Disney has a lockdown treat for Star Wars fans. The House of Mouse is releasing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker onto its platform Disney+ two months ahead of schedule, with the movie now debuting online on May 4 globally.
The date, which marks an annual Star Wars celebration (“may the fourth be with you”), will also see the arrival of doc series Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and the final episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on the service.
Disney has disrupted its release schedule on previous occasions during the lockdown, including bringing forward the online launch of its latest Pixar movie Onward after the film’s theatrical run was cut short by the coronavirus.
The Rise of Skywalker has been the No. 1 home entertainment title (Blu-ray, electronic sell-thru, digital rental) in the U.S. over the past four weeks, per weekly stats from the Digital Entertainment Group.
The movie, which saw J.J. Abrams return to the director’s chair, rounds off the Skywalker Saga and the latest trilogy of Star Wars pics, following The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Disney is contending with perhaps the stiffest COVID-19 headwinds of any company, with theme parks, movie theaters and live sports wiped out over the past two months. It has put extra emphasis on its streaming platforms, recently announcing that Disney+ has surpassed 50 million global subscribers years ahead of internal and Wall Street projections for that milestone.
As viable as the streaming operation has become, it wouldn’t make financial sense for big-budget tentpole films to routinely head to Disney+ after limited or no theatrical exposure. With theaters in much of the world still shuttered, Disney has pushed back the releases of 2020 films like Mulan and Black Widow so as to preserve the hope of theatrical. Box office revenue often surpasses $1 billion for many Disney films, in addition to building awareness for audiences on other platforms.
Dade Hayes contributed to this report.
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