"Star Wars: Episode VII": How Big of a Risk is Disney Taking?

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
April 6th, 2014

At first glance, it may seem that producing a new "Star Wars" movie is a safe bet. After all, the franchise is one of the most popular of all time, and fans are sure to watch any movie based on the "Star Wars" universe. However, there are a few reasons why the studio may be wary, and there are several ways the move can backfire.

Recouping the Initial Investment

The cost of purchasing a franchise as popular as "Star Wars" is never cheap, and Disney reportedly paid four billions dollars to acquire the rights to "Star Wars." While most expect new "Star Wars" movies to turn a profit, trying to recoup billions of dollars on a film franchise is always a risk. Fortunately, Disney is poised to take advantage of their investment in other ways. While the movies are sure to receive the most attention, fans should look forward to theme park additions and other sources of revenue. Disney also owns ABC and a host of other television stations, so there is a chance fans may see characters from the "Star Wars" universe make an appearance on the small screen.

Disney needs to ensure a return of profit "Star Wars: Episode VII." A science-fiction movie in the "Star Wars" universe needs to wow audiences, and the production budget is guaranteed to be high. Simply relying on existing technology might not be enough, and Disney may be forced to invest in new technology to give viewers a unique experience. The studio needs to ensure that it  earns more than it spends.

Recovering from the Disastrous Prequels

The "Star Wars" prequels are largely hailed as some of the biggest critical failures in cinema history. Although plenty of people lined up to see the movies, both fans of the original series and those new to "Star Wars" left theaters feeling disappointed. While the movies have some supporters, those involved in their production admit to making monumental mistakes.

Fortunately, the "Star Wars" brand is still popular, and releases that have come out since the prequels have fared well. While the brand was damaged, there is still time to recover, and a solid new film outing is the best way to create a brand that pays off for Disney in the long term. Full recovery, however, is not guaranteed, and Disney is taking a risk by purchasing a franchise with a less-than-stellar reputation.

Capturing a New Audience

People in younger demographics tend to spend more than their older counterparts on merchandise and other items, so Disney needs to ensure that new "Star Wars" films attract a young base of viewers to support the franchise. While appealing to existing fans of the franchise is important, being able to reach out to new fans is critical for making the purchase of the "Star Wars" rights profitable.

Thanks to modern computer technology, smaller studios are now able to create impressive visuals, so Disney need to find a way to separate the "Star Wars" franchise from other competing franchises. Marketing to a young audience is always risky, and finding the right elements to focus on is essential for generating the buzz the franchise requires.

Working With Non-Disney Material

Disney is known for adapting old material, but the studio has little experience with existing franchises. By purchasing the rights to "Star Wars," Disney now has the burden of dealing with material over which it has had no creative control. Part of the risk of making "Star Wars: Episode VII" is being able to balance the studio's methods of creating new material with existing "Star Wars" material.

Finding this balance is critical. Disney must be cautious to avoid abandoning too much of what made the original films so appealing. Too much change is likely to upset long-time fans, while too little change may lead to mediocre ticket sales.

"Star Wars: Episode VII" and its sequels are sure to attract attention, but it is unclear if the "Star Wars" brand is worth the four billions dollars Disney spent on it. In addition, purchasing one of the most beloved cinema franchises of all time forces the studio to find the balance between updating the franchise for a new audience and avoiding changes that upset fans of the original material. While the move is inherently risky, Disney has shown an ability to adapt material effectively, and the studio's ability to market films and other sources of revenue is unmatched. It may take some time for Disney to make a profit on its investment, but there are good reasons for the Mickey Mouse Studio to feel optimistic about "Star Wars."