Is Star Wars Losing Its Luster?

 

The title of this post sounds click baity, but it brings up a nagging thought among many fans over the beloved sci-fi franchise. There are many indications that Star Wars is losing its luster with the general public. No need to worry, Star Wars is not going anywhere, but the property just doesn’t seem to be capturing our excitement these days. Instead that is going to Disney’s other blockbuster IP, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star Wars is still a behemoth that brings in tons of dollars to Disney, but the evidence is becoming more clear. Let’s look at some facts:

  • The property has been swept up in the toxic culture wars that is strangling our society. It started with the release of the controversial Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has enraged many conservatives fans who accused it of being too politically correct.
  • The mixed to negative reaction to The Last Jedi, not just from haters but many die-hard Star Wars fans helped lead to the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story. That in turn led to the cancellation of planned Star Wars films.
  • Disney head Bob Iger admitted that too many Star Wars films were being released too quickly and cited this as a reason for Lucasfilm to cut back on Star Wars films.
  • Even though there is another Star Wars film coming out later this year, the enthusiasm for it is not as high as it was for previous Star Wars films.
  • Merchandising sales are down, with many retailers severely discounting Star Wars toys, especially those related to the Disney-era films.
  • The recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland has not brought in the massive crowds that Disney anticipated.

So, what is happening and why? The answers are not quite simple and it really depends on context. Yes, Star Wars is a victim of the stupid culture wars going on but that has affected other properties and franchises as well. Yes, there are too many sites and videos from haters infesting the web, but they also target Star Trek and even Marvel. Then the fact that these places champion underdog properties indicates that many of them just want to kick at the top dog of the moment. What didn’t help Star Wars is how Rey was written to be a Mary Sue and how the deconstruction of Star Wars in The Last Jedi alienated many die-hard fans who hated what writer/director Rian Johnson did with the characters.

There are many reasons why Solo didn’t perform well. A big part of it was due to the backlash of The Last Jedi, which is unfortunate because Solo was actually a fun film that evoked the traditional adventurous Star Wars films.

The scaling back of Star Wars films is a natural reaction to the mixed reception of recent films. However, more films are still being planned and the Disney streaming service, Disney+, will premiere this year The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars film and it is highly anticipated. Plus, the same service will include a new season of the beloved animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has many fans excited. So, for now, Star Wars’ future lies with television to keep us satiated until the next standalone or saga film.

All this hand wringing over the property could wind up being silly if the next film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, recaptures the magic and leads to new films coming out sooner. Given how Star Wars: The Last Jedi turned out, it is nearly certain that The Rise of Skywalker will play it safe and give fans what they want. In the long run, it could wind up hurting the franchise in the same manner that some were ultimately turned off by Star Wars: The Force Awakens because it was too derivatives of A New Hope. But a short-term win is called for.

Let’s face it, Disney went overboard with the marketing and merchandising of the property At first, it worked wonders for the company when they acquired the IP in 2012. The build up to The Force Awakens was immense and was a genuine phenomenon. Unfortunately, this led to Disney slapping the Star Wars label on practically everything. If we thought creator George Lucas was bad with the merchandising when he owned the property, Disney took the marketing to the nth degree. it is only natural that there would be a backlash and this led to lowered sales.

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Disney Buys Fox And Becomes An Entertainment Supergiant

We’ve all been expecting this for weeks with all the gossip and innuendo. Some salivated over the idea of an expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), others feared the rise of a modern-day monopoly. Regardless of opinion, the Walt Disney Company has bought a significant portion of 21st Century Fox and in the process, regained the film rights to several Marvel Comics properties and now own several other intellectual properties. This is truly staggering news and a legitimate cause for celebration and concern.

To be clear, Disney has only purchased (for $52.4 billion) the film division, 20th Century Fox, the Fox TV shows, assorted channels like FX and National Geographic, and other divisions of Fox. These include Sky and a majority share of the Hulu streaming service, while Fox will retain its sports and news divisions.

