This article was peer reviewed

This year Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) commemorated its 45th anniversary.1 This anniversary recognises the passage of time since its theatrical premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday 25 May 1977. Such milestones are often associated with historical distance or cultural nostalgia that offer an opportunity to reflect on aesthetic and cultural impact from changing historical perspectives. This anniversary also recognises the cinematic persistence and currency of ‘Star Wars’ as a franchise phenomenon. For this reflection on ‘Star Wars’ at 45, there must be a distinction between the anniversal celebrations of Star Wars and ‘Star Wars’. Star Wars is a singular cinematic event that defined an historical moment with significant creative and industrial influence; this anniversary is about looking back to a cinema event in a specific historical context. ‘Star Wars’ is a franchise phenomenon represented by the iconic trademarked logo (Figure 1); this means it is constituted by the multiplatform adaptation, expansion, and multiplication of creative form over time and is facilitated and shaped by the industrial affordances and conditions associated with intellectual property law. The longevity and persistence of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is the outcome of complex creative and industrial dynamics that reflect continuities and variations in ownership agreements and production structures, creative strategy, narrative form and style, and cultures of reception. Writing for The Guardian, Lauren Pinnington asks “are anniversaries for films, albums or TV even necessary when we have seemingly daily reminders of them? It is easy to become complacent about pop-culture milestones when historic entertainment is in our orbit at all times.”2 Such a question can certainly be directed at the anniversary of Star Wars since its persistence as a blockbuster franchise permeates popular culture. There is value to anniversaries of franchises in active development and production since they tell us something about the mechanisms and conventions that facilitate longevity in the franchise mode. 

Figure 1: The trademarked logo of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise.

Longevity is a fundamental principle of franchise production in early 21st century Hollywood. As such, the pursuit of permanence and survival underpins the industrial strategies and creative development of franchises, for individual properties, conglomerates and subsidiary studios, and the broader entertainment industry. Former Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger describes entertainment franchising as “something that creates value across multiple businesses and across multiple territories over a long period of time.”3 The objective of blockbuster franchising is thus to generate creative and industrial value in intellectual properties that can be creatively and economically sustained over time as “evergreen” franchises.4 Julian Stringer acknowledges that the blockbuster’s “promise of ever-increasing levels of audio-visual intemperance lies at the heart of the commercial film industry’s ability to rejuvenate itself.”5 Therefore, while blockbuster franchising has crystallised into a coherent mode in the early 21st century, its capacity for extensive and expansive production that can maintain (or increase) value over time is central to Hollywood’s persistent pursuit of creative and industrial stability. ‘Star Wars’ exemplifies how the development and management of evergreen franchises is vital to the longevity of specific studios, such as Lucasfilm and its parent conglomerate Disney, and to Hollywood as an industry. As Adam Rogers writes in Wired, ‘Star Wars’ exemplifies contemporary Hollywood’s pursuit of the “forever franchise” and predicts that “you won’t live to see the final Star Wars movie.”6  Rogers makes this statement in 2015 to coincide with the 38th anniversary of ‘Star Wars,’ prior to the release of Episode VII – The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, 2015); today, in 2022 and at its 45th anniversary, the prediction remains true but now the persistence of ‘Star Wars’ is not only characterised by movies, but it is a multiplatform system. Today, ‘Star Wars’ is driven by Disney+ television series such as The Mandalorian (2019 –), Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022), and Andor (2022 –), video games including Jedi: Fallen Order (Respawn 2019), Vader Immortal (ILMxLAB, 2019), and Star Wars: Squadrons (Motive Studios, 2020), and the ‘High Republic’ publishing project across novels, comic book, and short stories (2020 –). Lucasfilm thus actively sustains the longevity of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise across multiple stories and characters, authorial visions, audience generations and demographics, media platforms, technologies, and industrial strategies. This article examines the persistence of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise and explores how its development negotiates longevity through the reorganisation of ownership, the reformulation of its expanding storyworld across multiple media, and the recultivation of an intergenerational audience to facilitate its longevity over four-and-a-half decades and counting. 

