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Weekend edition—The Star Wars empire, tea in Tehran, IBM’s moonshots

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Disney is running its Star Wars franchise with the efficiency and ubiquity of its galaxy’s Empire. Over the past year or so, it has marketed the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, which opens across the world this week, with a relentless efficiency not seen since the execution of the Jedi religion.

The machine behind Star Wars has evolved into its own Galactic Empire, leaning on generations of kids’ nostalgia to sell them everything from a Darth Vader toaster to soup with little R2-D2s in it. When George Lucas’s original film opened in 1977, moviegoers had never seen anything like it. Yet it was made for only $11 million—roughly $46 million today. Compare that with the Force Awakens budget of $200 million, and the $4 billion for which Lucas sold the franchise to Disney in 2012.

This empire seems only stronger with the might of Mickey behind it. Disney has produced a seemingly unending string of hit films, whether through Pixar, its Marvel Comics universe, or its own studio’s productions. It has, in many ways, figured out how to manufacture and monetize joy. Its films, merchandise, TV channels, and theme parks are in global demand. Some estimates suggest Disney will make back its $4 billion investment well before completing this next Star Wars trilogy. And it may not end there; some predict that those alive for the 1977 launch will be long dead by the time Disney runs out of Star Wars films to produce.

But even if director J.J. Abrams’ new film lives up to the hype, it’s worth remembering some of Master Yoda’s words: “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”—Mike Murphy

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

Reading the tea leaves in Tehran. Bobby Ghosh talks politics and swaps diabetes tips with Iran’s most liberal Grand Ayatollah, analyzes the arbitrariness of Iranian film censorship and Iran’s love-hate relationship with American products, tours Tehran’s sometimes surrealist murals, and lists the six best things he ate on his trip.

Can IBM’s moonshots bring it back to greatness? Big Blue owes its longevity to patient scientific research that can take decades to turn into products. Mike Murphy visits the spaceship-like research facility to see its projects and ask: Will it survive its current slump to see them bear fruit?

Texas turns its back on refugees. The governor’s recent refusal to let in Syrian refugees is—you might be surprised to learn—untypical of Texas. In fact, it’s been one of the US’s most refugee-friendly states. Hanna Kozlowska looks at their contributions to its economy, and analyzes the politics of its about-turn.

A 21st-century gold rush in Sudan. The conflict-torn country is pinning its economic hopes on an explosion in artisanal gold mining. Peter Schwartzstein and Leyland Cecco traveled to northern Sudan to document, in words and pictures, the lives of the men who immerse themselves in pools of mercury- and cyanide-tainted water to sift out the yellow metal.

It’s rate-hike week! Prepare for the US Federal Reserve to (probably) raise interest rates this week, for the first time in nearly a decade, with Matt Phillips’ and Michael Tabb’s animated primer to what it means for the US economy. (The short answer: Don’t panic, it’s gonna be great for America.)

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

What it meant to grow up Soviet. Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel acceptance speech explains why she chose her searing style of documentary fiction, narrated directly in the words of people she interviews: as the only way to adequately convey the horror of the wars, repressions, and disasters of Soviet and post-Soviet history. “We haven’t had time to comprehend what already has and is still happening to us, we just need to say it.”

The truth about anorexia. In a searing, intensely personal essay on living with an eating disorder, Slate’s Kate Waldman reveals the damaging way anorexia has been romanticized in literary narratives. Too often depicted as an act of self-sacrifice rather than a disease, eating disorders have become associated with waifs and poets, to the great detriment of those who suffer from them.

How Latin America’s radical left got lost. Not so long ago, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Brazil’s “Lula” da Silva seemed to ready to overhaul the world order, raise up the poor, and give the global south its due at last. Over at Foreign Policy, Christopher Sabatini explains why their grand dream died (paywall).

The Machiavelli of Maryland. Brilliantly catty profile of Edward Luttwak, famed consultant to princes and presidents, by Thomas Meaney in the Guardian. “Less a grand political theorist… than a skilled bricoleur of historical strategic insights,” he does a roaring trade thanks to the “perpetually renewable reservoir of naivety at the highest levels of the US government.”

A year as a trucker. An immersion in the life of long-haul truck driver in America—junk food, driving into the dawn, harsh sounds, moments of grace, moments of terror, membership of a huge fraternity whose most salient common feature is their solitude. And an insight into how most goods move. Beautifully done, by Robert Langellier at Esquire.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, strategic insights, and trucking stories to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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