‘Be Successful, This Will Not’ - Kathleen Kennedy Shows Disney Has Learned Nothing from Its Woke Failures

arrives at the premiere of "Solo: A Star Wars Story" at El Capitan Theatre on Thursday, May 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

We have covered many of the stunted and financially challenged decisions made by Disney over the years, showing how frequently the content they produce delivered diminishing returns. If there has been a glimmer of hope that there will be recognition of this problem by the powers behind the House of Mouse, infamous activist executive Kathleen Kennedy is here to assure everyone the failures will continue.


Next week, June 4, Disney+ will debut its latest entry in the “Star Wars” canon, with the debut of the new series “The Acolyte.” This will be a true prequel to the entire mythology, as the show will be centered on an era that predates the “Phantom Menace” trilogy of films. This presents an opportunity for a deep exploration of the backstory for many characters and plot threads from the franchise. It also provides a platform to inject all manner of social activism without corrupting existing properties.

Guess which option will become the focus of this enterprise.

The cast is very female-centered, as “The Acolyte” features a raft of new female “Star Wars” characters played by actresses Amandla Stenberg, Carrie Ann-Moss, Jodie Turner-Smith, and others. Now this is not my noting that there are too many women in the cast; we get this messaging directly from those involved in creating “The Acolyte.” It is the first feature in the franchise directed by a woman, and as it is described in the New York Times, it showcases women and people of color.

My belief is that storytelling does need to be representative of all people,” Kennedy said with the Times, regarding the “Acolyte” focus. “That’s an easy decision for me.” This is a story set in space, with people from other planets and galaxies — but “representation” of Earth-bound sensitivities is the focus. 


The director of this series is Leslye Headland, a self-professed member of the LGBT𝜋 crowd. This is not a problem, but Headland has announced that she has made “The Acolyte” the type of LGBT𝜋 content intended for people like herself. It remains to be seen if conventional audiences are invited to view the show. 

Here is an interview Headland conducted at a “Star Wars” convention in London, and it is revealing to hear her talking about her series. Note two things we hear as she professes what the series will be centered on: Most of the time, she references herself — as we hear her say “I” and “me” over a dozen times — and when she does mention the “Star Wars” universe it is almost as an afterthought.

We have seen a definable cycle from Disney in recent years regarding this property and its Marvel releases. When it comes to the woke sensibilities being injected in the titles, a consistent reaction has been so established that it can be described as a PR formula:

  1. Subjugate established characters and bring forward feminist/woke characters into the property.

  2. Use production names and/or cast members to come out and lecture against the racist/sexist/other-ist comments seen from fans – usually before these types of comments are even seen.

  3. Watch the release be received with lukewarm or failed audience reactions.

  4. Declare that the fans are the problem with the production becoming a failure.


We are already seeing the first two elements in play ahead of the release. Kennedy and Headland have already announced the woke nature of “The Acolyte” in the promotional run-up for the show. Headland declared she set out to make a queer-centric story. Now, they are involved in Step 2, attempting to head off the complaints of this type of product. Kennedy is already talking about “attacks” the show is experiencing, her description of what has mostly been criticism over the focus of this “Star Wars” entry.

From the Times:

“A loud, primordial part of the ‘Star Wars’ fandom has pushed back in predictable fashion. ‘Why are there so many women, girls and minority characters increasingly dominating the ranks of Jedi?’ reads a comment on ‘The Acolyte’ trailer, with others expressing a similar worldview.

And Headland has followed that exact same script seen from the previous productions, castigating anyone daring to be critical of the series based on the trailers and advance promotions. “I want to be clear. Anyone who engages in bigotry, racism or hate speech … I don’t consider a fan.” This is the response to the primary critique that it seems to be a feminist lecture? That is a tell that they realize disappointment from the fanbase is a likely reaction. How do they not see they are fostering these very reactions and generating the negative PR that will lead to diminished interest? 


There is a feeling that Disney-Kennedy sensed there was trouble ahead, so they needed to be sure to inject many traditional "Star Wars" elements to assure the doubting devotees this was a valid entry. We are sure to be told there are plenty of fan-service elements found in "The Acolyte," but it certainly feels as if these are tacked-on touchpoints, and they are inserted early on to lock in the approval.

For the faithful, “The Acolyte” serves up scads of Jedi, a franchise fundamental that the other live-action “Star Wars” TV shows have depicted sparingly or not at all. The opening scene in “The Acolyte” takes place in an eatery crowded with colorful aliens, a callback to the Mos Eisley cantina from the first “Star Wars” movie, in 1977.

Other shout-outs to core fans — we see you, we haven’t forgotten about you — are sprinkled into the dialogue: “May the force be with you” and “I have a bad feeling about this” makes an early appearance.

As I have said for years covering the entertainment industry, social messaging in entertainment works when it is subtle, even subversive. But when you begin with the messaging right up front, it announces to the audience that this was the priority, not the story. This is how die-hard fans become distanced.

For a prime example of this taking place, look no further than the recent release of “Dr. Who.” All of the promotional push centered on how this was going to be the first POC and gay Doctor, with storylines and series development pushed to the background. The end result: The lowest ratings ever experienced for the series in its 60-year run.


Just a side note that this new season of “Dr. Who” came courtesy of Disney+. That would be same platform and studio delivering this new series, one that many in the “Star Wars” fanbase have dubbed “The Woke-elyte.”


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