Reorganisation: Independence to Conglomeration

The organisational structures related to the ownership and licensing of intellectual property are central to facilitating longevity in blockbuster franchising; as such, the future of a franchise is enabled or restrained by the production intentions of an owning or licensing creative authority, such as Lucasfilm. It is for this reason that the ‘Star Wars’ franchise lay dormant for 16 years between the releases of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 1983) and Episode I – The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999), as George Lucas, its creator and owner at the time, waited for cinema technology (and his budget) to advance to a point that could realise his creative vision that involved epic cities, elaborate costumes, and a duelling Yoda.7 During those 16 years—the ‘Dark Times’—it did not seem amiss to consider there to be no official cinematic future for the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, despite cultural demand. Therefore, the Walt Disney Company’s 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries—including Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Skywalker Sound, Lucasfilm Animation and Lucasfilm Licensing—is a pivotal event in the contemporary history of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise and its continuing persistence. Disney had not simply acquired Lucasfilm with the intent to subsume its media properties into a static corporate catalogue for re-releasing, but it had a creative strategy to extend and expand the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. Disney intended to use its economic, creative, and industrial resources to activate the dormant “evergreen” potential of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise as a phenomenon in which future creatives, stories, media platforms and audience generations could shape indefinitely.8 Lucas reflects on this opportunity in an official press release about the acquisition in 2012: 

I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime. I’m confident that with Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy, and having a new home within the Disney organization, Star Wars will certainly live on and flourish for many generations to come.9

In this statement Lucas signals how Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm provided the ‘Star Wars’ franchise with an organisational structure that could facilitate its futurity. This transition involved negotiating continuity and change: the persistence of the Lucasfilm name reflected the endurance of Lucas’ influence, while the reorganisation of Lucasfilm—from an independent company with its own company divisions (and Lucas as chairman and chief executive officer) into a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios (with Kathleen Kennedy as president)—established a new industrial era for the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. 

In its shift from an independent production company to a subsidiary of the Disney conglomerate, Lucasfilm was reorganised into an entertainment company focused on franchise development and strategy. This reinforces Disney’s reputation as a leader in franchise synergy, which it had built since the mid-1980s under the leadership of Michael Eisner, and into the 2000s, led by Bob Iger, with franchises such as ‘Cars,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ (MCU). As Paul Grainge explains, synergy is a total entertainment strategy that intersects total ownership with total media expansion; it is thus a fundamental principle of franchising that works at the “heart of Disney’s identity as a major entertainment and media company.”10 Janet Wasko charts how synergy has been central to Disney’s strategy since the 1950s with its opening of the Disneyland theme park and its dynamic cross-promotional ecology of live action and animated theatrical production, television, cable, publishing, music, and merchandising; this ecology has further multiplied with the affordances of digital technology and online networking, such as streaming and social media.11 Therefore, under the ownership of Disney, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise gained the organisational structure that could realise its potential as an evergreen franchise shaped by multiplatform synergy. Dominic J. Nardi and Derek R. Sweet describe how “for most casual audiences, Star Wars is the Star Wars films” and “the hype surrounding The Force Awakens in 2015 seemed to indicate that audiences believed real Star Wars belonged in a movie theatre.”12 However, Nardi and Sweet recognise that historically “the films are simply the tip of the iceberg of the Star Wars megatext” and “starting before anyone had even seen the original Star Wars in theaters, the Star Wars franchise branched out across every form of media imaginable.”13 This history of multiplatform extension no doubt formed the basis for Disney’s evaluation of ‘Star Wars’ as an evergreen franchise with fruitful potential for franchise synergy and expansion. 

