How Disney Managed the Tricky Marketing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Episode VIII brought a number of unique challenges

There’s been a lot of Star Wars recently.

When The Last Jedi hits theaters on Friday, it will be the third Star Wars movie in as many years, twice the rate of theatrical output as either of the previous trilogies. Even accounting for how Rogue One: A Star Wars Story wasn’t a “Saga” entry (meaning not part of the core series), it’s a release schedule that outstrips anything that’s come before. That’s notable for a franchise that has been known at least partly by its scarcity.

Despite how audiences seem pretty willing to accept frequent franchise entries (Marvel Studios, which like Lucasfilm is owned by Disney, put out six films between 2013 and 2015 alone), the threat of burnout has to weigh heavy on the minds of studio execs. How much is too much? Will older audiences, who are used to waiting 10 or 15 years between series, keep turning out every December? What’s the right “Saga” versus “Story” balance?

To account for all that, the cryptically titled The Last Jedi (wearing an “Oxford Comma, Jerks” sweatshirt in a college writing class wouldn’t have triggered more debate around grammar) has been marketed in a number of interesting ways, some of which take advantage of the latest technology and some of which clearly show adjustments being made from one campaign to the next.

He’s After Someone Named Skywalker

One of the most notable elements of the marketing for The Force Awakens was the absence of Luke Skywalker. While Mark Hamill did some pre-release press and publicity, Luke was markedly absent from all the posters, trailers and commercials for the movie, the character’s role in the story remaining largely a mystery.

This time around, Luke is positioned as a central figure in the story, shown on all those marketing elements. Hamill has brought his charm and wit to the publicity efforts, talking about his history with the character and his love for the fans. While Leia, Han, Chewie and other original characters were included in The Force Awakens’ marketing, Luke’s omission meant, at least in the “Saga” films, that the focus wasn’t on the Skywalker family.

I’ve Got to Get Back to Jakku

While “Where’s Luke?” was the question of the marketing for The Force Awakens, “#WheresRey” was the question of the consumer products campaign. Rey was so central to the rest of the marketing that her absence from many tie-in consumer products seemed by critics to be rooted in a belief that either a) boys wouldn’t be interested in toys including women, or b) girls don’t by action figures. Eventually Disney execs tried to explain it as an effort not to spoil the film, but many remained suspicious.

Throughout the campaign for The Last Jedi, though, female characters have been right on the front line. It’s clear from the trailers that it’s Rey’s journey we’re continuing to follow as she hovers between the Light and Dark sides of the Force, pulled in one direction by Luke’s mentorship and in the other by the power of Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke.

It’s not just Rey, though. Laura Dern joins the Star Wars universe as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, a Resistance leader with a passion for purple space capes. And relative unknown Kelly Marie Tran, who plays the new hero Rose Tico, has been the focus of one interview after another, appearing with all the big names in the cast on talk shows, panels and more. The haters who labeled Rey as a “Mary Sue” in The Force Awakens are going to have a lot more to be upset about, as it’s clear a galaxy far, far away has more than one heroic, capable woman in it.

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