The Star Wars Franchise And Consumer Sovereignty

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

Outside of the original trilogy on DVD (and VHS!), I don't own any Star Wars products, apparel, films, or knick-knacks. I skipped the most recent film, Solo. But since I like to follow movie trends, my various news feeds still send me articles about the latest Star Wars movies.

Rarely does anything on this pique my interest as an editor here at mises.org. But then this tweet came through, which certainly raised my eyebrows:

I won't bore you with many details but the context here is an ongoing war between so-called Social Justice Warriors and many rabid Star Wars fans. The SJWs like the recent Star Wars movies, which clearly have adopted a certain lefty tone and flair since Disney bought Lucasfilm. Because of their political leanings, these leftists tend to defend these movies no matter what, even though the new movies are rather boring and forgettable. Meanwhile, many other fans of the franchise hate the politics of the new movies and blame the ideological posturing in the films for the fact that the films are so mediocre. They claim that Lucasfilm had better start paying more attention to these more tradition-minded fans, or the franchise will fail.

So, when "Geek Girl Diva" chimes in to say that people who watch the movies aren't really customers, what she's trying to say is people who don't like the movies should just shut up and accept whatever Lucasfilm wants to dish out.

Now, I don't know who "Geek Girl Diva" is, but economics is apparently not her strong suit. Obviously, a person who buys a ticket to a movie is indeed a customer of the company that created the movie. Tickets sold at theaters are an important source of revenue for movie production companies, and every ticket purchase is a voluntary exchange between the people who made the movie, and the person watching the movie. Certainly, other parties are involved also, such as the theater owners. But the people who made the movie are clearly part of the exchange.

Only in a case where a person bought a movie ticket at a theater — and was completely indifferent to which movie he or she ended up seeing there — would that person in a sense not be a customer of the movie-production company. In that case, the customer would be buying a ticket only to have the general experience of being at a movie theater. Any movie would suffice.

But of course, this never happens since anyone who buys a ticket has to chose which movie to watch. As soon as he or she makes that decision — Bam! He or she has become a customer of the people who made that movie.

So, the first part of Geek Girl Diva's "argument" fails utterly.

Consumer Sovereignty vs. Producer Sovereignty

But, with her last sentence, in which she states "You do not own [Lucasfilm] or the [Star Wars] Franchise," she has a point. She's reminding fans that they don't actually have any claim of ownership over the films.

Indeed, we've been hearing this erroneous claim of fan ownership for years — ever since George Lucas modified his original Star Wars trilogy with new CGI sequences and added dialogue. Many fans hated the changes. Lucas then made things even worse by saying he would never again make the original trilogy available in its original form. At this, many fans howled that Lucas owed it to the fans to release the un-altered versions. Some even claimed that the films in some way "belong to all of us" and that Lucas has no right to change something that is allegedly part or "our" heritage.

In this case, it is obviously the customers — some of them, at least — who are wrong. They don't own Lucasfilm or Star Wars and the owners of those films don't have to do what the customers want.

At the heart of the debate, therefore is the topic of "consumer sovereignty." As Ludwig von Mises explained:

The capitalists, the enterprisers, and the farmers are instrumental in the conduct of economic affairs. They are at the helm and steer the ship. But they are not free to shape its course. They are not supreme, they are steersmen only, bound to obey unconditionally the captain's orders. The captain is the consumer.

In other words, the consumers have quite a bit of influence over what gets produced and what does not.

But, as Bob Murphy has explained here and here, this argument can be taken too far.

Generally speaking, it is of course true that if a producer wishes to make money, he needs to pay attention to what the consumers want. But, producers also have sovereignty and are also free to provide goods and services in a way that, to a certain extent, suits the producers. Murray Rothbard states:

The producer, and the producer alone, decides whether or not he will keep his property (including his own person) idle or sell it on the market for money, the results of his production then going to the consumers in exchange for their money. This decision—concerning how much to allocate to the market and how much to withhold—is the decision of the individual producer and of him alone.

