After a brief period of uncertainty following the dramatic exit of Colin Treverrow, Lucasfilm announced yesterday that The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams would return to helm the upcoming Episode IX. That part of the news was less interesting to me than the accompanying point that the movie, originally scheduled for May of 2019 was being pushed to December of 2019, presumably to allow time for Abrams to get back in the production groove. The Last Jedi was initially slotted for May of this year but was similarly shifted to December. That’s the same month both TFA and Rogue One were released. So far the only current Star Wars movie that’s maintaining its May release date is Han Solo film that’s scheduled for next year.
The reason the date shift is more notable to me than the return of Abrams (though that’s substantial as well) is that it directly impacts the movie’s marketing. Each movie since The Force Awakens has faced – or is currently facing – a unique situation when it comes to launching a campaign. Specifically, the marketing of the next movie can’t impact the release cycle for the current one. The Rogue One campaign didn’t kick off until The Force Awakens was hitting home video. Similarly, Rogue One’s theatrical run was well over before The Last Jedi’s campaign started.
Assuming Han Solo’s May release date holds, there are two situations that will be in place:
First, what Han Solo’s marketing will look like is anyone’s guess. There will be just five months between The Last Jedi and it, with none of the seven-month cushion other films have had. Lucasfilm/Disney will be in the unique position of actively marketing one Star Wars movie while the previous one is still in theaters. That could mean it doesn’t get quite the press push or the number of trailers the other movies have because it can’t step on The Last Jedi’s toes too much. The studio doesn’t want to write Han Solo off completely with a half-hearted effort so it will have a very fine line to walk to avoid marketplace overlap and audience confusion.
Second, Episode IX will have the longest marketing lead since The Force Awakens, which was in the advantageous position of being the first mover in the revived franchise. Assuming Lucasfilm allows for at least four months post-Han Solo, the campaign for this could kick off in earnest around Thanksgiving or so, the same time we saw the first trailer for TFA. That could work as this is, at least in theory, the final entry in the third trilogy and would therefore be filled with all the emotional and action resolution built up over the previous two chapters in the Saga series.
All of this is up in the air, of course. You have to figure Han Solo’s release date is fixed at this point, despite that movie’s own directorial upheaval. So Lucasfilm/Disney will have to make sure each movie has its own distinct presence in theaters, regardless of the challenges presented by an aggressive release schedule.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.