Disney chief Bob Iger said he just met with LucasFilm head Kathleen Kennedy to map out Star Wars movies from 2021 and beyond, signalling that the studio is plunging ahead with plans to keep developing the cinematic universe created by George Lucas.
To that end, the studio has already announced two more planned sequels to its series of films centred on the Skywalker clan, as well as spinoffs about a plot to steal plans for the Death Star and a Han Solo origin story. They have also found a writer for another spinoff, expected to debut in 2020. Those films will hit theatres over the next four years, but Iger signaled to investors at a Goldman Sachs conference on Wednesday that Disney is looking beyond that date for ways to exploit the Jedi Knights and space adventurers that populate the fantasy film series. Similar meetings are taking place at Marvel Films, the maker of hugely successful comic book movies, about what the studio will be doing for the next decade, Iger said.
The Disney chief said he had recently seen a rough cut of Star Wars: Rogue One, the first standalone film in the series. "It's really interesting in terms of 'Star Wars' storytelling," he said. "Star Wars has only been told as a saga, and this is a moment in time ... we love what we've seen."
Iger stressed that Rogue One, which unfolds before the first Star Wars, is not expected to match the box office returns of The Force Awakens. That picture racked up nearly $2.1 billion globally to become the third-highest grossing film in history. "We never felt it would do the level that Force Awakens did," Iger said. But based on the response to the trailers and posters, he said "The level of interest [in Rogue One] is as high as it was for Force Awakens."
Rogue One has battled some bad publicity, with reports claiming that the movie needed extensive re-shoots. Felicity Jones stars in the film as a member of the Rebel Alliance, tasked with stealing the blueprint for the Empire's floating fortress, the Death Star.
The Disney chief talked up the film slate as evidence of the success of the company's decision to make fewer pics in order to focus its resources around tentpole productions that have more global appeal and that lend themselves to toylines and theme park rides. Iger seemed particularly excited about a sequel to Frozen that is in development, as well as a reboot of Spider-man that Marvel will oversee in conjunction with Sony Pictures.
There are other changes taking place across the Disney landscape. The company is beginning to experiment with ways to push ESPN into the internet era, announcing that it will look for ways to offer mobile rights to programming through its investment in BAM Tech, Major League Baseball's digital arm, and other technologies. Part of that may involve dynamic pricing. ESPN may offer customers more targeted packages centred on a season or even a weekend of games. Iger said ESPN's core pay-television business remains strong, but acknowledged that consumers want to see programming on multiple devices and platforms.
"We're doing it to reach more sports fans," said Iger. "We can't predict where the business goes over time. ... We need to be fully prepared for dramatic shifts should they occur."