Moreover, a producer may not decide to target all consumers with his product. As Rothbard notes:

[S]uppose producer A withholds his labor or land or capital service from the market. For whatever reason, he is exercising his sovereignty over his person and property. On the other hand, if he supplies them to the market, he is, to the extent that he aims at monetary return, submitting himself to the demands of the consumers. In the aforementioned general sense, “consumption” rules in any case. But the critical question is: which “consumer”?

This problem of deciding which consumer to cater to is relevant to the case of Star Wars. There is no doubt that many Star Wars fans didn't like the way the prequels turned out, or the way the new Disney-era movies are turning out. Those who dislike these movies often assume that the producer must therefore be ignoring the customers.

It is entirely possible, however, that Lucasfilm is only ignoring some of the consumers. Lucasfilm may be banking on the theory that there's a larger audience for the new style of movies than for the old style. In that case, they are indeed catering to the consumers — just not the consumers who disliked the newer movies.

In any case, Lucasfilm is merely exercising its own producer sovereignty over the product, which is the company's prerogative since the customers do not own the franchise.

Some might retort that Lucasfilm would make more money if it catered more to the "traditional" fan case. That's possible, but it's impossible to know since we can't release a more "traditional" version of the films in a controlled experiment. Moreover, even if the management at Lucasfilm somehow knew that different, less ideological movies would bring in more money, they might still elect to make movies that better fit their own personal politics. That is, Lucasfilm's management might prefer the psychic profit of making a movie they find ideologically agreeable over the money prophets of making a movie more popular with customers.

This might annoy the stockholders if they could somehow prove this was going on, but even then, the new politically-motivated movies might still make enough money to keep turning a profit for years and years. It might be a smaller profit than what might have been otherwise possible, but it's a profit nonetheless.

And why shouldn't they think that they can continue to turn a profit? Based on their own commentary, it seems even the Angry Fan Boys who claim to hate the new movies continue to slavishly buy tickets to them. Many continue to buy the toys. And given the number of man-children in public who continue to wear Star Wars t-shirts, Lucasfilm is still making plenty of money off apparel. 

Sure, the new Solo movie lost money, but that may have been more of a problem of a bloated production budget. Had Lucasfilm been smart and made the movie for 80 million dollars, it would likely have turned a respectable profit.

The Problem of Intellectual Property

Some readers at this point might correctly observe that the Star Wars franchise benefits immensely from its ability to monopolize the Star Wars characters through intellectual property laws. This, of course, makes it a lot easier for the owners of Star Wars to keep making money off the franchise. They are able to legally prevent anyone else from making toys, films, or other products that are "too similar" to the official products. In other words, intellectual property laws limit the potential competition.

But, our analysis holds even in the absence of intellectual property laws. Let's consider, for example, the case of "New Coke." Back in 1985, the Coca-Cola company removed all "traditional" Coca-Cola from the market and replaced it with "New Coke."

Those who preferred the taste of the old Coke were now suddenly unable to buy it — outside some private high-price stockpiles that still existed.

This was not because of intellectual property laws, however. The traditional Coca-Cola formula was (and is) a trade secret.

Thus, the Coca-Cola company, exercising its producer sovereignty, was able to withdraw one product that many people liked, and replace it with another new product that many people did not like.

What followed is a famous case study in botched marketing. New Coke proved to be unpopular, and the Coca-Cola company ended up bringing back the old cola, calling it "Coca-Cola Classic."

In this case, it appears that the Coca-Cola company was unwilling to stick to its new formula, and producer sovereignty bowed to consumer sovereignty.

It didn't have to go this way, though.

Say, for instance, that a number of owners and managers of the Coca-Cola company all suddenly converted to an ideology or religion that mandated the non-use of certain ingredients in Coca-Cola beverages. As a result, Coca-Cola withdrew old Coke, introduced New Coke, and never looked back. Because of their new ideological/religious convictions, the owners and managers of Coca-Cola never relented, and clung to the new formula. They lost market share, but found enough new fans of New Coke to keep the company profitable in the long term. In this version of reality, we'd still be living in a world of New Coke, with Coca-Cola Classic still unavailable in the market.