The Disney+ streaming platform affirms the opportunity for expansion through a vertically integrated distribution channel for home exhibition of creative output produced by Disney’s subsidiary studios, such as Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios, Pixar, and 20th Century Studios. The ‘Star Wars’ franchise has developed a mutually beneficial dynamic with Disney+, since its initial launch on 12 November 2019 in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands (19 November 2019 in Australia and New Zealand) included the premiere of The Mandalorian as its “flagship product.”14 Amy H. Sturgis contends that “the Disney+ streaming service represents the future of Star Wars television – and, quite possibly, the brightest promise for the future of the Star Wars franchise, full stop.”15 As the creative output of Jon Favreau, director of feature films, Iron Man (2008) and The Lion King (2019), and Dave Filoni, creator of animated series, The Clone Wars (2008–2020) and Rebels (2014–2018), The Mandalorian is a synthesis of cinema and television approaches and the old and new of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, since it features narrative mythology introduced in The Clone Wars and developed in Rebels. The Mandalorian thus reflects a direction for ‘Star Wars’ that is focused on creative expansion as well as organisational synergy across production, distribution, and exhibition.

Disney’s franchise synergy is driven by a commitment to creative development and coherence across entertainment divisions. For Lucasfilm and ‘Star Wars,’ this strategy provides an organisational clearinghouse through which stakeholders from managerial, creative, technological, and promotional divisions can maintain franchise coherence. One articulation of this clearinghouse in Disney’s reorganisation of Lucasfilm is the establishment of the Lucasfilm Story Group to manage narrative coherence across multiple platforms as “creative facilitators” with institutional knowledge who “coordinate all storytelling across the board.”16 In 2014, the Lucasfilm Story Group redefined ‘Star Wars’ canonicity through a major reset of past licensed works produced pre-Disney (previously known as the ‘Expanded Universe’ (EU), now structured under the banner of ‘Star Wars Legends’) to clear the slate for more coherent storytelling across platforms. While this reset would marginalise aspects of ‘Star Wars’ history, it was a major step in generating new creative directions. Franchise developer and producer Jeff Gomez identifies the ‘franchise clearinghouse’ to be a key tenet in developing evergreen franchises: 

A committee of stakeholders from across divisions must be empowered to meet at regular intervals to keep one another apprised of all aspects of production, licensing and distribution of content drawn from the franchise story world. They propose new additions to canon, support third-party efforts, generate cross-promotions, share assets, and brainstorm new ways to nurture the franchise.17 

Gomez tells of how this principle was established through his experience working with Disney to develop the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, which would subsequently become a vital part of Disney’s franchise strategy.18 The franchise clearinghouse plays an instrumental part in developing a storyworld mythology that is coherent across platforms and organisational divisions, such that “buy-in is cultivated and reinforced through the validation of all stakeholders and their participation in the development process.”19 This structure also provides opportunities for diverse creative stakeholders to contribute to franchise development while staying connected to the core themes of a franchise. In this context, franchise coherence is not the same as narrative continuity and the franchise clearinghouse can work to facilitate a balance between coherence and continuity; for example, in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, this organisational structure has enabled spaces for works created by different teams with a diverse range of styles, such as The Bad Batch (Disney+, 2021 –), Visions (Disney+, 2021), Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Andor. The Lucasfilm Story Group is a locus for strengthening synergy between creative and organisational interests to ensure thematic, iconographic, and strategic coherence to facilitate the growth and longevity of the franchise. 

Reformulation: Skywalker Saga to Persistent Storytelling

Although Lucasfilm has established an organisational structure that can work to sustain franchise longevity, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise requires reformulation of its narrative mythology to meaningfully expand its parameters. The feature films that make up the ‘Skywalker saga’ (Episodes IV–VI, I–III, and VII–IX), most especially represent the narrative mythos of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise and have traditionally constituted its storytelling core. The story of familial lineage and inherited abilities (an oversimplified definition of the Force, to be sure) presents barriers for franchise longevity: it risks making the storyworld – in this case, a fantastical galaxy – feel small and limited; it can lead to a lack of diversity of stories and characters, which has implications for breadth in audience engagement (more on this below); and it can result in a plot structure that is cyclical rather than expansive, as is demonstrated by the distinctive narrative sequencing (in medias res, prequels, and sequels) of the Skywalker saga and its thematic focus on destiny. This is not to say that the traditional ‘Star Wars’ narrative is incompatible with longevity, but it does present challenges for generating ongoing storytelling that can sustain an evergreen franchise. Kathleen Kennedy has expressed similar concerns:

