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Did Disney Underestimate Fan Demand for ‘Star Wars’ at D23 Expo?

The Mouse House thought it had a hardcore fanbase to deal with, but the purchase of Lucasfilm gives it a whole new demanding audience to keep happy

The Walt Disney Studios clearly went to the D23 Expo to impress, offering up its big hitters like Thor, Captain America, Maleficent, Cinderella, even Mary Poppins. But as it promoted 11 live action films it will release through the end of 2015, the disappointment was palpable, even for a brief moment, when “Star Wars” fans realized they weren’t going to be shown much.

Each film being hyped received a polished presentation, with some top talent on hand like Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins even getting standing ovations from the thousands who packed the Anaheim Convention Center’s arena. But that didn’t matter to some — granted a smaller but very vocal group — since many had made the trip to D23 wanting to see one thing: “Star Wars” — at least any new insight into what J.J. Abrams has planned around the seventh film in the franchise, out in summer 2015.

For Disney, this is the future. From now until the next film comes out, and beyond, it is always going to be asked, “What about ‘Star Wars?'”

But they got nothing. And they let their feelings known immediately online afterward.

Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn tried his best to get the topic out of the way early during his opening remarks, saying “I wish I could tell you more, but it will come soon.”

And Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger also tried to warn attendees the day before that the company was “speechless” on the “Star Wars” front.

Still the hardcore “Star Wars” community, bloggers and the media believed they were being teased. They have seen too many presentations before that promise little but end with a big surprise — a Steve Jobs-like “But there is one more thing” kind of moment.

That moment didn’t come, however.

Saturday’s D23 panel ended with B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman performing a song from “Mary Poppins” that’s featured in “Saving Mr. Banks” — not the showstopper that some thought would include an army of Storm Troopers. Or at least a Jedi.

Disney clearly did itself a disservice by not trying to get ahead of the non-story and dampen the exceedingly high expectations sooner. It wouldn’t haven’t been that difficult, as it’s now turning mostly to StarWars.com to offer up news on the films or other related projects. But again, there was mostly silence, which caused everyone, including outlets like Southern California public radio station KPCC, to believe there would be a “Star Wars” presence at D23 during a brief report on the fanfest.

And where was Kathleen Kennedy? The Lucasfilm chief also was a no-show during Disney’s film presentation. Yet just last month, the exec appeared in Essen, Germany, giving keynotes and interviews at the Star Wars Celebration Europe event. Over the weekend at D23, she was the only major studio executive to not take the D23 stage the way animation chief John Lasseter, Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige and Walt Disney Studios president Sean Bailey did.

Kennedy wouldn’t have had to say much, just that the franchise is in good hands. The ever-amiable Horn took care of that instead.

Disney was right not to force Abrams to present anything.

Disney hired him for his filmmaking talents and creativity, not his showmanship. And when you hire Abrams you also get a lot of secrecy, something Lucasfilm is very good at. So is Marvel, by the way.

Abrams likes to talk about his films when he’s ready. And right now, he’s just not. He doesn’t have a cast to reveal; the script is still being worked on, designs of everything from characters to sets being finalized. It’s the same way he worked on two “Star Trek” films, also with a major fanbase to keep happy.

SEE ALSO: Marvel Takes Page from Lucasfilm’s PR Playbook

And Abrams understands he’s under a very large microscope. If the disappointment at D23 could be felt, so can the frenzied anticipation that exists and will only continue to build as 2015 gets closer. One false move by Abrams and the Internet will blow up. One bad movie and Disney will be stuck holding a $4 billion bill and no “Star Wars” franchise to promote and spin off into more sequels, spin offs, TV shows, toys and theme park attractions. No pressure, J.J.

At the end of the day, Disney will be just fine.

It’s not going to lose any ticket sales. Hardcore fans always grumble about something, especially movies, and then they still tend to see the film multiple times.

https://twitter.com/DamonLindelof/status/366971315917303808

There’s also plenty of time to promote the next “Star Wars,” with a slew of major Comic-Cons appearing on the calendar well before the next film’s release.

That includes New York Comic Con, in October, WonderCon in March (it could move back to San Francisco in 2014), Chicago’s C2E2 in April, and San Diego Comic-Con in July.

“I really wish I could tell you more, but there are dark forces, they are watching,” Horn said at D23.

When it comes to “Star Wars,” so is everyone else.

And that’s where Disney may have now created a monster. Fueled by a lack of information it got at D23, the media — ok, mostly bloggers — are now driven more than ever to uncover any new “Star Wars” news on their own.

Only time will tell whether Lucasfilm can remain as secretive as it’s known for being.

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