The news is circulating that Disney has ordered a pause in new Star Wars spinoffs after the disastrous performance of "Solo." As I've said before, this is a movie that I have not seen and do not intend to see.
Looking at my previous posts, I see that this has become the dominant topic on my blog. There are good reasons for this.
In the first place, I've been a huge Star Wars fan since 1977. I was part of that initial generation and literally grew up along with the movies. Not only is it a treasured part of my youth, it has inspired my own works.
But there's also a larger lesson of critical importance to aspiring authors:
Don't take your fan base for granted.
Yet a lot of authors and entertainers do exactly this. They decided for whatever reason that the people who are into their work are somehow unworthy of them. The fans have the wrong politics, wrong skin color, wrong sexual preference or whatever and so the author goes out of their way to alienate them in the hopes that the fans truly desired will jump on board.
The classic archetype of this is seeking approval from the critics rather than the unwashed masses, but of late there's a new variation where a small group of activists or industry peers become the "target audience" and the actual paying public is regarded as a distraction.
I don't know how else to explain the in-your-face approach Disney has taken to marketing these movies.
Star Wars isn't just a genre, it is a global brand with huge name recognition and instant marketability. All you have to do is slap a Star Wars sticker on something and you get a massive potential market for it.
I do not doubt that sales of my least popular book (Scorpion's Pass) would soar into the stratosphere if I was able to set it on a distant planet in the Star Wars universe. That logo means guaranteed sales.
Disney spent a fortune on that brand and now it's creative team is diligently working to destroy it. Injecting contemporary culture and politics is the exact opposite of the series - that stuff belongs in Star Trek.
Star Wars was always escapist fiction set in a distant time and place. People might invoke its iconic images in our contemporary debates, but that was independent of the author.
It's basically the difference between applicability and allegory.
Star Wars is readily applicable because it is good vs evil, underdogs vs crushing bully of the Empire. That kind of story is applicable in a lot of places and you can use it in all sorts of ways.
Allegory is different - it's basically retelling a story through other means. Everything is a symbol of something else and once you crack the code (which often is painfully easy to do), you get the author's full message.
"Animal Farm" is allegory. "Narnia" is allegory.
"Lord of the Rings" is applicable - it isn't telling a specific story where everything symbolizes something else, it's an epic quest that people use to illustrate other problems. Star Wars is in this group.
Yet Disney tried to make it allegorical, throwing in contemporary culture references like crazy and ruining it.
The fans didn't like it and Disney's response was to insult them.
I'm trying to think of where that has ever worked to increase sales. Has anyone ever undertaking a successful marketing campaign based on the "buy our product or we will continue to call you names" model?
The thing of it is, Disney could have had it both ways. They could have kept the conventional Star Wars storylines and played up the characters (even in prequels) just as they were while also doing a line of new adventures packed full of their p.c. nonsense. You get two markets for the price of one!
The old-school guys could enjoy their retro-feel films while the bold new types get to showcase their oddball vision.
The problem with this approach from the p.c. viewpoint is twofold.
In the first case, the traditional stuff would vastly outsell the new stuff. We know this because we're seeing it right before our eyes. That would cripple the business prospects for the p.c. types who would see the market hammer them.
The bigger point is that the p.c. people aren't motivated to create as much as to destroy. These people don't really have a creative vision, they have a need to censor. They're editors, not writers.
This is partly because they are entirely reactionary - against stuff rather than for it. If you look at the p.c. mindset, it's all about telling people what they can't say, not about coming up with new ideas and concepts. Each time someone comes up with a new idea, these people then sit in judgement on it and decide if it's okay according to their ever-changing hierarchy of values.
This is why the p.c. types want to take over existing characters like Marvel heroes or James Bond. There's nothing to stop them from making new superheroes, but rather than do that they want to tear down old ones. It's essentially destructive rather than creative.
And when you do that, the fans you think you had will go away. The brand loses its value.
At its core, Disney is about making money. It is big enough that it can make big mistakes along the way, but after paying billions of dollars for Star Wars, the shareholders have every reason to expect a big payout. That payout isn't showing up and so Disney's management is rethinking its way forward.
The key question is where they go from here. Will the last movie of the trilogy give fans what they want? Is there even enough room to make it work after all the retconning that went on in the previous two films?
Arguably, the best chance is creating spin-offs that are true to the originals. This is what Disney should have done from the get-go. We'll see if they get the clue.