MCU fans may feel that the biggest prize of the purchase has been the film rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool, but those are just fringe benefits. Disney would have regained those rights even if Fox was sold to another party. Instead, Disney wants to have a significant film library for its coming streaming service and the Fox properties will provide that. In addition to the missing Marvel properties, Disney now owns several franchises and intellectual properties, which include: Planet of the Apes, Alien, Avatar, Titanic, Ice Age, and The Simpsons. Some of these IPs are a strange fit for Disney since the company is renowned for its family-friendly fare, but more adult offerings are not unheard of for the entertainment giant. Disney once owned Miramax, which produced mature films during its time with Disney. Also, Disney CEO, Bob Iger, assured fans that their Marvel films will explore R-rated offerings, which means that Deadpool should be safe for now.

But will Disney produce hard R-rated fare like the Alien films? They might, but it is possible that they may just sell the IPs to another studio to help recoup some of the mammoth cost of the sale. Other IPs like Avatar and Planet of the Apes should fit well with Disney. After all, Avatar has a heavy presence as a themed land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and Planet of the Apes is an obvious addition to the same park.

Bob Iger also announced today the fate of the X-Men films. It was speculated before the sale was finalized that the X-Men films might remain in their own separate continuity or relegated to TV shows for the streaming service. Instead, Iger said that the X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four will be integrated into an expanded MCU from Marvel Studios. The Fantastic Four are an easy addition to the popular cinematic universe and their inclusion is to be celebrated because Fox’s attempts at Fantastic Four films have been terrible. However, the X-Men are a different matter. For the most part, the films worked and adding them to the MCU may make that cinematic universe too crowded. Their addition could take attention away from lesser-known Marvel properties that could have seen their day in the sun. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Ant-Man may not have been possible if Marvel Studios owned the X-Men back then. Will the big purchase mean that these kinds of films won’t be made in favor for the new mutants on the block? It is hard to imagine Marvel Studios releasing three films per year as it now does and a mutant film or two. This will certainly create superhero fatigue. Plus, how good will the MCU X-Men films be? Will they be hard hitting and successfully tackle the mature themes of bigotry that the current films do?

Right now, Marvel Studios has the task of recasting the X-Men, including Wolverine, and Hugh Jackman has stated that he will not return to the role. Luckily, the film studio has had a good streak when it comes to casting their superheroes. On the other hand, expect the current X-Men film universe to end. This does not mean that upcoming films like Deadpool 2, The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix will be canceled. Those films are complete and will be released as planned. But a sequel to The New Mutants is unlikely and the “Dark Phoenix” story may be a fitting conclusion to the films. Another thing to consider is that the X-Men films, for better or worse, are associated with director Bryan Singer, who’s had problems lately with allegations of sexual abuse and unprofessional conduct on film sets. Ending the X-Men films and starting over fresh is Disney’s best option, with the sole survivor being the Merc With a Mouth. He may have a thin connection to the MCU like the Marvel TV properties do and be the snarky commentator of the film universe.

When the dust clears, Disney will have a monumental job of integrating all these properties and divisions into its entertainment empire. Will it be too much for them? Possibly. As mentioned before, it may be best for Disney to sell off some of its IPs or divisions or simply shut them down for the time being. Another thing to consider is will all this disperse the company and dilute it? Iger and his executives may believe they can handle, but they may have bitten off more than they can chew. We will not know for a while.

The most disturbing aspect of the mega purchase is the explosive growth of Disney. They now have their expansive tentacles in many parts of our lives and our entertainment. Under normal circumstances, this sale may have been opposed by the government, but that is unlikely these days. This may take years, but perhaps the company may be forced to get rid of many properties and divisions before they assume too great a control over our entertainment venue.

There are so many details that are unknown to the general public and we won’t know for some time. Until then all we can do is wait and keep an eye on new developments, which will be covered here as they happen.

To think it all started with a mouse.

