Why we love Star Wars: The Force Awakens and other sequels

2016-03-10

BINGHAMTON, NY – There is a reason why the 2016 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens was embraced, while the 1999 prequel Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace is largely reviled, according to a new study co-authored by Binghamton University Professor of Marketing Subimal Chatterjee.

Balancing the safety of the familiar hero’s journey plot with the excitement of new characters, while also providing satisfying nostalgic nods to previous Star Wars films, made lead character Rey’s adventure in Star Wars: The Force Awakens more palatable.

According to the study, the best way to keep consumers happy and interested with initial sequel movies or products is to balance familiarity, innovation and nostalgia and make small "iterated offerings," instead of sweeping changes. The deeper into a franchise or product line, the more changes are accepted and expected.

"Once you have introduced a new product [Star Wars], you want to create a series of minor innovations first, before you make the next big push. Increment, before you innovate, is our biggest finding," Chatterjee said.

The idea extends to other movie franchises, as well.

"The casting of 007s in the James Bond movies illustrates how comfortable Hollywood is to stick with the lead actor for multiple films while making small changes to sequels changing the actor who plays Bond," Chatterjee said. "Customers do not seek excitement all of the time – they seek a mixture of safety and excitement. You don’t have to make major innovations constantly."

The ideas are also applicable outside of Hollywood; Chatterjee pointed to Apple’s approach to innovation that influenced the study’s model.

"What fascinated us was that there was an iPhone 4, then the iPhone 4s, then the iPhone 5 and so on.  It seemed as though Apple was sending a signal to consumers that before the company made a major change, there was going to be a minor one," Chatterjee said. "We wanted to prove that this approach could be applied to a wide interface."

However, there does come a point when change is needed. Pierce Brosnan did give the PP7 to Daniel Craig eventually. The blonde Bond may be handing off the franchise to Idris Elba or someone else soon.

"People want to relive the experience they love so much about the original James Bond. However, at a certain point, your audience will get bored," Chatterjee said. "The key is determining when the audience is ready for a change so that you make that major change."

The study offers a data-driven model for when to make that casting call to achieve sustainable growth and maintain brand loyalty.

"If you constantly innovate, then consumers will always come to expect the next big thing, and that is not a sustainable way to grow a business," Chatterjee said. "It’s impossible for companies to innovate constantly. You can’t always be thinking about the next big thing. Companies need time to innovate, which allows consumers time to relive the experiences they already love. That’s the big idea."

The study, "Innovation Sequences over Iterated Offerings: A Relative Innovation, Comfort, and Stimulation Framework of Consumer Responses" was published in the Journal of Marketing.

Last Updated: 9/17/13