Just staying within the construct of George’s storytelling, to keep chipping away at that, I think would be wrong. It’s our job to step away now, but still have a connection to the mythology that George created. That won’t stop. But we are moving on from the Skywalker saga. That’s what’s taking a lot of time, discussion, and thought right now.20    

As president of Lucasfilm, Kennedy must “focus on the past, present, and future all at once” to manage “both the galaxy’s legacy and destiny.”21 This requires a narrative strategy that honours franchise history in tandem with reformulating its thematic and architectural parameters; this is not an easy task and signals some of the complexities of franchise storytelling, since it requires understanding the narrative essence and mechanics well enough to extend its expression indefinitely.   

Despite its complexity, a coherent and well-organised multiplatform strategy also offers opportunities for balancing the potentially opposing objectives of old and new, past and future, across different platforms and creative works simultaneously. For example, while some iterations continue to nurture the franchise’s legacy, such as in the feature movie Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard 2018) and the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Bad Batch, others can work to extend and reformulate storytelling possibilities, which is unfolding through the ‘High Republic’ project with the novel High Republic: Light of the Jedi (Charles Soule, 2021), the comic book The High Republic (Marvel Comics, 2021 – ), and the forthcoming Disney+ series, The Acolyte (2023 – ); moreover, other series try to navigate a balance between legacy and future, such as in the video games Jedi: Fallen Order and the forthcoming Jedi: Survivor (Respawn, 2023), and the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett (2021 – ), and Andor. These generative opportunities are at the core of what Kennedy refers to as “persistent storytelling”: a movement away from the trilogy structure and a “drawing to a close on the saga that George had created” to move “into the future of storytelling in the Star Wars universe.”22 However, this narrative strategy is not only about extending beyond in an additive sense, which risks associating change with the peripheries of the storyworld, but requires reformulating the franchise’s narrative mythos at its core: the Skywalker saga. Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) disrupts the dynastic premise and glorified monomyth traditionally associated with the ‘Star Wars’ franchise; Gomez notes that “in the eyes of many The Last Jedi subverts all of Star Wars” and Dan Golding considers that “if The Force Awakens was about the importance of the past, then The Last Jedi is about upending it.”23 As these assessments suggest, The Last Jedi is a catalyst for the reformulation of the ‘Star Wars’ mythos: it sets a precedent for reimagining the boundaries and thematic essence of the franchise from its core. Compellingly, this degree of mythos revisionism seen in The Last Jedi has not explicitly occurred again in the franchise in the 5 years since, where much of it is even ignored in its sequel Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (J.J. Abrams, 2019).24 However, The Last Jedi is a pivotal moment of narrative reformulation in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise and provides an opportunity to expose and experiment with the thematic tension between history and futurity that underpins its persistence. 

Since The Last Jedi, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise has remained preoccupied with its spatial and temporal history as a platform through which to build its future; as such, the reformulation of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is still in a process of negotiation and development with its own legacy. In its setting, new ‘Star Wars’ works introduce different planets, locales, and settings to tell new stories, but some – such as The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and The Book of Boba Fett – continue to return to Tatooine (the home of Luke and Anakin Skywalker) like a magnet drawing the franchise back to its origins (Figure 2). The persistent attraction to this familiar setting has even been noted by popular culture commentary that considers “Star Wars has a Tatooine problem”:

Over time the Star Wars universe began to feel small, its heroes all seemingly connected in one way or another to the Skywalkers or Tatooine. Despite having an unlimited number of possibilities, Star Wars couldn’t help returning to the supposedly insignificant world its fans knew best. It was emblematic of Star Wars’ increasingly self-referential storytelling, which helped fuel marketing and nostalgia, but left the setting as a whole feeling increasingly stale.25

