After a mixed response from critics and fans, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is having a mixed time at the box office too.
As of January 1, the climactic chapter in the Skywalker Saga has grossed $815.4 million worldwide and will cross $1 billion. It’s a performance that most blockbusters would kill for, so you could hardly call it a flop.
However, when you consider that it will likely fall short of The Last Jedi‘s $1.33 billion and end some way behind The Force Awakens‘ $2.07 billion, it is a disappointment and a bit of a surprise.
So was it just the critical response that led to the softer box-office returns? Not quite.
The reviews would have had some impact on the box office, but it would have been minimal given that it was the final movie in a trilogy and part of a long-running and well-established franchise.
Fans would have gone to see The Rise of Skywalker without paying too much mind to the reviews. Yes, there would have been a few who would have seen the reviews and decided to wait for the home release, but their absence wouldn’t have been fatal to its box-office chances.
What would have affected the potential audience is their attitudes to The Last Jedi and the sequel trilogy as a whole.
There is a section of the Star Wars fandom that just doesn’t like the sequel trilogy. Even though they showed up for The Force Awakens, they gave The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker a miss.
What’s more, The Last Jedi received a mixed reaction of its own and could have put off more fans from going to see The Rise of Skywalker.
The return of JJ Abrams could have enticed some of them back, but as good as Abrams is, his return isn’t exactly comparable to, say, George Lucas coming back. (Obviously, that would have never happened.)
But there’s something else to take into account when it comes to The Last Jedi.
Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It’s fairly self-contained, given it’s the middle part of a trilogy, so there’s nothing to be resolved and it didn’t instil a ‘need-to-see’ factor for The Rise of Skywalker.
The Rise of Skywalker was never going to be as big as Avengers: Endgame, but for a comparison, even if you didn’t like Avengers: Infinity War, you’d have still felt like you needed to know what came next.
Disney’s marketing went big on TROS being the end of the saga to try and capture that vibe. But ‘end of saga’ isn’t comparable to ‘immediate cliffhanger’ though, something that could have enticed even the most ardent Last Jedi critic.
But even if the sequel trilogy had been universally beloved, The Rise of Skywalker would perhaps still have been fighting a losing battle at the box office.
As Forbes‘ Scott Mendelson argues, the incredible performance of The Force Awakens set unrealistic expectations for the other movies, especially after spin-off Rogue One also hit $1 billion at the box office.
“The excessive success of The Force Awakens indirectly harmed the franchise by making the studio (and/or shareholders) think they could hit that mark every time,” he writes.
“And that presumption, along with SEO-driven narratives about audiences hating The Last Jedi (which received an A from Cinemascore and still sold a ton of Blu-rays), perhaps led Disney to think that Last Jedi did underperform or that the sky-high potential of Force Awakens was theoretically still in play.”
But what about Star Wars fatigue, we hear you ask? Sure, that could have been a factor, but Marvel has done all right with 11 movies released since The Force Awakens, compared to five Star Wars movies.
You can only play the nostalgia angle once – and it worked successfully for The Force Awakens, the first sequel in the Star Wars series for more than 30 years.
However, fans will come out to see a movie, even if it’s an annual event, if the desire is there. And as The Rise of Skywalker has found out to its cost, there’s just not enough desire from across all of Star Wars fandom.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now.
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