Two of the biggest film franchises of all time are Star Wars and the Harry Potter films—both of which owe their success to audiences invested in the sagas of the Skywalkers and the Boy Who Lived. Warner Bros. and Disney are each trying to extend their longevity by pushing them beyond their core stories.
More than five years after the last Harry Potter film was released, Warner Bros. is preparing to delve back into the Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And Disney will release its temperately anticipated Star Wars spinoff Rogue One this December in US cinemas.
The movies will test whether audiences truly care about the worlds created by JK Rowling and George Lucas without the faces that brought them to the franchises to begin with. Both of the upcoming films center on new characters and stories that have loose ties to the originals—and their success will depend largely on whether audiences will be interested enough about new characters in an expanded universe.
Rogue One takes place before the original 1970s Star Wars trilogy begins and tells the story of the Rebel spies who stole the plans for the Empire’s superweapon, the Death Star. (Spoiler alert: the stolen plans are thought to reveal the flaw in the Death Star that Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion later exploit to blow it up in A New Hope.)
It’s the first in a series of standalone Star Wars films being developed by Disney and Lucasfilm. The next revolves around a young Han Solo.
Fantastic Beasts, meanwhile, takes place at an entirely different time and place than the original Harry Potter films. It’s set in 1920s New York compared to the present-day UK—without Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the other characters that first brought it to life for readers and viewers.
But it’s not all new. To get fans back in the door, Darth Vader had an ominous, shadowy presence in the trailers for Rogue One, giving audiences at least one character from the original films to latch on to. And Rowling revealed at an event in London on Oct. 13 that a young Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grendelwald—characters from the original movies—will appear in this and future Fantastic Beasts films.
Warner Bros. has also sought to rekindle the nostalgia of Harry Potter by re-releasing the eight-film franchise in IMAX theaters for a limited run ahead of Fantastic Beasts’ Nov. 18 release. Rowling, who wrote the screenplay for the film, has been using her website Pottermore to engross fans in the wizarding world she created as well. The site recently added new short stories from Rowling and interactive games, including one that allows you to discover your Patronus.
The studio is already in production for a second film in the series, and Rowling said three more will be coming after that, for a total of five movies. The second film in the series will be set in neither New York nor Britain. Presumably, it will explore other corners of the Wizarding World, which Rowling has dabbled with in her short stories and ebooks.
Disney, on the other hand, is being a bit more cautious about its exploration of the Star Wars universe. CEO Bob Iger said he does not expect the film to match the box office success of Star Wars: The Force Awaken, which set records when it was released last December.
But he added that interest in the posters and trailers for Rogue One appears to be “as high as it was for Force Awakens.”