Disney Should Not Tell Us Anything About the New Star Wars Movie Before It Comes Out. Really.

Slate's Culture Blog
March 13 2014 1:40 PM

How to Market the New Star Wars Movie

462893315-filmmaking-legend-george-lucas-of-disneys-lucasfilms
George Lucas posed with Stormtroopers and Yoda at the opening of Disney's new Lucasfilms animation production facility in Singapore.

Photo by STEFANUS IAN/AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, word got out of a short list of potential leading men for Star Wars Episode VII, which included Breaking Bad villain Jesse Plemons and John Boyega, best known for the 2011 film Attack the Block. “Sources” told Variety that announcement delays stem from debate about whether the studio wants to cast an actor of color in the role. “Disney had no comment.”

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

This was the latest tiny detail about the movie to get widespread attention from news outlets. So far, though, we really don’t know much about the highly anticipated film. J.J. Abrams is directing, it is scheduled to come out on Dec. 18, 2015, and Carrie Fisher says that she and her former co-stars Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill will all appear. Presumably, between now and that release date, we’ll be bombarded with every minuscule detail about the production: casting news, plot details, concept art, set photos, and on and on and on.

Advertisement

Such tidbits are the hallmark of Hollywood marketing in its rococo phase. But I have a different idea for how to market Star Wars Episode VII, and I can sum it up in a single word.

Don’t.

Have every cast and crewmember sign a nondisclosure contract, and scrap any formal promotional plans prior to the release of the latest installment. Let us know not one more single detail about the production until it’s up on the screen for us to eagerly gawk at on opening night. Seriously.

Some details will leak, surely, but there are advantages to at least trying to keep them secret. If producers ditch the press releases and skip the trailers, they’ll save millions in advertising and build even greater buzz among curious audiences. Curiosity might even push more people to see it on opening weekend than otherwise would. As a cultural experience, opening night would be something like a once-in-a-lifetime event, and no one, not even the most casual Star Wars fan, would want to miss out.

Contrast that with the standard approach. After the usual torrent of teasers, trailers, promo photos, interviews, and “exclusive sneak peeks,” the typical big release has been picked apart nearly to death before it even comes out. And Star Wars will arrive with perhaps the highest expectations of any blockbuster in recent years.

Granted, Abrams tried to keep a big secret with Star Trek Into Darkness, and fans excoriated him for it. But part of his problem was that Khan had been listed as a major character on IMDb prior to screening, and Abrams’ denials came off as irritatingly coy. But with the next Star Wars, we don’t know yet who the major heroes or villains are. (As of today, rumored baddie Adam Driver is listed as exactly that: “rumored.”) So now’s the time to put this plan into effect.

There’s a useful if imperfect analogy to be made with Beyoncé’s surprise video-album from late last year. The lack of any advance promotion likely made Beyoncé an even bigger hit than it would have been otherwise. Within four weeks, it had already surpassed sales of her previous album, 4. Fans were crazy about it, and months later, they still are.

The release of Star Wars won’t be a surprise, of course. And chances are that it would be virtually impossible to keep such a massive undertaking entirely under wraps, especially since the public already knows it’s on the horizon. That said, if Beyoncé can film 17 videos with dozens of extras and crewmembers without so much as a hint that the album was completed and coming our way at the end of 2013, perhaps it’s not quite as impossible as it seems.

But the real lesson of Beyoncé for Star Wars is the unbridled enthusiasm the album garnered upon release. Yes, it was important that the album was, in fact, terrific, but it also mattered that people weren’t burnt out by advance promotion. Listening to the album on that first day, one had the rare opportunity to discover a major cultural release before anyone else, critics and media included, had talked about it. As a fan, that felt special and fun.

That could be you, Star Wars. Think about it.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.