Something feels different this Christmas season, doesn’t it? Are your local movie theatres missing a kind of general excitement? Is there no real buzz among your friends? That may be because for the first time in three years, there’s no Star Wars film coming out this holiday season.
Back in 2015, after decades of Star Wars films being released in May, Disney flipped the script by releasing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December. The move was seismic. The film grossed a then-record $US248 ($345) million over its opening weekend and ended up making a record $US937 ($1,303) million domestically at the end of its 24-week run. For weeks, the electricity was insane. Star Wars was all anyone could talk about. However, The Force Awakens was also the first Star Wars film to come out in 10 years and a sequel over 30 years in the making. Surely, it was an anomaly.
Nope. Not in the slightest. In 2016, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story didn’t break those records, but it proved a new Star Wars movie with almost a completely new cast of actors and characters could still be a colossal success. The film still made $US155 ($216) million opening weekend and ended up grossing $US532 ($740) million domestically over a 20-week run. Like its predecessor, Rogue One ended up as the top grossing film of the year.
Then, last year you’ll remember the sequel to The Force Awakens was released, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And like its Star Wars siblings, it had a massive opening weekend ($US220 ($306) million) and ended up as the highest grossing film of the year, ending up with $US620 ($862) million over 18 weeks.
Those numbers aren’t just big, they’re legendary. They’re reserved for the kind of films that shift the conversation, not just in Hollywood, but around the dinner table. These Star Wars films weren’t just event movies, they were cultural landmarks, spawning debate, excitement, and driving people to theatres in droves. Each of the three was a film you could either take a date or your grandparents to because almost everyone enjoys Star Wars and wants to be a part of the conversation. If you didn’t see the films, somehow, you felt left out of something bigger.
But 2018 has been different. Instead of holding it for a December release, Disney released the latest Star Wars film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, on its originally announced May release date and something changed. For a huge number of factors, only one of which was the release date, the film grossed only $US84 ($117) million opening weekend and ended up with $US213 ($296) million domestic over a 17-week run. For any other movie, those numbers would be solid. But on the heels of The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi, a $US200 ($278) million movie was considered a failure.
So it’s no wonder things feel different this year. There’s no Star Wars film coming to theatres for the holiday season. As a result, though, other studios feel more comfortable releasing their own big tentpole films during this time period, much like they have historically before Star Wars changed things in 2015. The last three years were basically Star Wars and maybe two or three other major films. This year there are a lot more movies filling the void.
Universal has the Peter Jackson produced Mortal Engines and Robert Zemeckis’ directed Welcome to Marwen. Sony has the incredible animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the comedy Holmes and Watson. Fox is re-releasing Deadpool 2 as Once Upon a Deadpool. Warner Bros. has a little movie called Aquaman. Paramount has the return of the Transformers in Bumblebee. And instead of Star Wars, Disney is bringing back one of its most iconic characters in Mary Poppins Returns.
That’s an absurd amount of variety and content. Plus, early buzz and reviews on most of the films has been very strong. It seems like while the quantity is certainly higher, the quality may be there too, and that can only be a good thing for everyone. Theatre owners won’t have to bank on just one movie doing well. Movie studios can spread the wealth between them a bit. And moviegoers have a ton of options that could potentially bring them back to the theatre multiple times over the holidays.
And yet, even Mary Poppins, Spider-Man, Aquaman, Transformers, Deadpool, Robert Zemeckis, and Peter Jackson somehow don’t collectively add up to Star Wars. When asked if his film, Mary Poppins Returns, could be Star Wars for families this year director Rob Marshall told io9, “This is a movie I would want to go to with my family. If I had nothing to do with it, I’d want to take my grandmother and my children. I would want to go as a family because what movies can you do that with? Hopefully, this movie can work on many levels for many people.”
That’s the attitude most of these filmmakers likely have. They have made movies for the whole family to play at the holidays when fans of all ages can come out to see them. These are films with huge financial and franchise potential. But where’s the buzz? Where’s the excitement? Maybe after the films come out there will be some but, at the moment, all of these movies just feel like movies, nothing more. It’s almost as if, in pop culture, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s everything else.
Which is why, next year, Star Wars will be back at Christmas. Episode IX is scheduled for release December 20, 2019—and the competition, like previous years, is a little more subdued. And while we don’t know about the year after that (Disney will have Fox’s Avatar sequel in 2020, so it would be weird to compete with itself), Star Wars at Christmas has somehow begun to just feel right. No matter what our differences are in the world, it’s the present we can all unwrap and without it, the holiday season loses just a little of its magic.