The temporal setting of new ‘Star Wars’ works is similarly familiar, with most set during past periods in the storyworld’s timeline: Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rebels, Jedi: Fallen Order, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor all take place between Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005) and Episode IV – A New Hope; Resistance (Disney+, 2018) is set before The Force Awakens; The Clone Wars occurs before and during Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and The Bad Batch spins off from this point; The Mandalorian, Squadrons, and The Book of Boba Fett take place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens; and even though the ‘High Republic’ publishing project is focused on new stories unrelated to the Skywalkers, it is still set in the past approximately two centuries before The Phantom Menace. This temporal familiarity is also noted in popular culture commentary that recognises how “Star Wars still feels stuck in the past” where new stories and characters “forever linger in the shadows of legends we are already well aware of.”26 While this rehashing of the familiar might seem to point to narrative stagnation over the last five-years of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise – especially in the wake of the disruptive opportunities of The Last Jedi – it is also possible to see this period as a process of mythos rediscovery. As such, this return to Tatooine and the past adds to the reformulation of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise by strengthening and expanding its core across platforms and stories before it can branch out to unknown places and times. Where previously the core of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise has been associated with the three trilogies (nine feature movies) of the Skywalker saga, now the franchise’s ‘past’ is also meaningfully associated with stories told through television, video games, novels, and comic books. Therefore, this is not necessarily a strategy for rejecting the changes provoked by The Last Jedi, but about working inwards before moving onwards.

Figure 2: Luke Skywalker looks out to the Binary Sunset over his home planet of Tatooine in A New Hope.

As a franchise phenomenon so strongly intertwined with the notion of modern mythmaking, it is indeed difficult to reformulate the narrative mythos of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise without its connection to the past. As Andrew Gordon identifies, with Star Wars Lucas “created a myth for our times, fashioned out of bits and pieces of twentieth-century American popular mythology” and “at its most fundamental level, the plot partakes of the timeless elements of epic myth.”27 Counter to this mythmaking foundation, in The Last Jedi the antagonist Kylo Ren – a new generation of Skywalker – challenges this premise with the message, “let the past die, kill it if you have to.” As Golding describes, “The Last Jedi draws a picture of a galaxy where people are no longer fascinated by a mythological past but instead going to great lengths to push away from it.”28 This premise makes subsequent works such as Solo, a prequel to A New Hope, seem retrograde by comparison. However, mythmaking in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise has never really been static or fixed, but has explored ways to reformulate the past: even as it explores the themes of prophecy, destiny, and legacy, narrative devices such as prequels (set before already released works) and midquels (set between multiple already released works) provoke reassessment of familiar narrative events from different perspectives; these devises are not simply about slotting in more of the same but invite reappraisal of past instalments. The best example of this is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016), which is a midquel set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and adds a new dimension to the narrative of rebellion and its theme of hope. The recent series Andor precedes Rogue One and it explores a “new perspective” on the emergence of the rebellion against the Empire.29 In this approach, narrative familiarity is re-evaluated by working deeper along the vertical axis of the ‘Star Wars’ mythos to question what we already know about the past. 

The series Obi-Wan Kenobi exemplifies how the ‘Star Wars’ mythos can be reformulated through its history and not just beyond it. A midquel set a decade after Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope, the series focuses on Jedi Master Kenobi in hiding on Tatooine following the rise of the Empire and the death of his friend and former Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker-turned-Darth Vader. In the series, Kenobi is an aging and broken man keeping watch over a young Luke Skywalker (Anakin’s son who is under the protection of Owen and Beru Lars), when he takes on a mission to rescue the young Leia Organa (Anakin’s daughter who is under the protection of Bail and Breha Organa on Alderaan). Through this mission, Kenobi discovers that Vader is alive and confronts him (Figure 3), which draw parallels with other conflicts involving Vader across the franchise, such as Kenobi’s final duel with Vader in A New Hope (which ends with Kenobi’s death) (Figure 4) and Vader’s later confrontation with his own Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano in Rebels (which leaves Tano assumed dead) (Figure 5). Obi-Wan Kenobi thus forms a nexus between the ‘original trilogy (Episodes IV–VI), the ‘prequel trilogy’ (Episodes I–III), and the Disney era of ‘Star Wars’ history. In connecting familiar narratives and past timelines, Obi-Wan Kenobi weaves the ‘Star Wars’ mythos into a tapestry of the known and unknown. There is a mythic throughline in the series that invites new reflection on the relationships between Kenobi and Vader, Kenobi and Leia, and Vader and Anakin. Obi-Wan Kenobi is thus an example of how franchise mythos can be slowly reformulated from within, which can subsequently support and facilitate persistent storytelling and franchise longevity.

