There have been several articles this week about how Galaxy’s Edge ended up on Batuu rather than Tatooine. Based on an interview with Dan Cockerell, these articles portray the decision as a one-sided attempt to from Kathleen Kennedy to “carry Star Wars into the future!” They lament that we almost had Mos Eisley, complete with the cantina we all know from the movies. Part of me has to ask exactly how different that version would have been. There’s still a central, round bar at Oga’s, with alcove tables. There’s a docking bay. The town is small. The Droid Depot easily could have been replaced with Watto’s workshop. But I want to clarify what these articles have been saying: it was not a one sided decision driven only by Kathleen Kennedy that took Tatooine out of Galaxy’s Edge.
It’s true that there were two versions of Galaxy’s Edge planned. It’s not uncommon for Imagineering to have multiple ideas they’re working on. They don’t just come up with an idea and build it. Imagineers make and discard hundreds of versions of a project. The two-story version of the Little Mermaid was replaced with the Omnimover, Car Land was replaced with Cars Land, and look at how many versions of Space Mountain have been built. It’s normal to make and discard ideas.
But the Imagineers had to make a decision sooner or later. In 2015, they had the two highly developed versions of the land – one based on the original characters, and one based on new characters. A lot of which version would be built was based on how well The Force Awakens did in theaters. If the movie did well and people liked the characters, the team would push forward with the new characters. If there was luke-warm reception, then we’d get the old characters and locale. You could say that Tatooine was somewhat of the backup plan.
When The Force Awakens hit theaters, it dominated pop culture. Ads and merchandise was everywhere. The franchise was revitalized. People wanted to go through Star Wars again. Yes, there were some complaints that the movie hit the same story beats as A New Hope. But it also made $937 million domestically and $2.07 billion word wide. Those numbers are staggering. Let’s talk about the domestic number. At the time, this made The Force Awakens the third highest grossing of all time. That’s about $100 million over the current second place, which is Endgame, and $200 million over what was second place at the time, Avatar. And let’s compare to the prequel trilogy, since it wasn’t too long ago. Movie going habits and financial environments have changed a lot more since the 1970s, so that’ll give a better idea of how monstrous this movie was.The numbers for each of the prequel trilogy were $475 million for The Phantom Menace, $311 million for Attack of the Clones, and $380 million for Revenge of the Sith. The new movie doubled the best of these, and tripled the worst. If you adjust ticket prices for inflation, A New Hope made an adjusted $1.67 billion. So among Star Wars movies, only the series kick-off has beaten out The Force Awakens.
Let’s go to the world wide number. At the time, it was third highest grossing of all time, and only Avengers: Endgame has beaten it since, which grossed $2.80 billion. If you add up the worldwide grosses for the prequel movies, they made $2.55 billion. The Force Awakens made almost as much on its own as the prequels made together.
The financials behind the new movie were staggering. The decision to build something for the new trilogy rather than classic Star Wars was not a whim from Kathleen Kennedy. The Force Awakens was used to show that people love Star Wars, not just Luke, Leia, and Obi-Wan. With numbers this huge, it was hard to make a case that the sequel trilogy would end up underwhelming many audiences. The start of the trilogy was, by all measures, a success. And the decision on which path to take had to be made several years in advance. Disney couldn’t wait several years for another movie, or there wouldn’t be time to finish the complex design and construction. The decision was made based on the best information available at the time, and that information was pretty convincing.
Here’s the quote from Dan Cockerell:
And Kathleen Kennedy, her point of view was, there are way more Disney Star Wars stories ahead of us than behind us. So we really should think about do we want to build a Tatooine, and build what all the fifty-somethings remember Star Wars is or do we want to build something else which is going to appeal to all the upcoming generations who are going to know the new stories. And that day Tatooine was killed at the Studios.http://www.wdwradio.com/2020/04/wdw-radio-585-untold-stories-of-walt-disney-world-dan-cockerell-star-wars/#volume
What Cockerell says makes sense. The argument Kennedy made was a good business argument. And my point is not to say that Cockerell is wrong. But there was more to the decision than which audience Disney was going to target. Disney and Lucasfilm are trying to build Star Wars into a franchise that is consistently producing new content long-term. Identifying which of your current characters will be most popular 50 years from now. What they were willing to bet on was that in 2070, the 50 year old characters would be more popular than the 100 year old characters.
I understand the logic, and it doesn’t bother me that The Force Awakens took Tatooine out of Galaxy’s Edge. The part that does bother me though was the decision that each iteration of Galaxy’s Edge would be the same. There was financial logic on that decision, too. But we could have had Batuu at Walt Disney World and Tatooine at Disneyland.