There’s been a flurry of Internet activity over the past few days surrounding Rian Johnson. First there was the rumor that Johnson was walking away from Disney and Lucasfilm and cancelled his Star Wars trilogy. Johnson almost immediately responded that the project was still, in fact, on. Now, if you’ve read my work here you know that I didn’t care for The Last Jedi. I’m going to try to put aside my personal opinions about the film and examine this from a business perspective. The Johnson trilogy is still on… but why?
There’s no question that The Last Jedi was a major cash cow for Disney and the Star Wars franchise. Just look at Disney’s December earnings comparison from 2017 to 2018. The studio earned most of that Episode VIII revenue, however, before the controversy surrounding the film kicked into high gear. Fans either loved or hated The Last Jedi with not much of an in-between. The film fractured the fan base. Though it can’t be empirically proven, there’s really no question that fan backlash factored into Solo: A Star Wars Story’s poor-by-Star-Wars-standards showing at the box office. And here we are still talking about TLJ well over a year later. So why is the Johnson trilogy still a go?
Johnson Trilogy Still Proceeding Despite Controversy
As revered as the Star Wars franchise is, to Disney it is little more than a product to be sold. That’s why moving forward with Johnson trilogy honestly doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of business sense. Yes, The Last Jedi made money. But now, Rian Johnson is immersed in perhaps the biggest controversy to affect any franchise or fandom ever. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no single film has affected a fandom the way The Last Jedi affected Star Wars. Fans called (and continue to call) for a Star Wars boycott as a result of Johnson’s treatment of the franchise. The likelihood that a Johnson trilogy of Star Wars films will be well received is questionable at best.
I’m going to use a “New Coke” analogy here, so bear with me. Coca-Cola was (is) one of the most popular soft drinks on the planet. Yet, some executive in some boardroom decided to “take it in a different direction” with New Coke. The general reaction was not what the Coca-Cola powers-that-be had hoped for, by any means. So would you continue to make New Coke, knowing it’s not what the majority of consumers wanted? Or do you go back to what works and restore your hold on the marketplace? The answer is simple, and we know what Coke did. Yes, I’m saying that Rian Johnson, and the Johnson trilogy, is New Coke.
Moving Forward With Johnson Trilogy Contradicts Past Business Decisions
No, moving forward with the Johnson trilogy doesn’t make particular sense from a business perspective, for sure. Further, it completely contradicts Disney and Kathleen Kennedy’s past business practice with the franchise. They summarily fired Lord and Miller from directing Solo. The reason? Their vision for Solo deviated too greatly from the general tone of the Star Wars films preceding it. Yet, Johnson unquestionably deviated from Star Wars precedent in extraordinary fashion, arguably to the detriment of the franchise. There has been no explanation, nor do we expect one, for why such deviation was allowed in the one instance and quashed in the other. And still the Johnson trilogy proceeds.
Maybe they’re hoping his future projects won’t be as divisive since he can no longer tinker with the heart of the Star Wars. Perhaps the studio is taking the “any publicity is good publicity” stance and rolling the dice. Whatever the reason, moving forward with the Johnson trilogy, despite the current climate of the franchise Johnson created with The Last Jedi, still seems like too big a risk to take.
What say you, Star Wars fans?