José Soto

Experience The World Of Avatar

By now everyone, especially tourists and sci-fi fans, have heard of the recent opening of Pandora-The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This land devoted to James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar has been gestating for several years and puzzled many people. After all, why would Disney pour so much resources into creating a new themed land based on a film that came out last decade? Worldwide, Avatar is the highest grossing film to date, but it has not resonated deeply with most of the general public. Theme park and Disney fans wondered about the quality of the land and its attractions; for some time, The Walt Disney Company has faced criticism in recent years for neglecting its theme parks in the U.S. and Universal Studios has stolen Disney’s thunder with its hugely successful Harry Potter lands. Last month, the company formerly announced a slew of new rides and attractions for its parks and Pandora, which opened on May 27th of this year is the opening salvo.

pandora entrance

After finally being able to visit the land and experience the attractions, I can honestly say that it was worth the wait. Pandora-The World of Avatar is so deeply immersive and stunning with details and it is the best themed land in Walt Disney World. The Disney imagineers have taken great pains to recreate the primordial world of Avatar and their efforts have paid off. Part of the appeal in this land is the land itself. It will take several visits to truly take in everything and the land’s nooks and crannies are begging to be examined in detail. Huge and beautiful alien plants are intermixed with our Earthly flora and the landscaping is highlighted by the jaw-dropping Hallelujah Mountains that seemingly float over our heads. It is fun trying to figure out how the imagineers pulled off this trick, but to be honest, I’d rather not know since the revelation will spoil the illusion. These mountains are a bonafide engineering marvel and what makes them so imposing are their majestic beauty and roaring waterfalls that cascade down their sides.

Hallelujah Mountains Pandora world of avatar

Completing the immersive experience are the attractions themselves. There are only two of them in Pandora, but they are absolute must-rides. The best one is Flight of Passage, which everyone fortunate to ride will attest is one of the best rides ever created, even contending with classic theme park rides like the Spider-Man and Harry Potter rides in Universal. How should Flight of Passage be described? Basically, it is a simulator experience that is more immersive than most simulators since riders are given individual ride vehicles that are mounted like motorcycles.  The ride’s story is that you are linked to a Nav’i avatar that is riding the flying animals called mountain banshees. Thanks to state-of-the-art 3D and well-timed movements, I felt like I was actually riding a mountain banshee as seen in Avatar. The scenes in front of you are panoramic and the motions trick you at many times into thinking you’re diving through Pandora’s tropical forests, mountain ranges and beaches. Yes, there are many instances where you fly over the alien world’s seas, which provide distinct clues as to the sequels’ content. The ride even features new alien animals to marvel over and hope they appear in the Avatar sequels. As I flew over Pandora on my banshee, I actually wished James Cameron would hurry up with the followup films!

Comparing Flight of Passage to Nav’i River Journey is unfair. The former ride is a genuine thrill ride and worthy of being designated an E-ticket attraction. Nav’i River Journey is decidedly more tranquil and relaxed. It is a short boat ride taking you along Pandora’s river at night. Wondrous and unworldly sights and sounds surrounded me and made me feel like I was navigating the waterways of this alien world. The bioluminescent flora and fauna really pop out and my group and I had a joyous time picking out them out. Do not be put off by some reviews about the gentle ride. After the intensity and excitement of riding a banshee vicariously through a Nav’i, this boat trip is a nice way to settle down.

navi shaman

The complaints are probably due to the long wait times for the Nav’i River Journey, which can be more than an hour. Flight of Passage has even longer wait times (I’ve seen times posted as long as five hours during the day!), but since it’s a thrill ride many feel this justifies the long wait. Personally, I would never spend so much time just to get on a ride. If you are unable to get a FastPass and you are not staying on Disney property the only decent option is to arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom an hour before it opens. This guarantees that you will be able to get on the rides and be done in less than an hour. Or wait until the hoopla dies down, which probably will be when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in two years.

In many ways, Pandora-The World of Avatar is a good primer for Disney in crafting the next generation of immersive lands and attractions. Even if you are not able to get on the rides or are a fan of Avatar, it is worth visiting the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom just to take in the ambiance. Plus, it gives us an idea of how Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be like when it is finally unveiled. Regardless, Pandora-The World of Avatar and its Flight of Passage and Nav’i River Journey are definite must-dos for your next visit to Disney World, they already are for me.

José Soto

Disney To Do A Proto-Westworld With Its Star Wars Hotel

star wars lobby

The big news to come out of the D23 Expo was the announcement from The Walt Disney Company of its plans to build a Star Wars-themed hotel in Walt Disney World. This hotel or resort is not going to consist of just slapping on Star Wars wallpaper and bedsheets into hotel rooms, but an immersive experience for guests. From the moment guests checks in they will be transported to the Star Wars universe while the resort doubles as a massive starship. This will allow guests to have interactive, role-playing experiences as they become part of a Star Wars story.

Imagine going to this Star Wars hotel to cosplay as a Jedi Knight or a Sith Lord and living out your space fantasy. Bob Chapek, the chairman of the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, promised that the experience for guests will be “100 percent immersive, and the story will touch every single minute of your day.” Adding to the immersive experience will be new tech that gives the illusion of being onboard a starship which will feature wandering droids and all the Star Wars creatures and aliens that will excite any fan.

Sound familiar? Just swap out the droids and space pirates for gunslingers and cowboys and you’ve got Westworld. For anyone who hasn’t seen the old movie or the acclaimed TV show on HBO, Westworld takes place in a futuristic theme park where guests are fully immersed in elaborate recreations of the Wild West as they have shoot outs with android cowboys and interact with other Western archetypes that are also androids. The only difference between the two parks is that Disney will be using actors and not androids (that is if you discount the assorted non-humanoid droids who won’t have the level of intelligence as those seen on Westworld). Given time, Disney will be able to replace human actors with androids. After all, they are pushing the envelope with their famous animatronics. Already we are seeing experimental mobile animatronics that can interact with guests at the parks.

This concept is not exactly new. Dude ranches exist, as well as zombie cruises. Universal Studios Orlando has Diagon Alley, which is a richly detailed recreation of Harry Potter’s hidden wizarding alley in London. What also sells the illusion of being in Harry Potter’s world is the Hogwarts Express train ride that transports you from London to the famous wizard academy. Expect that similar technology will be used to showcase epic space scenes outside the hotel’s windows. Not that long ago, there was the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas where guests were literally transported into a replica of the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine and interacted with famous Star Trek aliens. The actors playing the various Ferengi, Vulcans, and Borg always stayed in character while they served cuisine and drinks inspired by the franchise. Disney will probably look to the Star Trek Experience for ideas and inspiration and learn about potential problems.

One thing to consider is that not everyone who visits the Star Wars hotel may not want to be fully immersed in the experience. They can just be companions of more devoted guests who will wholeheartedly plunge into the experience. So how will they be catered? Will the actors simply ignore them if they see the guests are unwilling to play along? That has happened in the Star Trek Experience, which was fine since it wasn’t a completely immersive experience, but won’t this shatter any illusions in the resort?

Also, trying to keep up the illusion will strain logistics, which will translate into increased costs. So, we all know what that means. Yes, be prepared to shell out a substantial amount of money, probably several months’ worth of rent money, to pay for a short stay. But, maybe Disney will feel benevolent and provide coupons and discounts to us poor peons as the slimy lawyer suggested in Jurassic Park. In the end, most of us will not be able to afford to spend time at the hotel, and do not be surprised if visitors are not even allowed into the lobby for fear of disrupting the illusion. After all, how can a serious cosplayer all decked out as an X-Wing fighter pilot enjoy his or her stay in the Star Wars hotel if they encounter not Jawas, but tourists in tacky t-shirts? But, it was expensive to stay at Westworld so a high cost in this coming hotel should not be unexpected.

