When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise for $4 billion dollars in 2012, many assumed Disney would focus on reviving the Star Wars franchise by producing another round of movies. But this was only part of the plan. What Disney really wanted was the characters and the stories. For characters and stories have always put the magic in Disney.
Disney’s first cultural icon, Mickey Mouse, became the template upon which all future characters would be built. In 1928 he starred in Steamboat Willie, the first animated film to use synchronized music and sound effects. As the movie captured the imagination of popular culture, Walt Disney did what he did best — he teamed up with merchandisers to put Mickey Mouse in every house in America. Along with stuffed animals, Mickey appeared on pencils, in books, on children’s clothes, pillows, and sheets. Soon he had his own syndicated cartoon in the newspaper. But nothing said he had arrived better than the release of the iconic Mickey Mouse Watch, which sold over 11,000 units on its first day, a record for its time. But that was just the start. By the 1950s Mickey had his own television show, the Mickey Mouse Club, and a starting role in his own theme park, Disneyland, in California.
So when Disney purchased Star Wars, the production of movies was only one piece of the franchise pie. From now till the release of Star Wars VII The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, a whole series of video games, animated TV shows, and books will be released to build momentum toward the opening of the movie.
Disney has even created a slogan and website called “Star Wars A Force For Change,” which promises to harness “the strength of Star Wars and its global fandom to empower people to come together to make a positive impact on the world around them.”
With the release of the video game Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars, Disney takes its popular toy-to-life video game to another level. Included in the starter pack is the first of three Star Wars play sets that capture the breadth of the Star Wars story. The starter pack comes with Twilight of the Republic, in which Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano battle during the latter years of the Clone Wars (episodes 1 – 3). The intergalactic adventure takes the characters to four planets, during which they battle droids as they try to save the republic from the separatists.
At the end of September the next play set, The Rise Against the Empire, will be released. Here gamers will be immersed in the original Star Wars movie universe (episodes 4-6) as they get to be Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia fighting against the Galactic Empire. Then in December, in conjunction with the release of the newest movie, The Force Awakens play set will feature two new characters, Finn and Rey, that will allow gamers to play the in world of episode 7.
But this is only part of the story. More than 100 playable characters will be included in the series, which at $14.99 a pop is quite an investment, along with the $64.99 starter pack and the $35.99 you pay for each additional play set. Disney knows it will hard to resist the desire to play as Darth Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, and Han Solo in a Star Wars experience that puts the gamer in the midst of the action.
Beyond the play sets, Disney Infinity also includes the groundbreaking Toy Box that allows gamers to create their own worlds using Star Wars images. But more than that, in the Toy Box, Yoda can also hang out with Elsa from Frozen or Woody from Toy Story or Hulkbuster from Marvel’s universe of characters.
While it’s easy to see this as an attempt to separate parents from their hard-earned money, not to be lost is Disney’s profound understanding of the appeal of Star Wars to grandparents, parents, and children alike. For Stars Wars is not only an intergalactic adventure, it also is an intergenerational cultural experience that started in 1977.
People in their fifties and sixties can easily remember their first experience of the release of episodes 4 – 6, when “let the force be with you” became part of the cultural lexicon of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those in their thirties and forties became immersed in the story in the 1980s and 1990s with the advent of Video Tapes and DVDs that allowed them as kids to watch the movies over and over again in their home theaters. In 1999, the series got new life with the release of episodes 1 – 3, which introduced the series to a whole new generation. Now with Disney Infinity 3.0, the grandchildren and children of Star Wars fans have the opportunity to be caught up in the story in a totally new way. Not only will they be able to watch the movies, toy-to-life video gaming allows them to become the characters as they interact in the Star Wars universe.
With the release of Disney Infinity 3.0, Disney has redefined the Star Wars experience. Rather than buying a particular game, it becomes its own game system, which can be played on any gaming platform from the Wii U to the PS4, from the Xbox One to the PC. If you have a grandchild or child, don’t be surprised if you find yourself investing in Disney Infinity 3.0, because deep down, you know if you have it, you’ll get to play it too.
Questions for church leaders:
- How do Bible stories and characters become an intergenerational experience?
- How will you handle the cultural phenomenon of all things Star Wars that will reach its zenith right before Christmas?
- Will you ignore it? Reference it in your preaching? Create a study?