Star Wars is celebrating its 40th birthday this year by proving one truth: It refuses to weaken as a commercial force.
Five years ago, Disney acquired Lucasfilm for US$4 billion. Now, judging by the massive opening of The Last Jedi, Disney will soon pass that total from the first three Star Wars releases alone since the 2012 deal was struck.
The eighth episode in the Star Wars saga powered its way to a US$220 million ($314m) domestic debut, according to studio estimates. The only movie ever to open bigger, before adjusting for inflation, is the series' previous film. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which jump-started the main franchise in 2015 after a decade of dormancy, had a North American opening of US$247.9m.
The Force Awakens went on to gross more than US$2b worldwide — the only film not directed by James Cameron to do so. After a single weekend, The Last Jedi has already grossed US$450m worldwide. And last year's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a spinoff from the main saga, grossed US$1.05b globally.
Domestically, the only other films to open above the US$200m mark (before inflation adjustment) are Universal's Jurassic World (US$208.8m two years ago), and Disney's The Avengers (US$207.4m) in 2012. Thanks to Last Jedi, Disney now owns seven of the eight biggest domestic debuts ever.
Last Jedi also recorded the second-biggest opening day ever, with US$104.7m on Friday — trailing only the US$119.1m tally for Force Awakens.
Part of the emotional appeal of The Last Jedi is seeing Mark Hamill's full return to the Luke Skywalker role after a 34-year hiatus, as well as the last central appearance of Leia as portrayed by Carrie Fisher, who died last December after completing her performance.
Luke and Leia are both spotlighted in especially dramatic scenes in Last Jedi, in which the young warrior Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks Jedi training as Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) help the Resistance try to hold off the First Order as led by Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
An interesting wrinkle in the reception of Last Jedi is the disparity, by some metrics, between reviewers and audiences. The movie receives an average critics' score of 86 on MetaCritic and a certified "fresh" 93 cent on Rotten Tomatoes, yet the film gets audience scores of just 5.0 and 56 per cent (the lowest on any of the live-action theatrical releases) on those two sites, respectively.
According to comScore's PostTrak metrics, however, two out of three viewers judged Last Jedi to be "excellent" and 79 per cent said they would "definitely recommend" the movie, Variety reported.
Disney and Lucasfilm, led by president Kathleen Kennedy, announced last month that Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson would be handed the creative reins to an entirely new Star Wars trilogy after JJ Abrams finishes Episode IX, set to hit theatres in 2019.
The only Star Wars film that Disney does not own full distribution to is the 1977 original, Star Wars: A New Hope, which was distributed by Fox. But last week, Disney announced a pending US$52.4b deal that includes acquisition of Fox film and TV properties — which would include A New Hope.