If you haven't heard about the Star Wars franchise, you've probably been living under a rock. Let's face it, it's one of the most famous and successful film franchises around. When the first film was released in just 42 theaters in 1977, few would have predicted that the franchise would be around decades later—much less trading hands between two huge film companies for over $4 billion. That's the price Walt Disney (DIS) paid for Lucasfilm in 2012. The franchise accounted for the bulk of the deal's value, though some consideration was paid to films in which Harrison Ford wears a funny hat.
Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise from Lucasfilm for a deal worth $4.05 billion in cash and stock.
The first Star Wars film spawned a number of different prequels, sequels, standalone films, animated films, television series, and merchandise. But why is the franchise so valuable? And why does it resonate with so many people? Read on to find out more.
- The Star Wars franchise is one of the most successful in the world.
- Disney purchased the franchise from Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion in 2012.
- The first four films produced by Disney earned the company $4.8 billion at the box office.
- Star Wars' success has been dependent on a great story, a variety of films, television series, merchandise, as well as providing fans with an experience.
Love it or hate it, Star Wars is a successful brand that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. And just like any other great film, much of its success begins with a great story. The premise is the classic good versus evil conflict that wraps itself around other secondary themes like the struggle for power, Luke Skywalker's coming of age, and the overall sense of courage of the characters. Add to this, the mystique of space and exploration and great costumes—that translate well for cosplay and Halloween. Don't forget some of the famous catch phrases and one-liners like "Luke, I am your father" and "May the force be with you," and you've got a really winning formula.
The first trilogy was released between the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was followed by the second trilogy—known as the prequel trilogy—from 1999 to 2005. The sequel trilogy to the original Star Wars films opened in theaters in 2015, with the final film set for release in 2019. The four films that Disney produced after purchasing the franchise raked in $4.8 billion at the box office.
Star Wars also released a 2008 animated film based on the animated series that ran between 2003 and 2005—not to mention the 1980s Ewoks and Droids cartoons. On top of the long-running bombardment through film and TV, Star Wars has an expanded universe of books, comics, board games, and video games. (For more, see: How Exactly Do Movies Make Money?)
Every person between the ages of 2 and 70 has potentially had some interaction with the franchise. This means there are many different reasons to follow the franchise. For some, it's nostalgia, and for others, it may be a new discovery. The Star Wars franchise was particularly well-managed throughout its expansion, with none of the spin-off content subtracting from the core story told through the movies. In fact, the stories of the video games and books are seen as an improvement over particular films. There are, of course, hardcore fans, but just about everyone can enjoy Star Wars. It's a far cry from its much more niche and nerdy sibling Star Trek.
There are a few equivalents to the Star Wars universe that have developed the same demographic reach and content variety, and all of them are valuable commodities. One is the Harry Potter franchise that has its core in the books and films, and additional revenue streams from toys, theme parks, video games, as well as a Broadway play. The Potterverse likely won't explode while J.K. Rowling maintains direct control, but the potential is there. In fact, the franchise was reportedly worth an estimated $25 billion in 2018.
Take the Star Trek franchise, based on the original television series created by Gene Roddenberry. This franchise inspires similar fandom across generations. Unlike Star Wars, Star Trek grew from TV first, then expanded to film, but the expanded universes—no pun intended—parallel each other in variety and reach. The Star Trek world, like Star Wars, includes a number of television series, an animated series, a slew of films, not to mention endless merchandise. For those who aren't familiar, there's a town in the Canadian Prairies called Vulcan in Alberta, which is known as the official Star Trek capital of Canada. The town of about 2,000 people has a number of Star Trek-themed attractions, although the town's name had nothing to do with the franchise. (For more, see: The Economics of Summer Blockbuster Movies.)
Then, of course, we have the Marvel Universe, which was another $4 billion Disney purchase made before the Lucasfilm buyout. That original investment made Disney more than $18 billion from box office receipts. The Marvel Universe came with even more history than the Star Wars franchise and hundreds of established characters with which to work. This allowed Disney to accelerate movie and TV production, increase the merchandising already in place, and pump out Marvel content at an unprecedented pace. Of course, Marvel Studios already had some of the plan in place and deserves full credit for the masterful execution from the 2008 film "Iron Man" to now, but the Disney magic in merchandising adds extra revenue to each film. It is estimated that Disney already made back the purchase price of Marvel by the time the first Avengers film was released.
It Goes Far Beyond Box Office
Obviously, the ability to spin off from a tentpole film into many different areas of content and merchandise is a key advantage that underlies many movie franchises. Star Wars has a large universe already, with opportunities up and down the narrative stream for new stories. It also has a lot of experience merchandising, with consumers able to buy just about anything imaginable. This includes figurines, models, t-shirts, stamps, comics, Nerf guns, Lego sets, water bottles, key chains, phone cases, costumes, blankets, beds shaped like the Millennium Falcon, slippers, hats, suggestive Darth Vader underwear, watches, business card holders, lunch boxes, stationery, car accessories, kitchenware, luggage, and much, much more.
With Star Wars now an in-house property, Disney will continue to develop the merchandising and integrate the brand and universe into its resorts business and theme parks. Maybe we will see a theme room where you can sleep inside a replica Tauntaun, but they'll likely start with something less gruesome. In short, Disney gives Star Wars even more opportunities for merchandising—t-shirts with Mickey as a Jedi, for example—and new cross-over content.
The Bottom Line
There is no doubt that Star Wars was well worth the $4 billion-plus purchase price. The box office receipts of all the movies exceed that amount if you adjust for inflation, and there is a reasonable chance that higher earning movies are still in the future. These movies will be backed by a multitude of merchandising and spin-off content that will add value for Disney for years to come. In short, the value of the Star Wars franchise owes to the consumers—both young and old—who pay to escape to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."