Figure 3: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader duel in Part 6 of the series, Obi-Wan Kenobi (1:6)

Figure 4: Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final duel in A New Hope

Figure 5: Ahsoka Tan and Darth Vader duel in the episode ‘Twilight of the Apprentice: Part II’ in Star Wars: Rebels (2:22)

Recultivation: Generational to Intergenerational Fandom

Historically, ‘Star Wars’ fandom has been perceived to be generational and firmly tied to the three trilogies of the Skywalker saga: the first generation originated with the ‘original trilogy’ and prides itself on ‘seeing Star Wars at a cinema in 1977’; the second generation emerged with the ‘prequel trilogy’ when a fan conflict ensued between first-generation prequel haters (the ‘bashers’) and second-generation prequel lovers (the ‘gushers’);30 and the third generation has discovered ‘Star Wars’ in the Disney era with the ‘sequel trilogy’ and other multiplatform works. While this generational classification oversimplifies fan reception of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, it plays a critical role in tracing the persistence of the franchise and its pop culture reception: the first generation kept it alive during the ‘Dark Times’ through fan clubs, conventions, collecting practices, zines, and creative fan works that drew from the multitude of multiplatform licensed works that made up the EU; the second generation championed the ‘prequel trilogy’ that was fervently rejected by the former; the third generation celebrated the ‘sequel trilogy’ and other works made in the Disney era, despite inconsistent disapproval from both first and second generation fans; and some sub-groups of the first and second generations found common ground in their criticism of The Last Jedi. These intra-generational dynamics reflect changes in ‘Star Wars’ fandom over time and William Proctor describes how “the internet and the participatory affordances of Web 2.0 would inaugurate radical shifts in contemporary communication in all sorts of ways, including the way in which fan ‘communities’ migrated from marginal ghettos and into mainstream awareness and heightened visibility.”31 For Lucasfilm and its audience communication strategies, these shifts signal opportunities to recultivate an intergenerational culture for ‘Star Wars’ fandom that unifies and expands its diverse audience across platforms to facilitate its future. Golding identifies how “after more than four decades, there have been several distinct and not-so-distinct generations of Star Wars fans and their associations with franchise eras, objects, taste, politics, gender, representation, and identity.”32 Therefore, while ‘Star Wars’ fandom has seemed to encompass discrete sub-communities that often seem homogeneous within each generational group, over time the franchise has developed broader heterogeneous cultures that can enrich intergenerational dynamics for franchise longevity.

The multiplatform expansion of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is instrumental in the cultivation of a diverse intergenerational audience because it facilitates a system that can speak to long-time fans (through works such as The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi), attract new audiences through a range of works tailored to different media platforms (such as video games, novels, television, and theme parks), and represent a breadth of cultural, social and artistic diversity (with examples such as Rogue One, The Last Jedi, the web novel The Vow of the Silver Dawn (China Literature, 2020–2021), and the anthology television series Visions); this system is not fixed around specific generations but is a mechanism that accounts for the synchronic and diachronic engagement of multiple generations across multiple platforms. As Sturgis says, “the future of a franchise on the scale of Star Wars requires not only new audience members now, but new generations of audience members on the horizon.”33 Disney’s acquisition of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise has been critical to the recultivation of an intergenerational audience because the idea of ‘family entertainment’ has been so strongly tied to the company’s brand narrative; however, as Wasko clarifies, this does not specifically designate a child-driven audience, but has increasingly come to see Disney target a broader spectrum of age groups: 

targeting families means attempting to appeal to different age groups, not just children. While exposure to Disney products is typically strong during childhood, some of the same products are still enjoyed by adults, while other products are specifically design for adults. The company’s diversified products are consumer by, and thus potentially influence, a much wider audience or number of consumers than the family audience.34

