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Disney+ and 'Star Wars' fête May the 4th with 'Clone Wars,' Baby Yoda and 'Rise of Skywalker'

Disney+ has taken a lightweight marketing gimmick and given it gravitas — and a real reason for fans to look forward to this date.
Baby Yoda wants you to watch Disney+.
Baby Yoda wants you to watch Disney+.Disney+

“May the force be with you” is a “Star Wars” phrase that has been part of the pop culture lexicon since the late 1970s, and the inspiration behind the homegrown unofficial fan holiday Star Wars Day. This “holiday,” which occurs on the pun-tastic fourth of May, is recognized by “Good Morning America,” ABC News, ESPN, and other Disney holdings on a yearly basis. Now Disney+ is taking full advantage as well — in a big way. The streaming service has three major releases Monday: The streaming debut of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the series finale episode of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and the series premiere of “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian.”

A confluence of events has put “Star Wars” at the forefront of the Disney empire.

A confluence of events has put “Star Wars” at the forefront of the Disney empire. Though retiring Disney CEO Bob Iger said he knew the company had a hit on its hands with “The Mandalorian” and Baby Yoda, no one could have predicted how big the introduction of the little green tyke would be as part of Disney+’s launch day package. The fact that “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” became a fandom flashpoint of disagreement was also probably great PR for the far more widely appreciated "Mandalorian.”

The pandemic has also benefited Lucasfilm, in a way, because it erased the huge box office advantage held by Disney’s other major tentpole, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Black Widow,” which should have dominated theaters this past weekend, is not coming out until November, assuming cinemas have reopened by then, and its first Disney+ series are on hold until they can finish filming. With so many people stuck at home, Disney+ is well-positioned to bring in new subscribers, but Lucasfilm is the only branch ready now with content to sell. Given Disney’s current struggles, as the COVID-19 crisis decimates the theme park industry, Star Wars will need to step up and help carry the empire more than ever.

Disney+ is therefore hitting this holiday (which gets less unofficial every year) from three directions. The first is the streaming release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” two months early. Pushing up streaming release dates is nothing new since the pandemic began; in another corner of the empire, Pixar’s “Onward” barely waited three weeks after leaving theaters to hit on Disney+. But this arrival marks a historic moment, the first time every “Star Wars” film can be streamed in one place for fans to create their perfect personal marathon.

But fans have other options as well. The animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” premieres its long-awaited series finale after a terrific Season 7 run on the service. What originally began as a way to hold fan attention between “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” morphed into its own show in 2008, with a back-door pilot movie. The series never really connected outside the core fandom, and after five seasons on Cartoon Network and a truncated Season 6 on Netflix, the series was abruptly canceled in 2014 with no closure — until now.

Even though it was never as popular as the live-action films, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was historic stuff, notable for starring the first leading female Jedi character in franchise history, Ahsoka Tano. But just as importantly, these stories have done wonders to rehabilitate the prequel films, adding character depth to both Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi denied by the franchise films’ facile storytelling. With Tano all but confirmed for a live-action debut in “The Mandalorian’s” second season, the completion of her initial story is the most significant part of Star Wars Day for the hardcore fan.

And yet, all this may once again be overshadowed by Baby Yoda. Disney is not moving up “The Mandalorian” Season 2, which has a planned debut in October. Instead, fans are getting an eight-episode documentary series, “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian,” led by showrunner Jon Favreau. Does anyone need eight roundtable discussions about a show that has only aired one season? Good question. But Disney’s secret weapon has always been its ability to cultivate its own mythos, and these “turning the camera on itself” documentaries are some of the best content on Disney+ currently. With behind the scenes podcasts becoming popular companion content for high-profile series, Disney spinning this straw into gold is a predictable and smart move.

Disney+ has taken a lightweight marketing gimmick and given it gravitas — and a real reason for fans to look forward to this date. Even though Lucasfilm has no new films planned for theaters until at least 2022, its star in the Disney firmament is quite bright. Timing really is everything, even in a galaxy far, far away.