This would be a case of producer sovereignty winning out over consumer sovereignty. Similar to the Star Warsfranchise, the consumers of Coca-Cola beverages do not own the product, and thus are, to an extent, at the mercy of the producers themselves. Fortunately, in both movies and beverages, there are — in a relatively free market — many, many similar products that can be substituted. 

Ultimately, the new Star Wars movies may be the "New Coke" of the entertainment world. But in this case, maybe the owners of the franchise are willing to die on their swords to push through their new product. It may cost them market share or profits, but if it's profitable enough, we'll continue to see new, uninspiring Star Warsmovies for many years to come.

Comments

X-defiler DownWithYogaPants Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:27 Permalink

Every Fucking Hollywood Movie has turned into an Obama campaign. I just saw Ant Man and Lawrence Fishburn was acting his heart out to convince us he was a top scientist. You gotta know how to pronounce your word first before you can convince us that you are even from America. WTF?!!! These are the greatest fantasy movies of all times, where blacks and latinos and women are over powered super geniuses. LOLOLOLOLOL 

In reply to by DownWithYogaPants

I am Groot e_goldstein Tue, 07/10/2018 - 22:19 Permalink

Incredible 2 was a brain washing experiment that was decidedly white male stereotypical bashing. It was fucking unbelievable how they took a great cartoon and turned into total Left wing SJW horseshit. All movies now are subversive Marxist reeducation.

The Star Wars franchise has been totally destroyed by Disney. I'm very disappointed in J.J. Abrams. Fuck Hollywood. Stop seeing movies, stop buying their merchandise. Let them all end up in a fucking alley in Burbank broke.

In reply to by e_goldstein

Mementoil Raymond K Hessel Wed, 07/11/2018 - 01:58 Permalink

I watched "the force awakens" in a continuous "face palm" position. The SJW agenda was so palpable, and the complete absence of any logic or beauty in the so called plot was so embarrassing, that I vowed there and then to never watch another Star Wars movie again.

As a matter of fact, I do my best to avoid ANY Hollywood film, because the disappointment and mental anguish are almost assured.

In reply to by Raymond K Hessel

NoDebt e_goldstein Tue, 07/10/2018 - 22:28 Permalink

The whole damned Star Wars franchise, such as it is, is threadbare and moribund.  It was earth-shattering in it's day (the original movie came out in 1977, same year Elvis died, when I was a mere pup) and it blew my hair back like no other movie before or since.  

But it's fucking 2018, people.  You're not getting 1977 back.  Move on.  It's been bought and sold to the MIC a million times over.  

Go watch "The Expanse" or something.  It's better than any recent Star Wars release and it's at least somewhat (scientifically) believable.

 

In reply to by e_goldstein

just the tip NoDebt Tue, 07/10/2018 - 23:18 Permalink

i never saw what all the hullabaloo about SW.  have i seen them? yes.  they had great screen effect if the theater had bose speakers.  i'm just saying they were not earth shattering for me.

do i have $4 billion US?  no.  but george lucas can't tell a story either.  almost had a nervous breakdown because the critics said the directing of episode V was better.  and essentially walked away from the ghawar field equivalent of a movie franchise for two decades because his feelings were hurt.

the studios didn't want to finance star wars from lucas' first pitch.  until he made them $99 million US on a $1 million budget on "american grafitti".  then in the subsequent success of star wars, the studios forced him to come up with a sequel.  that he didn't want to do.

this is a question i always ask SW groupies.  and they always appear to either not understand it or act like some elon soi boi:  if star wars 1, really was star wars 1, would there ever have been a star wars II?  star wars was meant to be a stand alone movie, that was converted into a franchise, because the studios had nothing to offer the public.  and that was the 70s.  paul newman was not a fan of this period in hollywood, as he opined, "the two biggest stars in hollwood are a robot and a fish".  referring to the jaws franchise.

george lucas made a fortune out of make believe.  they did it then.  they are still doing it now.  i didn't care in the 70s.  why should i care now?  they fired this kennedy woman over the management of the productions of the recent movies i've heard.  maybe they can make her campaign manager for iger's presidential bid.

