Remember Star Wars? Just three months ago, the film enjoyed one of the biggest opening weeks in Hollywood history, grossing $390 million in revenues. Pretty impressive, eh?
But just five weeks later, its weekly gross had declined to a mere $19 million. And five weeks after that, it had declined to a tiny $3 million. How could it have fallen so far, so fast?
George Lucas, the legendary film maker who created the very first Star Wars and then guided the franchise through its first five sequels, might have the answer to that question. He sold the franchise to Disney after its fifth sequel; the current film (i.e. the sixth sequel) is the first one produced by the corporate giant.
And what does Lucas think of Disney’s first attempt at producing a Star Wars film? During an interview with Charlie Rose, he noted that the new film is primarily a “retro movie” instead of a movie that is “completely different with different planets, different spaceships …” Lucas explained that Disney “didn’t want to use (his) stories … (and) decided they were going to do their own thing.”
A New York Times reporter commented that Lucas “was harsh in criticizing the film industry for focusing on profit over storytelling.” And many critics felt that the new movie, in essence, plagiarized the earlier films and simply retold their stories.
So what should we make of this? Well, many people love to hear the retelling of a popular tale. And the earlier Star Wars saga was one of the most popular stories in Hollywood history. Thus, it’s no wonder that Disney’s masterful retelling (or, to use a less complimentary term, plagiarized content) opened to such initial success.
The drawback regarding repetition in film, however, is that such content quickly becomes stale. After all, if a storyteller doesn’t drive a tale forward with new ideas, people quickly lose interest. Indeed, it’s again no wonder that the Disney sequel rapidly lost its audience after its initial spurt of popularity.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. Organizations and people who simply reiterate a popular and familiar line may tend to grab the attention of an audience in the short term, but they are likely to lose them in the long term. Conversely, organizations and people who advance the conversation are likely to maintain an audience over a longer period.
That’s a great lesson for the Hollywood studios, and for other media organizations too. And, to extend that thought to a different milieu, it might also be a worthy lesson for the politicians who are campaigning for the Presidency of the United States today.