Fanfare
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Fanfare

Star Wars Ages Up

Whatever you think of ‘The Book of Boba Fett’, it has two leads over 55 in an industry that worships at the youth alter. Let’s celebrate and analyze.

We skipped straight from child Boba to old man Fett and left the middle behind | Original comic art credit Dark Horse Comics

The Book of Boba Fett, which premiered late last year, is the second series in the MSU (Mando Streaming Universe) where a set of series (The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Ahsoka) set post- Return of the Jedi will cross over in a big event series. Of course, this is WAS the plan back in December 2020 when first announced at Disney Investor Day (Rangers of the New Republic is no longer with us). But the MSU shows also have another thing in common: their leads are all part of the Gen X and Boomer generations. Specifically, The Book of Boba Fett is headlined by 61-year old Temuera Morrison (Boba Fett) and 58-year old Ming-Na Wen (Fennec Shand). It might not sound like much but this is not some franchise targeting a clear age demographic (The Expendables), this is four-quadrant Star Wars.

Ming-Na Wen and Temuera Morrison for The Book of Boba Fett | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

This is both a surprising and not surprising turn for Star Wars.

It is surprising for the franchise but not for the industry in the past decade.

As Franchises Get Older, Studios are Learning to Find a Happy Medium

Before movie franchises were ever a thing, Star Wars was killing off older characters left and right. Obi-Wan, Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, and Palpatine all exited stage left in the Original Trilogy only to all make their way back in some form in current Star Wars content. And now, The Book of Boba Fett features two older characters that were both “killed" and looks to interweave that rebirth into their arcs.

Of course, it cannot be ignored that Boba Fett was a big part of the Original Trilogy iconography. His screen time was minuscule but he (and his father, Jango) had a larger part of the Prequel Trilogy. Kids who saw the Original Trilogy (including the Special Edition Releases in the late 90s) and the Prequel Trilogy in theaters and were old enough to retain the story are now nestled comfortably in the 30–49 and 50–64 age group, waiting for their childhood nostalgia to arrive in the comfort of their home. And every single Disney Plus show (including animation) has catered to them with content in those eras.

Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker, characters that were killed off in the Original Trilogy and cast younger for the Prequel Trilogy, will return for that middle-age life in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney Plus later this year. | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

While nostalgia for characters like Boba Fett is a part of this, that can only get you so far with your audience. But there have been some writings on the wall. As franchises are starting to last generations, studios are more willing to bring back characters and the actors who played them, not just for nostalgia, but for consistency in storytelling. Most find a happy medium, with original cast members acting alongside younger actors (The Matrix Resurrection and Scream 5 are the most recent examples).

The Sequel Trilogy tried to have the best of both worlds, presenting a new, younger generation for leads that were supported by the older Original Trilogy cast. And now, with de-aging and deepfake, there is even less need to cast younger versions of established characters other than to save costs (although that barrier will also change as technology evolves).

For streaming, Star Wars has leaned on the Star Wars brand and the familiar to tell stories with lead actors that skew older than the theatrical film leads. While Pedro Pascal is not quite 50 (45), he skews older than the leads of all the theatrical films before: Mark Hamil, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were 26, 20, and 35 respectively when Star Wars was released in 1977. Ewan McGregor was 28 in The Phantom Menace with child actor Jake Lloyd and a teenage Natalie Portman. The oldest lead in the Sequel Trilogy was Oscar Isaac, who was 36 when The Force Awakens came out (Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were both 23 and Adam Driver was 32). Adding in Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story and the average age for Star Wars theatrical film leads is 28 years.

For the Entertainment Industry, Streaming Numbers are Up, Movie Theater Tickets are Down

Domestic Box Office landscape for the past three years | the-numbers.com

It seems so long ago that movie theaters were battling Netflix over the theatrical window. The pandemic has fast tracked the debate and the theatrical window has never been shorter (day and date was common in 2021 and recently Sing 2 was available on VOD after three weeks in the theaters). Since 2019, the year of The Mandalorian and The Rise of Skywalker, the number of domestic theater tickets sold has decrease by more than 1M (per The Numbers). 2021 has not faired much better, even with the megahit Spider-Man: No Way Home.

The Mandalorian claimed top prize in the Streaming Wars when it beat out The Office for the season two finale. | credit Mónica Marie Zorrilla at Variety

With more attention drawn to streaming numbers, players like Nielsen and Samba TV have been expanding their reporting and streaming services are trying to catch up with content. Netflix reports how many hours their Top 10 programs are viewed and recently started releasing global numbers. Streaming is big business with big numbers and it has continued to attract older viewers in addition to families, heightened by the pandemic.

The youthful cast of The Rise of Skywalker…and Anthony Daniels | credit Lucasfilm ltd.

But, as with any long lasting franchise, there always has to be an eye on the next generation. And the next generation is the group going to the theaters.

A recent Gallop poll on movie attendance in 2021 revealed that a historically high 61% of American adults did not visit a movie theater at all (31% saw between one and four movies, and 9% attended five or more). That is a long time to get used to not going to the movie theater. And studios and exhibition have to expect that some of those people might never return to theaters.

credit Megan Brenan at Gallop (2022)

Looking at the same Gallop poll, Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 saw an average of 3.2 movies, while people between the ages of 30–49 saw an average of 1.4 movies and those over the age of 50 averaged less than 0.8 movies. Younger people are streaming content, but they are also going to the theaters more often (and the poll did not specify if the average number including repeat viewings).

At the end of the day, going to the movies is still one of the cheapest forms of entertainment available. And, as Spiderman: No Way Home has proven, there is nothing quite like a big dark room with a big screen and a crowd. Star Wars will return to theaters, and will cast young because Hollywood isn’t changing completely. And with the right story and director, the next theatrical Star Wars release will be an event.

But, whatever the age of the next Star Wars film cast is, can we please bring back the opening crawl? Yes it’s nostalgic, but THAT will never get old.

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