The first bit of official tracking for Star Wars The Last Jedi is on the board, and the news is good. At first glance, we’re (as expected) looking at a $200 million+ premier weekend, with three weeks left to go and tons of (hopefully) positive buzz left to build up.
Star Wars The Last Jedi movie is having its big debut in Los Angeles on December 9, the regular LA press screenings are Monday the 11th and I believe the review embargo will drop shortly after. By the way, if Rotten Tomatoes decides to make The Last Jedi the huge Tomatometer score reveal for that week’s See It/Skip It episode, please take the time to actually Google the damn reviews instead of presuming some diabolical studio conspiracy.
For the time being, Walt Disney’s main marketing job is two-fold.
First, they have to channel expectations so they don’t wind up with another Avengers: Age of Ultron situation. As you may recall, that MCU sequel began a wave of handwringing about superhero fatigue and/or how it was killing pop culture after it debuted with “just” $191 million in its first week, the second-biggest opening ever at time behind the $207m debut of the first Avengers movie. Nevermind that the movie gained $459m in North America and $1.4 billion worldwide (including more overseas than the original Avengers), the Joss Whedon movie was dogged by indications of being a disappointment as it didn’t break all the records twice in a row.
There is plenty of reason to think that this Star Wars sequel will not make as much as The Force Awakens, not the least of which is the fact that Star Wars trilogies always peak at the first entry, hit proverbial “rock bottom” with the second film and then rebound a little for the finale. Moreover, the film is more of a known quantity this time out. There won’t be any huge surprise about who the hero turns out to be. And Walt Disney won’t be having the entire “Star Wars redeemed after the prequels” narrative this time around.
Oh, and it won’t be the first new live-action Star Wars film in years nor the first “non-prequel” live-action Star Wars “episode” in almost 3 decades, to say nothing of increased competition from Fox’s The Greatest Showman, Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Fox’s animated movie Ferdinand and Universal/Comcast Corp.’s Pitch Perfect 3. But the hope is that The Last Jedi will open with just enough (over the $209 million opening weekend of Jurassic World) to at least notch the second-biggest opening weekend of all time.
While Walt Disney will be selling the notion that Episode VIII won’t be as huge of a hit as Episode VII (especially overseas, arguably), their other job will be taking actions to prevent too much of a downturn. To that end, the marketing thus far has been rather explicitly focused on Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. The main hero and the main villain, both would-be Force users Jedi/Sith-ish characters, who are both distraught over their fates and conflicted over their true paths. Indeed, we’ve seen bits and pieces of Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and the Porgs, but the marketing job has been very much centered on the yin and yang of the upcoming Star Wars trilogy.
This works to get those who only became fans after the last film interested in the further adventures not of the Star Wars brand but particularly of Rey, Kylo and Finn. Since we now know who these newcomers are, the Last Jedi marketing has the advantage of 1) being a sequel to an extremely popular predecessor which offers the return of beloved new characters and 2) being capable of selling those new characters upfront this time around. Yes, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is hovering over much of the imagery and much of the video spots, but the key conflict of the marketing is mainly centered on the inner conflicts of Rey and Kylo, with just enough of Finn and Poe to remind you how much you liked those people last time out.
And, yes, they are also offering nostalgia hits with every frame of Carrie Fisher. That’s another major wild card, as it’s not almost impossible, depending on the size of her role and the nature of her final sequences, that The Last Jedi could serve as a kind of memorial to the late actress in a way not dissimilar to Furious 7 and The Dark Knight. That’s wholly speculation for now, but it’s something to consider. And, as I’ve said before, if the movie contains an action scene with Luke, Rey and Leia (all Force users, natch) doing battle ensemble (preferably all with lightsabers), then all bets are off.