Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker continues to spark waves of argument and debate about whether this ninth installment in the Star Wars saga was a success or a flop; if it sufficiently pushed the franchise forward or relied too much on easy creative choices; and where exactly this celebrated sage goes next.
Setting aside the mixed reviews for a moment, one thing that’s not up for debate is the hard numbers. Because the fact of the matter is that Rise of Skywalker’s $176 million debut represented the lowest opening weekend at the box office of the franchise’s most recent three films — coming in especially low when compared to the $248 million earned by The Force Awakens in 2015.
Rise of Skywalker verdict: It was better than the amazingly bad Last Jedi, but it was still a sad reminder that all franchises are destined to continue until they get bad enough that audiences lose interest.
— Noah Smith 🐇 (@Noahpinion) December 26, 2019
After that, the downward trend was firmly in place. The Last Jedi in 2017 brought in less during its opening weekend ($220 million), while the 2018 spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story bombed in epic fashion with an $84 million opening weekend haul (the worst ever for a Star Wars film). These trends are no doubt at least partly the reason a trilogy that The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson had been planning seems to be in indefinite limbo, while Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss abruptly abandoned a planned Star Wars project altogether in recent months.
Of course, depending on who you ask, the future of the galaxy far, far away isn’t all grim. The Rise of Skywalker nevertheless found plenty of fans, and I remain a big fan of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as well as the franchise’s first live-action series The Mandalorian on Disney+ — both of which, in different ways, hint at the creative potential in successful Star Wars spinoffs. I think the thing I enjoy most about each of those is how they showed me something different, things I wasn’t necessarily expecting, within the Star Wars universe without being too tightly bound to it — so tightly bound to it that certain obligatory boxes have to be checked.
The Mandalorian’s success may especially hint that the way forward for the franchise lies in streaming. That very well could be the case. The bottom line is that the numbers don’t lie — The Rise of Skywalker earned roughly half of what Avengers: Endgame did during its opening weekend, so one thing is for sure: Star Wars fans are definitely hungry for something new, something that barring a few exceptions the franchise stopped delivering a long time ago.