“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” from director Rian Johnson looks like it is going to break box office records. Early tracking estimates published by Variety now have the film pulling down more than $200 million on its opening weekend, with the potential to make as much as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” made on its opening weekend in 2015 – a staggering $248 million.
There have only been three films ever in the history of Hollywood to smash through the mythical $200 million ceiling on an opening weekend: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” ($248 million), “Jurassic World” ($208 million) and “The Avengers” ($207 million). It’s a safe bet that the “The Last Jedi” will give “Jurassic World” and “The Avengers” a serious challenge – but is this latest “Star Wars” movie up to the task of taking on “The Force Awakens”?
That’s actually a very important question to answer because the new film will largely be seen as a “success” or a “failure” depending on its ability to out-sell “The Force Awakens.” Not only are you comparing apples with apples (both films are part of the same “Star Wars” trilogy), you are also comparing oranges with oranges (both films have appeared within 48 months of each other). So it’s not like “The Last Jedi” is trying to topple a record of another film franchise that’s been held for 50 years – it’s just trying to do better than a similar type of film with the same core characters that appeared relatively recently.
Industry analysts have even gone so far as to do a lot of complex mathematical calculations to figure out how well “Star Wars” films have done over the past 50 years. The pattern seems to be that the second and third installments of a trilogy do better than the original film in terms of the opening weekend take – but over the long run, tend to under-perform the first film of the trilogy.
If you’re using this as a guide, it means that “The Last Jedi” could explode out of the gate on December 15, smash through the $248 million record, and then have a hard time making as much as “Rogue One” (which did $155 million on its opening weekend, but $532 million overall). So, in order to be a truly record-breaking film, “The Last Jedi” must make about $250 million over its first three days, and then more than another $250 million for its entire cinematic run.
There is one “wild card” factor in all this, of course, and that’s Carrie Fisher (who plays the iconic character of Leia Organa). The famed actress died in December 2016 after filming scenes for “The Last Jedi” and both Lucasfilm (the producers) and Walt Disney Studios (the distributors) have decided that this will be not only the final “Star Wars” film that Carrie Fisher will appear in, but also the final film appearance – EVER – for Carrie Fisher.
That could lead to a tidal wave of nostalgia, and more importantly, non-“Star Wars” fans could decide to see the movie as a tribute to this beloved actress. That would further inflate box office numbers, and perhaps turn “The Last Jedi” into the “must-see” film of the year for all moviegoers (not just “Star Wars” fans).
And make no mistake about it – the early marketing for the film is making it very clear that Carrie Fisher will have an important role in this film. At one point in the official trailer, for example, the camera pauses significantly on her face as the Resistance endures an attack on its spaceships. There have been so many rumors online that the filmmakers have included a special tribute to her within the film – much as “Furious 7” did for the late actor Paul Walker.
And here’s the really exciting part – there’s even speculation among die-hard fans that there will be a digitally-enhanced battle scene involving all the “old stars” of the “Star Wars” franchise – including Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, who is back as Luke Skywalker in this film. That would be truly epic, and something that might just break the Internet.
One big clue as to whether “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” will break box office records has to do with the social media activity that’s been taking place in the lead-up to the film. Just as the film’s marketers expected, most of the social media chatter – including a treasure trove of “explainer” clips on YouTube – involves around three key sets of actors: the new hero/villain duo of Rey and Kylo Ren (played by Daisey Ridley and Adam Driver, respectively); the classic “Star Wars” characters of Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Leia Organa; and the trilogy’s supporting characters of Finn (played by John Boyega) and Poe (played by Oscar Isaac).
Thus, just as the film’s producers expected, there’s “plenty in there for everyone.” For the true “Star Wars” loyalists who grew up with the film, we’ll get to see more of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. For the new millennials who grew up with “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” there’s plenty to digest about the strange yin/yang, hero/villain relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren.
There are really only two factors that could stop “The Last Jedi” from fulfilling its destiny. One is that there is simply too much “Star Wars” fatigue after two films in two years. That’s the same sort of problem faced by “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which could never live up to the hype of “Avengers.” Analysts blamed “superhero fatigue” and Marvel’s confusing mix of new superheroes.
The other factor, of course, is that “The Last Jedi” has to go head-to-head with the biggest holiday hits of the year. This year, those hits include the “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (with its own Robin Williams tribute), “Pitch Perfect 3” (the end of a trilogy!), and “Ferdinand” (an animated film based on a beloved children’s classic). Any three of those films might siphon away viewers from “The Last Jedi.”
However, those films shouldn’t really be a major concern for “Star Wars.” After all, the new “Star Wars” film is going to be an epic cinematic experience. And it’s going to break every single box office record. The force is strong, so do not be afraid.