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The lack of much new finished footage from Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Friday’s Lucasfilm panel at San Diego Comic-Con might have been a surprise for attendees (fans had a teasing behind the scenes video and appearance by Harrison Ford to reckon with, instead). Comic-Con is, after all, the venue to debut such footage, in front of audiences more enthusiastic than any other, according to conventional wisdom — no pun intended. But what if that’s no longer the case?
It should be noted that the absence of Star Wars footage was the second noticeable gap in Comic-Con’s programming this year; the first being Marvel Studios not holding a Hall H showcase at all. The official reasoning behind that decision was that Marvel simply didn’t have anything worth a panel, with Captain America: Civil War still in production, and the studio’s movie slate already announced through 2019 (Sorry, Ant-Man; even though your movie doesn’t come out for another week, you’re on your own, apparently), but there is another, somewhat obvious, possibility available: Disney would rather hold its big convention moments for its own conventions.
D23 is just a month away, after all, and the prospect of debuting footage or making announcements at that event, rather than Comic-Con, has to be attractive to Disney executives. Not only is there less competition for attention — at D23, only Disney product is being discussed, almost guaranteeing that there’ll be no fight for buzz with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, for example — but the narrative is more easily controlled, with the corporation controlling everything about the event, the rollout of any piece of information can be planned out in excruciating detail without relying on outside parties.
This potential move towards proprietary conventions shouldn’t come as a surprise, at least when it comes to Disney properties; these past 12 months have already seen Star Wars Celebration — during which the second trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released and the entire cast for the movie got on stage for the first time, something that felt like a moment from Comic-Cons of yore — and the nameless Marvel Studios event that saw president Kevin Feige announce the studio’s plans for the next few years, complete with appearances from Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chadwick Boseman. Both received breathless attention from fans and considerable coverage from press, without potential distraction from… well, anything else that could be going on at Comic-Con at the time.
In a way, this shows a new way in which the movie industry has learned from the comic book industry. These days, few “Comic-Con announcements” from comic book publishers are actually made at the show itself, instead being released ahead of the event: Marvel’s line-wide relaunch, All-New, All-Different Marvel, for example, was unveiled a week ahead of the show’s preview night; indie publishers including Dynamite Entertainment and Boom! Studios rolled out their own announcements across a number of weeks, while Image Comics held its own “Image Expo” to unveil its publishing slate for the next few months. With so much available to see, learn and discuss, Comic-Con, it seems, might just be too full of noise for any signal to get through.
If this is the case, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. It’s not just the Disney franchises that held back from Comic-Con this year, Sony and Paramount also skipped the show, although whether or not they’ll create some alternative venue of their own to replace it seems unlikely as yet. (Although I’m sure many would enjoy Ghostbusters-Con, should Sony want to create one.) Will more studios follow suit next year, and if so, will Comic-Con become less important — indeed, less relevant — to the movie industry? Time will tell.
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