Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of Star Wars, both as a whole and more particular as something that makes people buy action figures. The ultimate question is: will Star Wars either fade away, become less significant once the people who grew up with the original and prequel trilogy move on, or will Star Wars find new love and enthusiasm in a new generation, despite a much more competitive environment than we had 20 or 40 years ago? Click through for some musings and for which I hope will launch a fruitful discussion about the future of Star Wars!
Since this a rather long essay, I will provide a short summary at the end, so skip ahead if you hate reading or have no time to read lengthy essays!
Ever since Disney took over Lucasfilm you can see that they have been trying to gain new audiences for Star Wars on top of its – what I call – legacy fans. From a business standpoint it only makes sense. Star Wars was or is a franchise dominated by men and expanding the allure of Star Wars to more girls, women and young kids would guarantee that Star Wars will still be a thriving franchise in the future with potentially more money earned in the process.
Disney and Lucasfilm gave the sequel trilogy and the first spin-off movie a female main character, sure, Leia and Padme had both been main characters before, but the new female heroes are much more action oriented, more in line with the current trope of female action hero. Forces of Destiny and a toyline were launched in a clear attempt to get little girls to like Star Wars. Resistance and Galaxy of Adventures are the latest attempts to get little kids hooked on Star Wars.
However, despite having so many female heroes and main characters, the moviegoers are still about 60% male and 40% female. Data provided by the MPAA clearly shows that. And the ratio is more or less constant and hasn’t changed at all. And who can say how many of these 40% female moviegoers were dragged along by their male partners?
Forces of Destiny was, there is no other way to put it, not a success. The toyline failed, the show on YouTube had very disappointing viewing numbers, with later episodes sometimes barely passing 100,000 views.
Unfortunately, Galaxy of Adventures doesn’t seem to have much more success either, we can say nothing about the toyline yet, but the GoA shorts on the brand new Star Wars Kids YouTube channel have very disappointing numbers too, they are in line with what Forces of Destiny had for its latest batch of episodes. Most shorts have around 130k views, which is not very much really. The trailer was seen by more than 500,000 people, only about one quarter of them tuned in for most of the actual episodes. And how many of them are actual kids and not adults?
I tried to find ratings for Resistance, but I could find none. But it is questionable if a show that airs on TV at 10 pm on a Sunday will be watched by many children. Ok, almost any household will have some DVR or use streaming. So the final verdict is still out.
But what I am really asking myself is this: is the current incarnation of Star Wars and associated merchandise something that will catch on with a meaningful number of kids at all? Or do the kids of 2019 like other things much, much more? And: will Lucasfilm and Hasbro ever manage to get a meaningful number of girls and women into collecting merchandise and action figures? Or is that a futile attempt because the product on offer simply doesn’t appeal to most girls and women?
We have no data really, all we have are observations that are more or less anecdotal.
Here’s what I think, and to make that clear, I just speculate away, I have no real idea of why things are what they are because I have no data.
Anyway… I saw Aquaman the other day and found the movie to be quite entertaining. Even more so, I found the action sequences and fight scenes to be very well choreographed and shot in a way that is really innovative. For example, in a fight scene two heroes were fighting different enemies and through the trickery of CGI we got some really unique camera angles and there also was a seamless zoom out and transition between the heroes that looked really interesting. Director James Wan used all the current tools at his disposal to make the fight scenes really dynamic and interesting. This is when I thought to myself… the action sequences and duels in current Star Wars are really lame in comparison.
Now, I am no kid anymore and pretending to know what kids want when you are an adult is a very difficult thing. So I could be absolutely wrong. But I wonder… could it be that Star Wars, the way it is shot, made and written, is simply too tame, lame, boring and confusing for kids?
In The Force Awakens we had Rey and Kylo hack and slash at each other with lightsabers in a dark forest, which made for some nice visuals here and there but, and that’s my opinion, it was maybe not really exciting, especially not for a young kid that has seen various Marvel movies and countless other superhero movies.
In The Last Jedi we had a somewhat more engaging Praetorian fight, but once more, in my opinion, the choreography was rather tame. There were no force jumps, force leaps, just hack and slash once more and to make matters worse, only faceless henchmen were fought, it was a low stakes fight.
And the other duel in The Last Jedi was a non-duel, it was all tease, but no action. I wonder if kids love that stuff. And by kids I mean meaningful number of kids, comparable to the number of kids who fell in love with Star Wars in 1977.
On top of that I think it must be quite confusing for a kid to see current Star Wars movies with its references to older movies they might not even know. So this is where Galaxy of Adventures comes in, as some sort of gateway… but maybe Star Wars from 1977 simply is no longer something that will get kids onboard who have seen countless high octane superhero movies? I think we can all agree that the original trilogy is quite measured in its approach when compared with modern movies. Now, we, as adults, love that, also when we were kids Star Wars was quite high octane for its time, nothing we had ever seen before. But now? You get your action orientied stuff even on TV and some of these shows have much more stuff going on than Star Wars back then.
And then the toys: do any of the action figures currently on offer catch the eye of young kids that absolutely want to have them? And I am not talking about kids whose father or mother is a collector and fan and encourages them to play with the figures, I mean a meaningful number of kids who may grow up with parents that are not complete Star Wars nuts as we are.
Also, market research shows that action figures are something that is more and more exclusively bought by adults for themselves. Not for or by kids. So trying to get kids to play with something they have little interest in may be a futile endeavour in the first place. Especially when we talk about a franchise which doesn’t really excite kids that much in the first place. All the Japanese Star Wars action figures are for ages 15 and up. It seems they know exactly who buys their figures. Not little kids.
And once more, I don’t talk about anecdotal stories of kids from collectors who love Star Wars, I talk meaningful numbers, the common kid out there.
Then there is the question of female fans and collectors. Star Wars most certainly has female fans, quite a few of them. But female collectors? Where are they? Is any attempt to get girls or women to collect Star Wars merchandise futile because either the product on offer doesn’t interest them or because they find collecting Star Wars toys as a whole a waste of time and money and quite immature?
Where are the female collectors on fansites? Are there none or only the very, very, very few who post in the comments section sometimes? Is the male dominated community something that convinces women better not to post something or not to reveal they are female? If there are female fans lurking and reading this article, would you please tell us why you don’t usually post comments?
The ultimate question therefore is… what can Star Wars do to be more interesting to kids? Because the data that we have says one thing: the fandom is old, and it’s predominantly male. And no franchise can survive in the long-term with an aging fanbase. We can see that Lucasfilm and Disney are aware of that, but their efforts to win new fans, so far, have not been met with much success if toy sale numbers and shows such as Forces of Destiny are an indicator.
Will Star Wars fade with us, the legacy fans? Or am I just seeing things here? And if not… what is it that Lucasfilm, Disney and Hasbro could do to get a meaningful number of kids and women to find both Star Wars as a movie franchise and as something that is worth collecting much more appealing?
In my opinion the movies must be more spectacular and also meaningful. What do I mean by that? I think the movies are, in many ways, very much old school. The duels are very tame and lame, especially when compared to what we get from other franchises. The prequels had much more on offer in that regard. The sequels toned down the fights significantly, and this in an age of ever more escalating superhero fights.
Now, I am not talking about what adult fans think of the duels, I understand that some fans love the duel in The Force Awakens and the tension, I try to put myself in the mind of a kid here that is more interested in cool action than in close-up shots of Rey as she finds her inner strength and connection to the Force.
And then we have the destruction of the Republic in The Force Awakens. Why should anyone care, kids and adults alike, but even more so kids who know little about the history in Star Wars? All we get is one random shot of some people we don’t know who see how a laser beam engulfs and vaporizes them.
Compare that with Avengers 3 where a good number of our beloved heroes we’ve had ample opportunity to form a connection to turn to ash. Or the fight for New York in the first Avengers movie. What I am saying is that these modern action / family / superhero movies are much more appealing to kids because of better action and higher personal stakes. And the interconnected MCU, so far, had a perfect plan to engange audiences over a very long time. Star Wars is a very disjointed experience, we change time periods all the time. Maybe this is not the best way to do things anymore.
And in The Last Jedi we get yet another senseless TIE Fighter attack on the Falcon that disposes of them like flies. We have decrepit speeders that literally do nothing other than being shot to pieces. Then we have the non-duel between Kylo and Luke, then we have a Praetorian fight with virtually no stakes at all and the subsequent confrontation between Kylo and Rey is a tug of war for a lightsaber. Maybe not too exciting for kids, especially when they don’t even know what’s so special about that lightsaber.
So, is there a long-term future? Is 2018 just a slump or a sign that Star Wars, at least the current batch of movies, cannot reach new audiences and that getting new fans to buy action figures and other merchandise is a hopeless endevour because either interests of kids have shifted and women are simply not interested in collecting action figures that don’t appeal to them?
I hope we can start a constructive discussion now. So instead of repeating all the arguments we’ve heard countless times before, maybe we can discuss whether or not Star Wars has a problem with an aging, male dominated fandom in the first place and if so, what Star Wars can do to change that.
Because, in my opinion, getting kids into Star Wars is essential. But maybe Lucasfilm is not doing the best they can with shows like Resistance, Forces of Destiny or Galaxy of Adventures. And getting more women into collecting would be most welcome too. They would certainly offer a different perspective, Not that I think aging TVC and Black Series collectors are boring to talk to, but discussions always tend to end up in the same place. Maybe that is something female fans find unappealing? I don’ know. Maybe some female fans can give us their perspectives in the comments section.
As things are now I tend to believe that Star Wars is not in any immediate danger of becoming less significant or fading away, because the legacy fans are still alive and kicking. But what about 10 years from now when some of us will approach their sixties? And what about 20 years from now when the prequel generation will approach their fifties?
Cliff’s Notes version for the readers in a hurry:
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