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The shadow of greed: A brief essay on Disney and the business of Star Wars

People walk past a fountain showing the Yoda character from the Star Wars movies outside of Lucasfilms headquarters in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that it was buying Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4.05 billion. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Wise words.
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 jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”

This was published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief. Subscribe here for our newsletter, tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe and Africa, or the Americas.

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