Can Abrams' 'Star Wars' be a billion-dollar blaster?

The filmmaker takes on the challenge of repeating the franchise's previous financial successes with the coming 7th episode.

By Jonathan Berr Jun 11, 2013 8:43AM
Movie still of Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Chewbacca in Star Wars: Episode IV (© Lucasfilm Ltd./Courtesy Everett Collection)Sure, J.J. Abrams helped create "Lost" and breathed new life into the "Star Trek" franchise with "Star Trek Into Darkness." But investors in Walt Disney (DIS) wonder whether the force will be with Abrams when he takes on "Star Wars" and the franchise's legacy of billion-dollar-plus bonanzas.

The filmmaker announced over the weekend that production of the seventh episode of the space epic would begin shooting in early 2014, with a scheduled release date the following year. Details of the plot aren't known, though it's rumored that the film will feature members of the original cast, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

Shooting won't be cheap. Box Office Mojo says the most recent "Star Wars" installments, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" (1999) and "Episode III -- "The Revenge of the Sith" (2005), both cost more than $100 million to make.

But the returns have been fantastic. Box Office Mojo reports that in the U.S. alone, "Phantom Menace" grossed more than $431 million, while "Sith" brought in $380 million. Worldwide, they did nearly $1 billion and $850 million, respectively. And those numbers aren't adjusted for inflation. Nor do they include all the tie-ins, rental income and merchandising that easily made these films worth more than a billion dollars.

It's pretty much a given that the newest episode in the franchise will be at least as expensive to make, if not more so. At a minimum it will also have to match the grosses of the earlier films to please Wall Street.

That'll be a tough job. For one thing, Ford has been one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood for years. He has also expressed misgivings about again taking on the role of Han Solo. Plus, bringing back the old cast might not be enough to attract today's moviegoers, many of whom are too young to remember the earlier movies. The film will also need contemporary stars, who won't come cheap either.

To say the pressure is on Abrams to deliver is an understatement. Disney investors have high expectations for the film, given the media giant's $4.05 billion acquisition of LucasFilm from George Lucas last year.

Abrams has delivered big before, but even with the Force, there's no guarantee he'll do it again.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jun 11, 2013 10:27AM
Even if you weren't around for the original movies, you've probably still seen them. I wasn't born until after Return of the Jedi's release but I still loved those movies as a kid and would be psyched to see some of the original cast again.
Jun 11, 2013 11:07AM

Jonathan Berr, have you even seen a Star Wars film?  You write this article as if you're reporting on something happening in a foreign country while you're in your flip-flops on Palm Beach.

Jun 11, 2013 12:12PM
Harrison Ford was not the movie star he is today when he made Star Wars.  They got him noticed and Indiana Jones solidified him as a star.   Lucas made his money with great character actors not stars.

Don't get me wrong he'll have maybe 1 (Jackson and Guinness) but that's about it.  Portman wasn't a super star yet and MacGregor has always been a solid character actor. 

Also, he always rounded out the cast with brilliant stage actors like Alec Guinness and Christopher Lee.

Jun 11, 2013 12:08PM

Funny that Ford has misgivings about playing Han Solo again.  He should have had huge misgivings about playing any role in the silly/stupid "Cowboys and Aliens".  You too Daniel Craig!

Jun 11, 2013 12:40PM
Hopefully they stay true to the original storyline that has been detailed in many books over the years.
Jun 11, 2013 12:46PM
There were always to be 9 movies. Lucas just didn't want to be bothered. I'm sure he put many stipulations in the sales contract. He doesn't want his baby betrayed.
Jun 11, 2013 11:43AM
I own all six movies and cannot understand what they will come up with, unless they focus on rebuilding the Republic and the Jedi Order.  That may be a good place to start.

Jun 11, 2013 12:05PM

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit came out before most of us were alive and they've done pretty darn good financially... if you take a good story, good director, and good acting you can make the new Star Wars very successful. 


Episode 1 was horrible and it did great, I doubt they can make Episode 7 worse.

Jun 11, 2013 2:30PM
Two words: character development.  High flash light shows with no depth have been done.  The genre needs something new in the form of something old; a story.
Jun 11, 2013 3:07PM

If JJ Abrams could get Han Solo to shoot Jar Jar Binks in the Cantina Scene I think Star Wars would make their money back.  This would also settle the argument if Han shot first because it would be justifiable homicide.   missa thinkin weesa re ganna die? Oooh, Mooey Mooey.  My give up.

Jun 11, 2013 2:29PM
The new movies, at the very least the first one, are guaranteed blockbusters no matter how good, or bad, the movie. $500 million easy, and probably in the first two weeks.
Jun 11, 2013 11:45AM
IF anyone can do it, it's always with investors and "bean" counters, speculation and or the "pressure" will always exsist, but Abrams is a genious! I can't wait to see his Star Wars rendition...Best of luck J.J.!!!!!!!
Jun 11, 2013 1:58PM
Do not turn "Star Wars" into "Glare Wars" ala "Star Trek".
Jun 11, 2013 1:36PM
Should be great. The most recent ones were a little cheesy....just a little....and I think that Abrams will do a fantastic job.
Jun 11, 2013 3:31PM
Is he actually going to put in some effort this time, or just tweak the Empire Strikes Back script the way he bastardized Wrath of Kahn?
Jun 11, 2013 3:24PM
In Abrams alternate Star Wars universe, the conflict will be started by Jar-jar Binks cornholing an Ewok and the empire will blame the rebellion. They were going to send Han to investigate, but at 90 years old, he involuntarily crapped his pants. Chewie grunts out a we're out of galactic depends.
Jun 11, 2013 3:17PM
Star Wars like Trek, has become an "old fossil".  Just as in Back to the Future, Part III, Jaws 19?  C'mon people!  Do you really want to see SW 9 with Obi in his Depends and using a walker?
Jun 11, 2013 1:29PM

"Can JJ Abrams' 'Star Wars' be a billion-dollar blaster?"

In a word: No.   JJ Abrams destroys everything he touches.

Jun 11, 2013 11:43AM

There is another issue at stake, one that gets severely neglected---the high price of movie tickets!

Families can no longer afford to go the movies together as such turns into a $40-$50 without popcorn!


Beside hasn't Star Wars (which I love) run its course, the movies are still watched but a whole new one might not do as well, especially since Disney has grown pretty famous for not so great sequels.


OZ is an example---came out only a few months ago and is already available on DVD over that of the big screen.


Maybe Abrams should have just left Star Wars alone rather than seek the big bucks on sequels that may be great but overly expensive! 

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