Star Wars: The Force Awakens, just became the first movie to gross over $100 million at an opening. In fact, it made almost $30 million more than the paltry $91 million Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pulled in — arguably a much better film all round too, I’m guessing. I haven’t seen the film yet and certainly will never lower myself (as an adult and all) to watch any of the Harry Potter films. However, I’m dying too. I remember being 8 years old and seeing the “ahem” VHS of The Empire Strikes Back sitting on the shelf of my local Radio Shack and desperately wanting my mom to rent it for me. It took years before I could convince her, but like most young boys of the time, I was enchanted by the dream world it represented and the special effects that were like nothing else out there at the time. This was in 1985 I think; I had no idea it was part of a series or that it wasn’t the first part.
Many of us have been enchanted by the franchise. Many of the films have broken one movie-going record after another. They’ve made George Lucas into an unstoppable legend. And it appears the newer ones may just become the icing on the cake for sci-fi master J.J. Abrams (I still feel the sting of Fringe being cancelled after all these years JJ!)
Let’s discuss some of the true entrepreneurial genius behind this, one of the most epic fictional sagas that’s now spread itself over two centuries of our history.
1. If you have a dream, chase it and never give up.
The story goes that Lucas was fixated on taking a B-series-type character and turning them into a mega-superhero franchise for young folks to love and revere through the ages. He first tried to buy the rights to the lesser-successful, but recently re-emerged Flash Gordon story, but wasn’t able to. So what did he do? He decided why not make an epic sci-fi battle drama set in space during a civil war — seems like the next natural step, right?
As so many a story goes and despite the fact that he was on the rise as a young Stanley Kubrick disciple and with a few good films under his belt, every studio but one turned him down. Fox agreed to finance the film for $8 million and also made one of the most epic money blunders of all time — they gave Lucas the merchandising rights and slated him the rights to make the sequels.
This will go down in history as one of the most genius entrepreneurial moves of all time for Lucas and the end of a legacy for the fools at Fox (whose names are no longer uttered) who gave him those billion-dollar rights. Apparently, they didn’t hold out much hope for the film, but wanted to get Lucas under their thumb for future films.
The renegade experimentalist knew he had an epic story and used consumer and studio data he’d garnered from his other successful films, like American Graffiti, to help him craft a tale that the world wouldn’t be able to get enough of in the coming four decades.
Funny too, that Disney was one of the first studios to reject the project and now they’re front-and-center to rake in the bucks on the most recent reboot. So strange how things come full circle sometimes…
2. Use what you got, collect scraps if you have to.
By now, most of us have heard that Lucas made the sequels to the prequels which would later (now) have sequels of their own (get all that?) and he had a set purpose for doing so.
This was because his vision allowed him to see that the special effects of the time just weren’t right for what he had in his head for the first three. So what did he do? He decided to make the prequels first and tell us about Luke and his father until movie making technology improved.
In fact, he was so insecure about the graphics in Star Wars that he made a lot of quick cuts so the audience wouldn’t notice. In fact, this was part of the charm of the original Star Wars — what it didn’t tell you or show you.
All of this served to create something more memorable and meaningful for millions of people than the over-the-top computer-animated graphics we saw in the more recent films.
Conversely, what made the prequels far less compelling is that there were no constraints. The unlimited budget and abundant technology somehow worked against Lucas’ vision, leading to a trilogy that left many feeling underwhelmed.
Thankfully, from what I’ve heard, Abrams is taking it easy and almost taking a backward step with the effects in the newest film (share your thoughts). Which leads to why Lucas decided to let the newest film be made.
3. Lucas actually listens to his customer base — perhaps too much so.
After billions of dollars and even building a ranch on his property named after his most famous character, Lucas did (sort of) give up. He was so fed up with the criticisms about the prequels, he said “no more Star Wars — the saga’s over. Happy?”
Thankfully, he got over it and decided to listen to all the “CGI doesn’t belong in Star Wars, that’s not what it’s about” critiques and decided to give customers what they were asking for — instead of listening to studio hotshots trying to tell him how to craft his own story — or insisting on following so tight to his own vision that his customers would once again be left to feel like they were getting an inferior product.
Share your thoughts. Love the story and it’s message or not, Lucas has a lot to teach the entrepreneurial minds of the future.