Movie fans who believe that Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm was solely – or even primarily – about high quality filmmaking may be surprised to learn that Disney has other priorities. Concerned about the time needed to get Episode VII just right, producer Kathleen Kennedy recently asked the studio for an extension on the new film, but she was turned down. It seems Disney needs product and merchandise for the 2015 holiday season and isn’t willing to sacrifice that for a more carefully honed movie. This revised timeline resulted in the departure of screenwriter Michael Arndt (Toy Story 2) and an accelerated writing period for the new Star Wars film.
In a recent interview, Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger hinted at some of the other plans that may be dictating the course of the franchise, including a prominent new Star Wars presence at Disneyland in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. “The only thing I can share, which actually I don’t think we’ve talked about much, is there is a fair amount of development going on at Disney Imagineering right now to expand the Star Wars presence in California and in Orlando,” he told Bloomberg Media, before suggesting that plans are also in the works for parks outside the United States: “I think it’s likely that Star Wars will be in more than just our two domestic parks.”
Based on the success of earlier Star Wars films, these attractions and Disney’s other Star Wars products should have no trouble succeeding – in the short term. However, this emphasis on tie-ins may pose a threat to the franchise’s longevity. Coming off the disappointment of the prequel trilogy, this series is in desperate need of a powerhouse film that everyone can agree on. It’s not realistic to imagine Disney focusing on filmmaking alone, but if the studio can give J.J. Abrams and company the support they need to deliver a classic Star Wars film, Disney is likely to reap the rewards well beyond its 2015 annual report.