The original Star Wars films had colourful characters, dramatic action, adventure, epic scale, twists, and remarkable world building:
- Star Wars (1977)
- The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Return of the Jedi (1983)
These were later followed by the disappointing The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith(2005).
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is five years old now and attention on it has died down. I watched the J J Abrams film without expecting too much (echoing the disappointment of the previous three George Lucas films), but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely a return to form. It might be heresy to say this to fervent Star Wars fans (maybe not), but I’d say, watch the three original films and then go straight to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set thirty years after Return of the Jedi. The Galactic Empire has collapsed and been replaced by the First Order. It many ways the film is a retelling of Star Wars (1977). The CGI has improved, especailly the 3D physicality (unlike the CGI in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones). in Star Wars: The Force Awakens everything works, the acting, the story, and the world building. And it links nicely back to the original 1977 film. This is reflected in the films ratings. It has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 439 reviews), and in the film’s financial success.
It’s difficult not to look at a film like this without mentioning the financial side of the story, because this is a huge blockbuster and marketing franchise.
It cost $306 million to make and it took just over $2 billion. It made an estimated $780 million profit (which shows how much money went into the marketing and promotion).
For some context, here are the top ten grossing films:
- Avatar ($2,833 billion)
- Avengers: Endgame ($2,797 billion)
- Titanic ($2,194 billion)
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($2,068 billion)
- Avengers: Infinity War ($2,048 billion)
- Jurassic World ($1,671 billion)
- The Lion King ($1,656 billion)
- The Avengers ($1,518 billion)
- Furious 7 ($1,516 billion)
- Frozen II ($1.450 billion)
I’m being deliberately reductionist, but they are, in order: a science fiction story about blue aliens, a superhero film, a sinking ship tragedy, a science fiction and fantasy space opera, a superhero movie, a science fiction story about bringing dinosaurs back to life, a children’s animation about talking animals, another superhero film, a car chase film, and a children’s animation about a fairytale princess with magical powers.
The list of the top ten most successful media enternainment franchises is also interesting. Star Wars comes in at number 5. Wizarding World is number 10.
Largest total media franchises:
- Pokémon ($100 billion)
- Hello Kitty ($84.5 billion)
- Winnie the Pooh ($80.3 billion)
- Mickey Mouse & Friends ($80.3 billion)
- Star Wars ($68.7 billion)
- Disney Princess ($46.4 billion)
- Anpanman ($44.9 billion)
- Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) ($35.3 billion)
- Mario ($34.6 billion)
- Wizarding World (Harry Potter) ($32.2 billion)
Looking at this list, I’m struck by the fact that it’s dominated by characters aimed at children. Who would have thought that Hello Kitty would be the second largest franchise of all time? Not me.
Getting a story right is a tricky challenge at the best of times, but getting a story like Star Wars: The Force Awakens right for a global audience, and creating a blockbuster that’s also a huge franchise is something remarkable.