star wars hotel story

If this takes off, no, when it takes off, expect other immersive resort stays and not just Disney. Already there are rumors that Disney’s main theme park rival, Universal Studios Resort, is looking into creating a fully immersive Harry Potter experience, which might include a Hogwarts hotel. Some may complain about this but this competition will induce creativity and maybe make these experiences affordable. In any event, this is exciting development for Star Wars fans as they ponder this resort experience and have something else to anticipate from Disney.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto

 

 

Set Phasers to Fun: Celebrating Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

enterprise-in-starfleet-academy-experience

Star Trek has gone boldly where no franchise has gone before. The iconic Trek celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 8th and the TV show has paved the way for science fiction and modern technology. It’s hard to pick a favorite series, movie, ship or character from the phenomenon that has survived five decades.

Star Trek (the original series), The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise. Has any other franchise produced five television series as Star Trek did?  Each show has had its own challenges led by different captains: James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Sisko, Kathryn Janeway and Jonathan Archer. There was also an animated series based on the original show back in the ’70s. Many stations are running Star Trek marathons and specials like the Smithsonian channel’s Building Star Trek. But it doesn’t end there. CBS plans to launch a Star Trek: Discovery, a new series slated for streaming on May 2017.

star-trek-mission-ny-069

The big screen has seen 13 films. Star Trek the Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, (Yes the even numbered films were better) Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond. Surely, there will be more.

Getting back to Star Trek, the original show was light years ahead of its time. Modern technology is moving at warp speed and catching up to some of the gadgets used on the original series. iPads/tablets were always signed off on by Captain Kirk. Siri and talking computers are common now. Communicators are like flip cell phones. In fact, Think Geek is releasing a communicator cell phone for the anniversary. It works off your current bluetooth cell phone.

Denise Crosby and fan

Besides watching the specials, series or movies there are many events to celebrate the occasion. Star Trek conventions are drawing huge crowds. The cons are a lot of fun and resistance is futile at the vendors’ tables. The conventions feature actors from all the series and movies. Vendors have a huge selection of uniforms, props, collectables, shirts and other merchandise. One company, Simplicity Creative Group produces a Star Trek series of dress uniform patterns called Make it Sew. The Star Trek: Mission New York convention featured a mock-up of the original Enterprise bridge for photo ops and a virtual reality gaming zone.

star-trek-experience-next-gen-bridge

The U.S.S Intrepid is hosting the Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience. Like the conventions it features original costumes and props from the series and movies. You receive a watch-like wrist band that keeps track of your tour. You can play games, beam up in a transporter and take photos on a replica of the Next Generation bridge. When you are finished you can have your quiz results, Starfleet diploma and a video of yourself beaming up in the transporter emailed to you. The Intrepid also features a life-size Galileo Seven shuttlecraft perfectly placed next to the NASA Enterprise shuttle.

The Experience and the con is just a sampling of how Star Trek’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated. The U.S. Post Office has released a new Star Trek inspired forever stamp series in honor of the 50th anniversary. These stamps were presented by Walter Koenig at the Mission New York convention.

star-trek-mission-ny-gadgets

Since 1991, Hallmark has released highly detailed Christmas ornaments of the Star Trek ships designed by Lynn Norton, as well as famous characters and scenes. For this year’s golden anniversary they released a gold TV pilot version of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

It’s music for your Vulcan ears, Star Trek the Ultimate Voyage is a live concert featuring a symphony orchestra playing a score set to footage from the classic Star Trek films and TV shows. The tour has played in over 100 American cities.

For fans who enjoy cosplay, M·A·C cosmetics has launched a Star Trek make up collection of astral hues. The cosmic women of Star Trek made the series immortal, their powerful sense of style sent space-age fashion to a new frontier and M·A·C lets you dress the part.

It’s not logical to miss out on the anniversary celebrations. Star Trek has flourished for 50 years. May it keep going strong. Live Long and Prosper Star Trek!

Article and Photos by Jim McLernon

Enterprise photo by José Soto