Based on its generational history, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise provides a fruitful opportunity for Disney to expand its age demographic because it has two generations of pre-established fandom and a promising multiplatform strategy for attracting new generations. For example, the ‘High Republic’ project includes different published works intended for adults, young adults, and junior readers; similarly, Disney+ releases such as The Bad Batch and the final season of The Clone Wars may appeal to a younger audience, while The Book of Boba Fett and Andor are more suited to more mature audiences. Moreover, The Mandalorian has effectively cultivated an intergenerational audience by balancing themes (belonging, creed, and survival) and character types (warriors, bounty hunters, and an alien child) that can be accessible across different ages in the same series. 

A well-conceived and developed multiplatform system is a vital tool for enriching audience diversity and engagement. The Disney+ streaming platform facilitates intergenerational diversification because it expands the site of audience engagement into the private home; this increases access to ‘Star Wars’ works for a broader range of audience demographics and facilitates a personalised viewing procedure that grants audiences more viewing agency. However, it is not enough to produce works for an intergenerational audience without supporting intergeneration dialogue; in this regard, social media can be a critical component of a multiplatform franchise. As Gomez explains, the multiplatform system must be embedded with an ‘architecture for dialogue’ where audiences are “respected and embraced across all media platforms, regardless of their level of engagement.”35 This recognises audience engagement as a vital part of franchise development. Indeed, Lucasfilm has struggled to establish an effective feedback loop between creators and audiences that can help to illuminate the complexities of story development; this is demonstrated partly in how fans misunderstand the function of the Lucasfilm Story Group and assumed that its role is to be ‘continuity police’ not franchise story developers.36 Audience recultivation is thus one of the biggest challenges for Lucasfilm as the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is reformulated to strengthen its persistent storytelling approach; as the franchise continues to multiply and expand across platforms and its audience becomes more diverse, intergenerational dynamics will play a crucial role in supporting franchise longevity.   

Conclusion: Star Wars at 45

This article has argued that historical milestones are significant in the history of long-running active franchises such as ‘Star Wars’ because they provoke critical reflection on the strategies, continuities, and shifts that have facilitated such endurance. The persistence of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is particularly significant because it also represents blockbuster franchising as an epic, expansive, and multiplied mode of production that dominants Hollywood cinema of the early 21st century. The anniversary of ‘Star Wars’ is simultaneously a commemoration of temporal distance from the initial release of Star Wars in 1977 and a celebration (and reflection) of the persistence of a long-lasting franchise phenomenon. This 45th anniversary is thus a marker of both maturity and continual development of a franchise that has recently undergone reorganisation of its ownership and production structures and is currently in a process of narrative reformulation and audience recultivation. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm provides the ‘Star Wars’ franchise with the organisational structure needed to realise its potential for franchise synergy across multiple media platforms, but there is still work to be done to develop the narrative mythos of the franchise beyond the Skywalker saga. As a narrative strategy, the shift towards ‘persistent storytelling’ is a progressive development that involves balancing history and continuity with futurity and variation; this approach expands the narrative system of the franchise to support new stories across media platforms but appeals to new audience demographics across generations. Despite its 45 years of development, the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is not a static system set in time to look back on from a distance but is continually in active development. ‘Star Wars’ at 45 is thus simultaneously old and young in perpetuum.


