Star Wars: The Force Awakens may have been a box-office and cultural phenomenon of face-melting proportions, but Disney doesn’t think anybody should get too excited for a repeat when Rogue One hits theaters later this year. Variety reports that Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger discussed the new entry in the franchise at a Goldman Sachs conference on Wednesday, telling investors that "We never felt it would do the level that Force Awakens did," although he did tout that "the level of interest is as high as it was for Force Awakens."
The new film, which focuses on the group that steals the Death Star plans at the heart of the 1977 original, has had a tough go of it in the last few months. Director Gareth Edwards first articulated his gritty, Saving Private Ryan-inspired vision two years ago at the Star Wars Celebration convention, a take that excited the audience in attendance because it was such a departure from what had come before. But with the film undergoing extensive reshoots this summer — and filmmaker Tony Gilroy reportedly stepping in to lend a hand — many have taken the changes as a sign that Disney was unhappy with the dour tone, and hoped to lighten the film up a bit. (Screenwriter Gary Whitta, who wrote the first draft of Rogue One, has called the insinuations "bullshit.")
Iger's warning is just common sense
In reality, Iger’s warning is just common sense. The Force Awakens was the first new Star Wars film in a decade, and featured the return of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. It was a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events that led to the film's massive box-office success (in the US, it's the highest grossing film in history). Rogue One, on the other hand, is an entirely different proposition, and while it will feature the return of Darth Vader it’s nevertheless the first time a Star Wars live-action movie has stepped outside the confines of the Skywalker saga. But Disney clearly sees both Rogue One and its upcoming Han Solo spinoff — each of which are being branded as "A Star Wars Story" — as key to moving forward with the franchise.
Iger reportedly told investors that a writer has been locked down for the mysterious third spinoff film, which is scheduled to debut in 2020. (At various times, that film's been rumored to be about everyone from Obi-Wan Kenobi to Yoda.) But more importantly, he stated that he’d recently met with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy about planning out the Star Wars cinematic franchise beyond the next four years. It’s a sign of confidence that, despite Rogue One still being months away, Iger is so sure of the future of the property that he’s willing to move beyond the immediate slate, despite potential fears of audience burnout. It’s a conversation he’s also having with Marvel, which pioneered the cinematic universe model that Lucasfilm is now adopting, but for audiences the concept of what a Star Wars spinoff is — and whether they’re interested in them at all — will in large part be determined by what they see when Rogue One opens on December 16th.