Posted on Monday, August 12th, 2013 by Germain Lussier
The program teased it. We all expected it. But as the smoke cleared on the 2013 D23 Expo, there was not a single shred of Star Wars Episode VII news. Its absence left fans questioning not only Disney’s motives in using their new acquisition, Lucasfilm, to sell the event but also asking what the state of Star Wars Episode VII actually is.
The consensus seems to be director J.J. Abrams, executive producer and Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriter Michael Arndt and producers Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg are simply not ready to reveal anything about Star Wars Episode VII. What’s troubling though is Disney did reveal images, concept art and more for films that’ll be out after well Episode VII. Plus, with the D23 Expo only happening every other year, the film will be out months before the next Expo. Those factors meant major disappoint for fans both at the convention and beyond.
So what does that all mean? Are Abrams and crew simply too busy to worry about marketing a film that hasn’t begun production yet, or are things not progressing in the manner everyone expected?
Since the announcement of new Star Wars films back in October 2012, fans had three events circled on their calendar where they might finally get some information. First was Comic-Con, next was Star Wars Celebration and finally was the D23 Expo. July’s Comic-Con was a no-go, simply because Disney didn’t have a presence there. Lucasfilm chose Celebration the following weekend to announce John Williams would be back, which was nice, but we kind of already knew that. Then August’s D23 Expo came about and many fans thought this would be it. We were finally going to get info on a title, story and characters. Something. Anything.
That anticipation only grew when the official D23 Expo program promised a “revealing look” at “live action adventures from Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm.” Unfortunately, that promise was shattered the instant the Expo began. During his opening address, Disney CEO Bob Iger immediately told the audience there would be no news about Star Wars Episode VII. “Now we’re just as excited as you are about Star Wars: Episode VII,” Iger said, “In fact, we’re speechless. At least we’re going to be somewhat speechless at this Expo because we aren’t ready to share some of the details with you just yet.”
The next day, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn reiterated there would be nothing during their live action film presentation. “I do wish I could tell you more but there are dark forces. And they are watching,” he said. The crowed booed. Finally, Lucasfilm employee Pablo Hidalgo – who hosted a Star Wars history panel – opened his event up by apologizing for a lack of news. “People are dying to hear any information about what’s coming up next, so I can reveal to you today that that’s not what this panel is about. I’m really sorry,” he said. Over and over again, Disney was very clear they weren’t ready to announce anything. Plus, being up front about it was a nice way of cutting speculation, and disappointment, off at the head.
Disney and Lucasfilm seem to feel no news is good news. Everyone involved in the project obviously knows this is probably the most highly anticipated film in history. A pop culture event of unprecedented significance. And behind closed doors, they are certainly working to make sure it’s as perfect as possible before coming out to the world. So, yes, no news is good news.
Unfortunately, this is also 2013, not 1976. In 1976 Lucasfilm felt it was important to parade their film on the convention circuit. In 2013, fans gather not only at conventions, but online on thousands and thousands of websites. That’s where the cultural conversation is created as they discuss and analyze information. When there’s nothing to analyze, things can turn venomous very quickly.
Before that happens though, remember Disney wasn’t required to announce anything at the D23 Expo. Star Wars Episode VII is almost two years away, filming hasn’t started and the only reason this is a conversation at all is huge fan anticipation. So while they didn’t “have” to announce anything, the thought is they probably “should have.” I mean, come on. It was a fastball down the middle. The film has been in development for months and decisions have obviously been made in terms of characters, story, etc. This was Disney’s chance to wow their fans with their new acquisition with the whole world watching. It seems like a no-brainer.
Plus, though nothing Star Wars Episode VII related was promised to happen at the D23 Expo, it was strongly suggested. As mentioned above, the official D23 Expo program touted a “revealing look at our upcoming roster of live-action adventures from Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm.” That mention was surely enough to get some fans to buy tickets and travel to the event. Some likely spent thousands of dollars hoping to be on hand for that “revealing look” at Lucasfilm. However, as evidenced by this image, that description was later – and quietly – changed. Lucasfilm did have a presence at the event, that presence just didn’t include the new films. And while fan expectations don’t necessarily equate to studio actions, there was plenty of evidence something was coming.
So what does this misdirection coupled with a lack of announcement say? Either it’s still too early or the insurmountable pressure is taking its toll.
Evidence to the latter was possibly revealed at Saturday afternoon’s Crash Course in the Force panel. Pablo Hidalgo, Lucasfilm’s “resident Star Wars authority” took Disney fans through the entire mythology and cultural history of Star Wars, from conception all the way up to today and the development of not only Episode VII, but TV shows, rides and more too. When it came time to address the new film directly, Hidalgo put up a photo of J.J. Abrams on the screen. He said he was careful to not put the words “Episode VII” under the words “Star Wars” when talking about the film, just so fans would not mistakenly confuse the text as an “official logo.”
Think about that. Lucasfilm did not even want to put the words “Star Wars Episode VII” together as a logo. What would have been so bad about that? Why not reward a group of Star Wars fans who sat through an (admittedly engaging) hour long history lesson we already knew? The answer is anything official gets put through the ringer and adds more pressure.
Traditionally, news of Star Wars films is released pretty late in the process. Titles come several months before opening and casting just a few months before that. It’s never years early. The reason why Lucasfilm and Disney are being called out at all is because of a fellow Disney property, Marvel.
Marvel literally spends millions to create exclusive content for events like Comic-Con and D23 Expo to excite fans about movies that are still in production. (Or, in some cases, not yet in production.) This kind of grandiose marketing gesture has, fortunately or unfortunately, become the standard. Even at this year’s Comic-Con both Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox tried to mimic the Marvel way. Both revealed trailers and information of major projects from years down the road. It’s come to a point where fans expect this and, if it doesn’t happen, we get worried.
Doing nothing might be the safe play but, in today’s world, there’s a danger of looking weak. However, in the case of something as massive as Star Wars, negative perception isn’t likely to effect buzz. They could show us five minutes of Gungans talking in a council and we’d show up for Episode VII. But Abrams, and Lucasfilm, might need to look at the landscape and adapt with these films.
And maybe they will. It’s not too late. Maybe they have a major event planned in the coming months where we’ll find out everything we need to know before May 2015 (that date isn’t even confirmed yet by the way). Maybe we’ll still be surprised, there’s still plenty of time (Comic-Con 2014, for example). But as days pass with no updates from the front, and the voice of fans left upset after the D23 Expo, we’re beginning to question what’s going on with these films.
Which begs yet another question beyond what the title is going to be or who’ll be starring. It’s how are Lucasfilm and Disney going to let fans know about it? George Lucas was notorious for not addressing fan pressure. J.J. Abrams has always been fan friendly, but also exceedingly careful about the flow of information. And Kathleen Kennedy was quoted as saying “You need to recognize [the fans] are important to the process and acknowledge there are things you’re gonna want to make sure they get to know.” That’s three wildly different sentiments. Lucas was not supposed to be influential this time around but, it certainly seems like his beliefs are currently winning.
Did Disney and Lucasfilm miss an opportunity by not revealing Star Wars Episode VII news at the D23 Expo? Of course they did, but how you choose to view that is up to you. You could say it’s simply too early to worry about it. You could say they’re scared. I say the reason nothing was revealed was Abrams and company want to blow the world away. Disney screwed up by teasing something that wasn’t ready, but the best course of action is to look beyond that and believe everyone wants this movie to be better than your wildest expectations. Only when those levels are met will they be willing to let us in on the secret. Revel in this fun anticipation, it’ll be worth the wait.