  1. In 1981, Lucasfilm renamed Star Wars to Episode IV – A New Hope.
  2. How often should we celebrate cultural anniversaries?,” The Guardian, 5 October 2020.
  3. Richard Siklos, “Bob Iger Rocks Disney,” Fortune International (Europe) 159, no. 1: p. 58.
  4. Jeff Gomez, “The 10 Commandments of 21st Century Franchise Production,” Business Insider (October 2012).
  5. “Introduction,” Movie Blockbusters, Julian Stringer, ed. (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 5.
  6. You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie: Star Wars and the Quest for the Forever Franchise,” Wired (December 2015)
  7. Star Wars, “‘All Films are Personal’: An Oral History of Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace,” StarWars.Com (May 2019).
  8. The Walt Disney Company, “Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm Ltd,” Press Release (October 2012)
  9. The Walt Disney Company, “Disney to Acquire Lucasfilm Ltd.”
  10. Brand Hollywood: Selling Entertainment in a Global Media Age (New York: Routledge, 2008) p. 49.
  11. Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy, Second Edition (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020), pp. 82-83.
  12. “Star Wars: From Big Screen to Small,” The Transmedia Franchise of Star Wars TV, Dominic J. Nardi and Derek R. Sweet, eds. (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), p. 1-2; original emphasis.
  13. “Star Wars: From Big Screen to Small,” p. 2.
  14. Nardi and Sweet, “Star Wars: From Big Screen to Small,” p. 3.
  15. “Foreword,” The Transmedia Franchise of Star Wars TV, Dominic J. Nardi and Derek R. Sweet, eds. (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), p. viii.
  16. The Star Wars Show, “Pablo Hidalgo Extended Interview,” YouTube (September 2016).
  17. Gomez, “The 10 Commandments of 21st Century Franchise Production.”
  18. “Transmedia Developer: Success at Multiplatform Narrative Requires a Journey to the Heart of Story,” The Routledge Companion to Transmedia Studies (New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 207–213.
  19. Gomez, “Transmedia Developer,” p. 212.
  20. Anthony Breznican, “Star Wars Forever: How Kathleen Kennedy is Expanding the Galaxy,” Vanity Fair (May 2022).
  21. Breznican, “Star Wars Forever;” original emphasis.
  22. Breznican, “Star Wars Forever.”
  23. The Self-Disruption of Star Wars,” Collective Journey, Blog (January 2018); Star Wars After Lucas: A Critical Guide to the Future of the Galaxy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019), p. 170.
  24. Paul Tassi, “‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ Didn’t Just ‘Fix’ The Last Jedi, It Erased It,” Forbes (January 2020).
  25. Kat Bailey, “Star Wars Has a Tatooine Problem,” IGN (January 2022).
  26. Jade King, “Star Wars Still Feels Stuck in the Past,” The Gamer (March 2022).
  27. “Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time,” Literature/Film Quarterly 6, Issue 4 (1978), pp. 315 & 320.
  28. Star Wars After Lucas, p. 170.
  29. Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, “Andor Media Kit,” Disney Plus (2022).
  30. Will Brooker, Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Fans (London: Bloomsbury, 2002), p. 94.
  31. “A New Hate? The War for Disney’s Star Wars, Disney’s Star Wars: Forces of Production, Promotion, and Reception, William Proctor and Richard McCulloch, ed. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2019), p. 303.
  32. Dan Golding, “Star Wars Fans, Generations, and Identity,” Fandom, The Next Generation, Bridget Kies and Megan Connor, eds. (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2022), p. 136.
  33. “Foreword,” p. vii.
  34. Understanding Disney, p. 204; original emphasis.
  35. The 10 Commandments of 21st Century Franchise Production.”
  36. Jedi Council Forums, “Lucasfilm Writing Group,” Fan discussion board, TheForce.net (February 2014).

About The Author

Tara Lomax is an author and scholar with expertise in blockbuster franchising, multiplatform storytelling, and contemporary Hollywood entertainment. She has a PhD in screen studies from The University of Melbourne and her work can be found in publications that include the journals Senses of Cinema and Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and the book collections Starring Tom Cruise (Wayne State UP, 2021), The Supervillain Reader (UP Mississippi, 2020), The Superhero Symbol: Media, Culture & Politics (Rutgers UP, 2020), The Palgrave Handbook of Screen Production (Palgrave, 2019), and Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling (Amsterdam UP, 2017). She is currently Senior Higher Education Curriculum Writer and a guest lecturer at the Australian College of the Arts (Collarts) in Melbourne.

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