Star Wars: The Force Awakens set the record for the biggest opening weekend in film history in 2015 when it earned a staggering $247.9 million in its first frame. While the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi may not reach such lofty heights, it’s still guaranteed to dominate the box office like few films ever have. One factor that may sadly help the film’s financial performance is the tragic death of star Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the original trilogy and again in 2015.
“What’s making the The Last Jedi special is that this is the final role for Carrie Fisher,” Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, told USA Today. “People will want to tip their hats.”
Fisher passed away in December 2016 after completing her work on Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. Reports at the time suggested Lucasfilm had planned for her character to be a major component of Star Wars: Episode IX and that the studio was forced to alter storylines as a result.
Johnson has described Fisher’s work in the upcoming blockbuster as a “beautiful and complete performance.” Given the natural fan interest in the franchise and her passing, Brock predicts the film will open to between $215 million and $220 million domestically, which would be good for second-place all time. Had Fisher not passed away, he argues that the movie would open under $200 million.
“There will be a Princess Leia bump for The Last Jedi,” Bock told the outlet. Previous predictions from other sources also pegged The Last Jedi with an impressive opening right around $215 million.
The Force Awakens benefited from not only being the first new Star Wars movie in a decade, but also the first film to feature the original trilogy characters in more than 30 years. The combination of freshness and anticipation made for explosive blockbuster results. While we think The Last Jedi will be an even better film than its direct predecessor thanks to Johnson’s involvement, it won’t have the same perfect storm of outside factors working for it.
“I don’t know how you recreate that Force Awakens moment,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, said. “It was special, unrepeatable and historic for cinema.”
Some have compared the Carrie Fisher situation to Paul Walker’s death before Furious 7, which opened to $147.2 million, and Heath Ledger’s before The Dark Knight, which earned $158.4 million.
“Furious 7 shows the power of that final, bittersweet appearance of a beloved star, which we will see again in The Last Jedi,” Dergarabedian said.
Another aspect to consider is the film’s reception. Positive word of mouth helps any movie, especially Star Wars. Since it was recently announced that Johnson would oversee an all new trilogy of films unconnected from the main saga, it appears as if Lucasfilm knows they have a big winner on its hands.
“Giving Rian Johnson the reins for more movies tells me that The Last Jedi is a great movie,” Dergarabedian told USA Today. “Things are going to hit a fever pitch real soon.”
Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters on December 15.