Should Disney Be Worried About 'The Last Jedi's Box Office Numbers?

When a movie doesn't meet the expectations of box office analysts, it's considered a disappointment. That's the way the game is played – just ask the Warner Bros. executives who are still probably cringing at the memories of last year's Justice League and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

But even Star Wars: The Last Jedi couldn't entirely dodge judgment from those who thought it was financially disappointing. Does Disney have anything to worry about here? Is the Star Wars brand not quite as bulletproof as they once thought? Read on for some reactions to the Last Jedi box office numbers and what they might mean for the studio.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Star Wars: The Last Jedi fell nearly $200 million short of some box office analysts' estimates in the United States and Canada.

But before we go any further, it's important to remember that The Last Jedi earned $1.3 billion at the box office and is the highest-grossing film of 2017. So what we're talking about here amounts to a super rich person not quite having enough cash to buy another summer home in the country, but it's hard to feel bad for them because they already own 10 houses in gorgeous places all over the world.

The Last Jedi was pulled from theaters in China due to its failure to perform well there, largely because China has, historically, not had much of a relationship with the Star Wars franchise. It's not remotely surprising that Chinese audiences didn't care very much about a movie that prominently features Luke Skywalker, because he's not a cultural icon there. Their citizens haven't spent the past 40 years playing with Luke Skywalker toys, devouring novels now relegated to the Star Wars Legends brand, or watching and rewatching the original trilogy. The Chinese box office is still a hugely important market for Hollywood movies to try to capitalize on, but The Last Jedi entered the fight at a disadvantage: it was trying to compete blindfolded, with both legs wrapped up, and one arm tied behind its back.

This all gets down to the crux of a debate that's been raging as long as the film business has been operational: how does a filmmaker strike the right balance between artistic merit and financial viability? I'd argue that writer/director Rian Johnson was able to provide a movie that balanced both, even though the film didn't meet the expectations of a few box office analysts. To be fair, 2015's The Force Awakens was a box office juggernaut that marked the return of live-action Star Wars movies since the heavily-derided prequel trilogy, and Disney knew full well that any sequel wasn't going to top that high bar. Still, some of our sources inside the studio are reportedly taking this a bit more seriously than just a typical sequel slump, but it's unclear whether that perception will affect any creative decisions for the franchise moving forward.

The Wall Street Journal also says that Star Wars toy sales were on a downturn last year, falling to the number 2 slot (behind Nerf) after holding the top slot the year before. Falling to the number two slot in toy sales doesn't seem catastrophic by any measure, but I'm sure Disney execs aren't exactly thrilled about it. And in the video game realm, Star Wars Battlefront II is on pace to sell a couple million fewer copies than its predecessor.

So should the studio be worried about the future of Star Wars? It's all relative, of course (Disney has already broken even on its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm), but looking at the situation from a purely financial perspective, sure, I think a healthy dose of worry might be appropriate here. If this downward trend continues, everyone has a reason to be concerned.

But let's be real. Star Wars is always going to be a viable property. The prequels proved that fans will weather just about any storm thrown their way, and even with the creatively-fraught Solo: A Star Wars Story on the horizon, it's impossible to imagine a world in a Disney-backed Star Wars movie doesn't make serious waves every time one is released. It's just a matter of how big those waves will be. More importantly, though, if any of the franchise's upcoming entries (including Rian Johnson's new trilogy) is half as creative and satisfying as The Last Jedi, we'll find ourselves in the middle of a new golden age of Star Wars. And even if Disney doesn't end up making quite the level of cash they were hoping, they'll surely (hopefully?) be pleased with being the custodians of the biggest and best science fiction franchise in cinematic history.