The "Star Wars" series of films is inextricably linked to the cinema, with people lining up around the block to see the original 1977 film and its sequels. The scene repeated itself when "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" kicked off the prequel trilogy in 1999. Subsequent series have made splashes on television screens around the globe.
But something surprising happened in 2017, when the forces behind the franchise announced the launch of "Star Wars Forces of Destiny." The new animated series, which premiered this summer and spotlights the female characters of the franchise, is forging a new distribution path for "Star Wars" — short episodes premiering for free on the digital video platform YouTube, rather than in a movie theater or on television via a traditional network.
Going digital first might not seem like the most natural choice, but the show's supervising director Brad Rau says it made sense for many reasons. "My kids don't really watch TV that much. They watch a lot of YouTube. They're teenagers," he says, underlining that in a shifting media landscape, companies have to go where the audience is, rather than hoping viewers will come to them. "And I know there was a thought to try and expand the audience that are looking at this content. It was a natural progression. That's the cool thing about Lucasfilm and Disney, they're trying to expand it and make it as user-friendly as possible."
This isn't the first time "Star Wars" has dipped its toes into the YouTube waters, though. Lucasfilm and Disney produce "The Star Wars Show" every week to keep fans up to date on the franchise's news; it's been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Short Form Variety Series against competitors like "The Daily Show" and "Honest Trailers." It's no secret to Lucasfilm that a desirable audience exists online, and the company's dedicated to cultivating it at every level.
Currently, the first episode of "Forces of Destiny" boasts almost a million views on YouTube, and Rau calls that a success for the show. The team behind it seems less worried about what the numbers are and more concerned with the task of creating storytelling that will connect different audiences to "Star Wars" in a way that's never been done before. That's not to say that they're abandoning the traditional model, either. In the fall, these YouTube episodes will be packaged with eight additional installments of the show and aired on the Disney Channel's broadcast and streaming outlets, hoping to reach a different audience altogether.
"If we can make these little cinematic parables that are teachable moments that have any effect, at any point on anybody's life, then that's it," says Rau. "To see kids be interested in ["Forces of Destiny"] and have it be the entry point for them is great as a fan. The fact that we're contributing to that, even in a small way, has a profound effect on us as creators, and I love it."
"Star Wars" creator George Lucas might have been the best at introducing "Star Wars" to different generations of audience. The prequel trilogy offered "Star Wars" to a generation having kids now. The computer-animated "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" brought in the generation after that. This new series sees Lucasfilm try following that lead with new films and cartoons for new audience that didn't have their own corner of "Star Wars" to latch on to. The corporate strategy behind this move to YouTube seems designed to start them younger with the sort of content they want to consume.
If there's one lesson they learned from the "Star Wars" films, is that it's never too early to begin training younglings in the ways of the Force. Interested in checking out the first episode of the animated series? Watch it here: