Star Wars Celebration was a few months ago, but one aspect of it keeps getting some attention from fans, including recently. More leaked footage of the exclusive trailers for The Mandalorian season 3 and Ahsoka was uploaded online in recent days, giving even better looks at what was shown. And along with it has come renewed discussion about the whole strategy behind it in the first place.
In short, I think it’s time for Lucasfilm to adjust course and make some changes when it comes to Celebration content.
Let me explain what’s behind this whole discussion. Star Wars Celebration has for many years been offering a livestream of the convention, one that has been award-winning in its quality and production. It’s been fantastic. And there has always been some stuff that is blacked out in the stream, exclusive for only those in-house. This would occasionally include a trailer, but most common was exclusive screenings of episodes or things like that.
This year’s Celebration, however, marked a dramatic step backward when it came to its online presence. The majority of trailers – The Mandalorian, Ahsoka, Tales of the Jedi, etc. – were screened only in-house. And not only that, but they were weren’t all even able to be seen by those who were at Celebration, but only those who won the random lottery to get into the panels. Beyond that, rather than simply black out material, the livestream simply didn’t stream any of the major panels from Celebration – an absolutely stunning and indefensible change.
That’s made all the more stunning when considering the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic, while not nearly the crisis it was previously, is still a big deal both in the United States and globally. And that’s on top of the already normal logistics of a global fanbase not always easily able to travel to other places of the world for something like this.
Now all of this could simply sound like privileged whining, because at the end of the day it’s not a major deal whether we see these trailers or not. So that’s not my point. My point here is just that, given the fact that Lucasfilm puts on Star Wars Celebration, they should invest increased attention into how it happens for those who aren’t there in-person.
A big part of the reason I say this is because I would assume (and all we can do is assume, since getting people from Lucasfilm to give much clarity on anything for fans is even harder than shooting wamp rats in Beggar’s Canyon) that a reason for the Celebration exclusives is out of a desire to keep people coming in-person. But I think that fundamentally misunderstands what the real unique aspect of going to Celebration is in the first place.
It’s not ultimately about getting exclusive content that no one else is able to see. I’ve been to many conferences and most of them offer a livestream, and my experience in-person has never been negatively effected. In fact, I view it as a major plus for at least two reasons: (1) first of all, I can return to the content as much as I want afterward; and (2) I can share in the excitement with plenty of other people. Both of those, contrary to Lucasfilm’s misguided ideas, are actually good things. And this doesn’t erase a desire for people to actually go in-person, either, because the major “exclusive” of Celebration is the massive gathering of like-minded Star Wars fans. The content doesn’t need to be exclusive, because something that those online will never get is the same sense of community.
And believe it or not, Lucasfilm should know this. Consider why they decided to cancel Celebration altogether during the height of the pandemic rather than simply move it online. Many of us wondered if they would offer it online, but they opted not to. But if the main driver of Celebration attendance is content, that’s just as easily streamed in an online convention than in-person, right? But even Lucasfilm realizes that the real draw is the gathering together in-person, not the video shown on a screen. The latter is important (obviously), but it doesn’t need to be exclusive, because the gathering already is.
Besides, it’s not like Star Wars marketing is going to win any awards any time soon to begin with, so why not start thinking through ways (however easy) to improve? Especially if Lucasfilm is so determined to learn lessons from Solo’s box office disappointments, you’d think they would take a long, hard look at their approach to marketing their products and realize that maybe they can build a bit more excitement with a bit of a better approach. I think that the further and further away we get from the Skywalker saga, the more and more important that will be. I’m not sure the studio agrees.
So all of this is to make a rather straightforward argument: for Celebration next year, Lucasfilm should employ a vastly different strategy than this year. They should re-focus their efforts on making sure the online streaming option is as good as possible, and they should remove most (if not all) of the Celebration exclusives that are shown on the screen (with the exception of streaming episodes or something like that). And if they’re especially hard-up for money, even offering an online streaming pass for all of the panels at a reduced price would be a far better move than what this year’s livestream was.
For the time being, however, Star Wars fans are left watching the epic trailers for some of the most anticipated projects the way Lucasfilm intended: through grainy bootlegged videos uploaded to youtube.