children in a safe, imaginative way.
So there is a strong argument that dark and gritty tones have no place in the Wonderful World of Disney.
But “Star Wars” is a different, far more specific entity within that giant corporate structure.
So “protecting the Star Wars brand” has nothing to do with box office, but rather with the tone and overall mythology of the stories.
Thus, it boils down to this:
Should there ever be a dark version of Star Wars, even as just a one-off story?
For one, The Empire Strikes Back is still the best of the seven films – and it was bleak as Hell.
To review – by film’s end the heroes have lost. More specifically:
- Our hero has discovered his greatest enemy is his father
- Our hero has had his hand severed by his father
- Our secondary hero (Han) has been captured and frozen in carbonite
Further, even casual fans should already know the outcome of Rogue One.
It’s all there in one line from A New Hope:
“Many Bothans died to bring you this information.”
We have been told that the story of Rogue One is the telling of that tale – the execution of a Dirty Dozen-style guerilla mission to steal plans for the Death Star.
And the teaser trailer clearly lays this out, introducing a motley crew of characters with different talents necessary to accomplish that mission.
Logically, and within the pre-existing Star Wars mythology, most (if not all) of them should die.
To be the prequel story we have already had hinted at (and, honestly, deserve) we should see a disorganized and under-funded Rebel resistance undertaking a tense heist film that happens to involve a science fiction setting.
Rather, in aiming to lighten up Rogue One, Disney is playing it safe.
This says two things:
- We will never see the true “war” aspects of Star Wars, beholden as we now (apparently) are to the fan service space opera tone of the original trilogy; and
- Disney has squandered the potential to position these one-off Star Wars stories as truly different.
In my world, these expanded universe stories would be a showcase for different directors to tell discreet, smaller genre stories within the Star Wars universe without the expectations of a $1 bn. plus box office.
Let’s see a character study of a pick pocket or scrounger on a far-away planet; a love story on a remote mining colony; a murder mystery that happens to take place in Cloud City; etc.
Explore the infinite canvas of the Star Wars universe with a few films at a $60 million budget, rather than $250 million each.
Rather, by ordering re-shoots of its very first exploration of a broader universe that does not depend solely on the story of Darth Vader, Han, Luke, Leia and Ben Kenobi, Disney is admitting it won’t stray from its proven formula.
In so doing, Disney will likely sell more toys and movie tickets in the short term, but paint themselves into a corner in the long term.
There are only so many Episode VIIs (which was a brilliant fan service photocopy of A New Hope) that audiences will bear.
In nixing an (appropriately) original, darker and (most importantly) original Rogue One so early, Disney is sabotaging the long-term potential of the Star Wars brand itself.