In reply to by NoDebt

ebworthen Nature_Boy_Wooooo Tue, 07/10/2018 - 22:47 Permalink

"The Last Jedi" was a disgrace.

Groveling Men, killing off General Ackbar off-screen, then Luke Skywalker in a transcendental nebulous fog after having him milk the tit of an alien goon earlier (not to mention killing off Han Solo in a previous Disney hijack 'sequel"), and a rabble of "Women" in command making all the decisions.

Pitiful SJW pandering.  Shame!

What about individuals?

What about character?

Fucking fools!

In reply to by Nature_Boy_Wooooo

SergeA.Storms August Wed, 07/11/2018 - 03:33 Permalink

Ewoks were the beginning of the end and yet so many people at the time loved them. What’ya do?

 

I loved Star Wars in 1977 when I was a youngster, saw it 9 times in the theatre.  Empire Strikes Back (best of all the films in my humble opinion) was the last good SW movie until Rogue One (I just found that story entertaining, which is what we want, right?).

 

Now I’ve heard they don’t want to do tangential stories, but stick with the main line?  Maybe stick with the books and drop the politicizing, it is entertainment, lest anyone forget.

In reply to by August

zerocash SergeA.Storms Wed, 07/11/2018 - 03:52 Permalink

In Rogue One all the characters were unmemorable and forgettable (I don’t remember the name of any of them, I think the woman was called Jizz or something). It would have been a better movie if they had us make care about them so if one of them died it would have been moving (like when Ben died in the first Star Wars movie). But that’s the problem with most movies these days, they are all about special effects and CGI and not about the characters.

In reply to by SergeA.Storms

rtb61 MGTOW_MONERO_XMR Wed, 07/11/2018 - 00:09 Permalink

What a crock of shite. One individual a short female one, went nuts, when she felt she didn't get her fair share and recognition (when Disney bought Lucas Arts) and proceeded to have her ego written into the script as Mary Sue Rey (super heroine who can do no wrong), a really fucking bad hack job. Not the first hack who wrote their ego into a story as a super hero who can do no wrong and of course it's crap hack story that everyone hates.

All the silly political shite, when it was just once persons ego out of control and that ego has managed to burn about around $10 billion as long term losses on the star wars franchise. You can really kill of those kind of assets with bad stories, they never come back.

Simply the story of a short woman, out of her depth, with a bruised ego being a fuck up, pissing of fans and costing a corporation billions. This is the norm for that industry, out of control egos, lots of cash, lots and lots of drugs, weird and sick sex escapades, all screaming ME, ME, ME (straight up narcissist incorporated).

What surprises me is people are someone expect normal behaviour from these people, oh yeah, it's all a plot of left wing liberals. No it's chaotic and messy because it is individual egos scrambling for dominance in the public mind space, all screaming, look at me, pay attention to me, worship me.

Did none of you notice, they she did not only shit on all men (pay attention to the characters as portrayed, clearly Luke Skywalker was turned into her impression of George Lucas and Disney executives are featured as empire characters), the tall blonde, proper strong woman character (not the silly Hollywood shite, where men have more muscles and taller they are stronger and when women get shorter and skinnier they are stronger, stupid as fuck and of course tall women are stupid), was turned into a cowardly idiot, why because https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bfyS-S-IJs and bugger the silly biatch.

Now they don't want to fess up because it makes them all look as stupid as fuck for not stopping it (they were wasting billions of other people's money because they were slacking off doing coke and hookers). She still does not look as fucking silly as the people who think this is left wing politics, left = workers and right = bosses, the rest is a lie.

