A long time ago in a blog far far away…
Star Wars: The Force Awakens made one billion dollars at a light speed of 12 parsecs, sorry, days. In doing so, it has further expanded the Disney Empire to a size that would turn Darth Vader’s mask green with envy.
Not before too long, Stars Wars has obliterated Titanic’s record like a Death Star and is currently force choking the life out of Avatar.
Success like this comes along every few years for the movie industry. Depending on what figure you like to use—no. of tickets, prices adjusted for inflation—there’s no doubt Disney has been using the force in its production and marketing strategies.
Here are five simple strategies that must have the Disney execs fist pumping to John William’s force theme…
Disney’s goal was to make a ‘retro’ film. This term basically means they wanted to restore the connection to the original Star Wars trilogy.
Humans in this galaxy reflect on our past with nostalgia. It’s believed the emotions and thoughts associated with nostalgia, help us derive meaning from our existence.
The familiar faces, music, and even similar ideas and scripts has bought them kudos with Star Wars fans who celebrated the return of their favourite film franchise with multiple viewings.
Another way of connecting with our past is through cultural icons like Darth Vader and Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo. Director JJ Abrams was clever in introducing the melted mask of Darth Vader—who perished in Return of the Jedi made almost 30 years ago—in promotional trailers, toys, etc.
Cultural icons are believed to help us connect with our society and culture. The Darth Vader mask is symbolic of blockbuster films and the broader entertainment culture of Western society. In the film, the mask is a symbol for the martyred villain, Darth Vader.
Our celebration of such icons is much like a modern-day religion. Recent psychological theories suggest that they can go as far as to make us feel less anxious about death because they help us feel more connected with something bigger and more enduring than ourselves.
Basically, it’s Earth’s alternative to turning into an immortal blue force ghost.
Mystery & Surprise
One of the more recognised events in the Star Wars saga was the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. At the time of its release in 1980, it was a lot easier to keep this secret to shock the audience.
The modern audience often walks in to a film having watched multiple trailers and read spoilers for films online. Disney was notoriously secretive about the Force Awakens, in particular about keeping the mysterious absence of Mark Hamill’s character, Luke Skywalker, under wraps.
Mystery and surprise are no stranger to successful companies that know how to intrigue their customers. For example, Steve Jobs enjoyed delighting audiences by declaring ‘just one more thing…’ during Apple announcements, before revealing a surprising new product or feature.
Surprise is considered to be one of only four core emotions we experience as humans. So it’s no surprise than when we experience this emotion, we find a special event even more memorable and are more likely to share our experience.
Star Wars branding is so extensive that there’s even a Darth Vader toaster that literally brands each slice of toast with the logo ‘Star Wars’.
As successful as ticket sales have been, Disney have been especially dedicated to exhausting the pull of the familiar Star Wars brand and its beloved original cast.
It has been slapped on a series of spin-off films as well as the obligatory figurines and toy lightsabers. But it extends to canned corn, body wash, runners, band aids, mascara, Star Wars themed parks and bottled water. There’s even a Darth Vader watch for $28,500!
Disney knows that the ticket sales are only bought once or twice. The real game is in the long-term merchandising of their new brand, which is set to make $5 billion in its first year. The brand is currently circulating across the galaxy (or planet) like an army of Stormtroopers.
As obvious and as boring as it is to highlight the importance of understanding the customer, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget and become overconfident like the evil Emperor from Return of the Jedi.
George Lucas showed us what happens when you indulge in your own creative ideas—as he did with the Star Wars prequel trilogy—instead of listening to the customer, the notoriously obsessive Star Wars fans.
Although financially successful, the films never reached the cultural significance of his earlier trilogy and are still widely criticised today.
Disney, however, aren’t wedded to artistic integrity. It just wanted to make a crowd pleasing film. This difference in philosophies later had Lucas jest that he felt like he sold his children to ‘white slavers’.
I’m surprised he didn’t say he turned them over to the darkside or, at least Jabba the Hutt. Perhaps Disney also acquired the rights to his Star Wars jokes too?