In reply to by MGTOW_MONERO_XMR

DoctorFix rtb61 Wed, 07/11/2018 - 02:54 Permalink

Once I was bludgeoned by the on screen feminist rants of "Rey gun"... I knew that no matter how anyone tried to spin it... star wars was officially dead to me.  And that's saying something from a movie goer who sat on the front row on the first day SW opened in 1977.  I was blown away and it was really an experience.  The only experience I've had with TFA is a sense of deep regret... at spending any money at all on that piece of cow plop and I boycotted TLJ.  Any ticket purchase is viewed as a win by the offending studio so I voted by not going.  Money is the only language The Mouse understands.

In reply to by rtb61

Thom Paine Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:12 Permalink

Leftards, well they are not even left, they are just violent haters - have turned many decent things into worthless trash - pretty much reflecting their own characters.

Thom Paine Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:14 Permalink

If Trump came out in favor of illegal immigration, gay marriage, gender neutrality, hard left SCOTUS picks etc etc 

the Leftards would then hate all those things-

migra Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:16 Permalink

Disney is going to get bit in the ass for promoting this SJW bullshit. The core of the nerdy guys who love this shit have turned their backs on the franchise. Disney played itself.

mrvco Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:16 Permalink

I watched that last Star Wars movie for lack of anything better to do on an 11 hour international flight and it was not a good movie.  The Star Wars I know and remember died after Return of the Jedi.  Deadpool on the other hand was awesome.

Gregor Samsa wisehiney Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:37 Permalink

Profound comment. What is feminism really? It's lazy, fat women who can't use their sexuality in the same way hot women can. Their solution? Make women the same as men in society. No more advantage to the hot women, now ALL women have to work. 

I mention feminism because the new Star Wars movies are hard core feminist in their ideology. Anyone who considers themselves "woke" should be boycotting Star Wars at this point. Pirate the movies if you really have to see how bad they are for yourself.

In reply to by wisehiney

killBone Gregor Samsa Wed, 07/11/2018 - 07:11 Permalink

I comment like once a year but I just wanted to congratulate you for seeing what few people seem to notice even though it is blindingly obvious; the people who call themselves "feminists" don't have a feminine bone in their bodies. They, in fact, demonstrate a pathological hatred of women who are genuinely and naturally feminine. And I have come to believe that they hate us BECAUSE we love the women who are their opposites in demeanor and inclinations. Looks are a major part of it but it's much deeper than that.

A man gets jealous and someone is going to get punched, or worse, A woman gets jealous of another woman who is more attractive, successful and popular than her? That woman is going to be hated, plotted against, gossiped about, lied about, demonized, ostracized... all the while the aggressor and hater poses as her friend and defender. I guess that's "feminine" behavior too. That's what we are up against.

As far as the "movement" is concerned it quickly became Darwinistic Warfare by manhating leftist dykes of a middle eastern origin. Look it up, the history of who specifically started the war are right there in the history books. And the initial premises were a direct and diabolical attack on OTHER PEOPLES cultural ideals and practices. But, of course, this can't be said out loud so the cultural demolition goes on and we have to live in a country that is set up like a second grade spelling bee, Girls against the Boys.

Sorry for the rant, but it has always amazed me how little even intelligent men really look at and think about the women who are now attacking us constantly. Know your enemy, cause they sure know us.

In reply to by Gregor Samsa

X-defiler Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:20 Permalink

Every Fucking Hollywood Movie has turned into an Obama campaign. I just saw Ant Man and Lawrence Fishburn was acting his heart out to convince us he was a top scientist. You gotta know how to pronounce your word first before you can convince us that you are even from America. WTF?!!! These are the greatest fantasy movies of all times, where blacks and latinos and women are over powered super geniuses. LOLOLOLOLOL 

Liosnagcat Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:36 Permalink

The Cultural Marxists (i.e., the pharisees) are continuing their "long march through the institutions of Western Civilization."  Nothing that reflects traditional Western values can be left unsullied.  Disney is at the vanguard of the march.

VWAndy Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:38 Permalink

 Just like the propaganda is the old soviet system. Kind jumped the shark and everyone saw it too.

 I doubt I will be paying to watch another movie ever. So yea they own the SW world and can do whatever they want with it. Im over it. Nice bed ya made there. Sleep well in it.