Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Harry Potter vs Star Wars, where I finally decide which one of these franchise is better.
Now a year or so ago James Daniel Walsh wrote this infamous statement: â€œStar Wars is the cultural mythos of our generationâ€, to which I argued that while it was true for his generation, my generation’s cultural mythos was Harry Potter. Now, a year of putting it off, I’m finally going to sit down and analyse both of these franchise. So without further ado…
Now there are several ways of looking at this debate. I’ll talk about the films specifically later in this series, but the place to start is not with the individual product, but the wider franchise. After all, if we’re talking about the cultural impact of both things, we need to really work out what we’re talking about to start with. So what is the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchise? Well lets find out.
Lets start it easy by looking at the Harry Potter franchise: There’s barely one. Or, rather, compared to the Star Wars franchise, it’s barely a blip on the screen. We have:
Seven books, with each one being the ‘fastest-selling book’ of their time.
Eight movies, with Wikipedia currently listing the Harry Potter franchise the highest-grossing franchise of current time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films
(And to actually qualify that statement: Harry Potter has made $7,723,431,572 over 8 films, averaging $965,428,947 per film, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows â€“ Part 2 making $1,341,511,219.
Star Wars has made $4,382,359,858 over 7 theatrically released films, averaging $626,051,140 per film, with the highest-grossing film being Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace making $1,027,044,427.
However it should be noted that these numbers aren’t perfect. When adjusted for inflation James Bond comes out on top, with Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope making $2,710,800,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2011. However I’ve also seen sites list it as low as $1,446,331,100 domestically, though they might be talking about original release and not the re-releases done over the years. Likewise a third site lists the ticket sales of the original Star Wars film at 178,119,600 tickets domestically, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 selling 47,989,900 tickets. Source: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm?adjust_yr=1977&p=.htm
Now, granted, these ticket sales may be talking about the original 1977 release and not include the 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1997 release. Star Wars has been in cinema six times, so naturally it’s made a lot of money over those six years. In fact this is where discussing the gross profit of the film gets a bit difficult. Since Star Wars was made before the release of home media, re-releasing in cinema was the only way for it to make money. On the other hand, Harry Potter only got released in cinema once per film, thus meaning it was in the movie theatres less often than Star Wars. So while Star Wars may have sold more tickets, it also had a greater opportunity to do so. In fact one could even argue that it was the invention of home media that led to the Prequel Trilogy under-performing in comparison, since people didn’t need to go to the theatres multiple times. They could just buy it on VHS.
However, while we’re comparing the original Star Wars film to the best-grossing Harry Potter film, it’s worth noting that on the whole, the Harry Potter films have performed better. Thanks to the likes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars being released theatrically and only making $68,282,844, with Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones only making $649,398,328, it’s safe to say that each Harry Potter film has managed to out-gross at least two Star Wars theatrical releases.
However, the point of this exercise is to show that while Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is still one of the highest-grossing movies of current times [adjusted for inflation], the franchise as a whole is less successful in film profits than Harry Potter.
But [in a point I’ll get back to in a moment] if we’re taking in all the income from merchandising, Star Wars has made more than $22 billion total, with the films being a third of the revenue. However Harry Potter wins in the home video market by making $3.5 billion, which makes sense since the films came out around the popularization of DVD. People would see the film less often in theatres since they could now easily own a copy at home. In fact the release of one of the first home-video version of Star Wars happens a year after the last re-release in cinemas (20th Anniversary non-withstanding). Since there was no reason to re-release a film when people can buy the VHS, people brought the VHS instead. Had Star Wars come out a decade later it’s probable there would be no re-releases, since there’d be less of a market for them. So Harry Potter winning the home-video market is significant since it shows that people are readily consuming the media, they’re just doing it in an entirely different way when compared to how Star Wars was released.
Also, Betamax came out in 1975 and VHS in 1977. Now if we look at DVD player sales, from my research, it took a few good years before DVDs became a household item. Same with Blu-Ray and same with Streaming, which is quickly becoming the more popular option. But it takes time for the format to become popular, with VHS also overtaking Betamax by a large margin by 1982. So it appears that the last re-release of Star Wars before 1997 coincides with the popular nature of VHS, to the point where it became more of a house-hold item. Likewise it is probably not a coincidence that 1982 marks the year of the first Star Wars VHS release and the last theatrical Star Wars re-release, since at this point home video was the way to go. So while a Betamax copy did exist in the 70s [Though I can’t find evidence of it, it’s probably likely to be true], the first ‘proper’ release of the VHS was 1982. So again, unlikely to be coincidence that the birth of the Star Wars VHS led to end of the Star Wars re-release. Likewise there’s a notable drop in films being re-released once VHS got both popular and affordable enough, so make of that what you will.
Long story short, in terms of numbers when it comes to box offices, the Harry Potter franchise of eight movies currently beats the Star Wars franchise of seven movies).
Anyway, back on topic. Along with the movies, books, and miscellaneous merchandise that’s not worth getting in to (since we’ll be here all day), the other big thing to note about Harry Potter is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Florida, a themed area dedicated solely to the books. Add to that about seven video games, two Lego video games, and a smattering of Lego sets.
Now I bring all this up because, when you get right down to it, there isn’t a lot there to the Harry Potter â€œfranchiseâ€. It’s remarkably lean. You’ve got your core ‘canon’ of seven books, eight movies, and one theme park area. It’s like Princess’ Leia’s bikini. There’s not a lot there, but what is there covers the important parts well enough. And if Harry Potter is the Princess Leia of this metaphor, then Star Wars is easily the Jabba the Hutt.
So, the Star Wars franchise. Bear in mind I’m probably going to miss stuff out, since I’m going via broad research (aka the first thing that pops up on Google). So we have:
Seven theatrically released movies (as much as Clone Wars sucked, still counts as a theatrical release).
This many books: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_books I ain’t gonna count them cos, well, even I’m not that mad, but I’m gonna say a rough estimate of around 1,000 to be safe (though I’m including comic books, roleplay books, reference books etc. Basically if it’s a book, it gets counted).
Eighty-two video games as far as I can tell, give or take a few here and there.
Seven or so TV shows or specials, from what I can gather.
Toys galore that will literally try to drive me mad listing them all.
Other miscellaneous merchandise I’m not going to talk about, we just all know it exists.
And one theme park ride… which is incredibly odd, considering how big Star Wars is, but that’s all it really has going for it in terms of theme parks. Just a ride, a show, but nothing nearly on the level of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
And, of course, May the Fourth Be With You. Whether it’s part of the franchise or not is something we’ll get to at a later date.
Long story short: There is a lot of Star Wars from the six core films of the franchise. A lot when compared to Harry Potter. But does quantity relate to quality? Or does Harry Potter win out in this regard?
Now asking a question like this is asking someone what their favourite fast food restaurant chain is. I mean at the end of the day it comes down to purely arbitrary reasons about which one is better and which one is worse. So I suppose that I have to explain my reasons for why I pick Harry Potter over Star Wars, even though the reasons are incredibly personal and can’t really be held objectively. But, at the end of the day, I prefer quality over quantity. And out of the two of them, only one has The Star Wars Holiday Special. And that right there sums up the problem I have with Star Wars in general: Brand dilution. Harry Potter survived by being incredibly lean, based on relatively little. To me, that works well in the franchises favour. When you have a bowl full of jelly beans and half of them are black, and you hate black jelly beans, there’s no way you’d be convinced to eat a handful from that bowl. That’s Star Wars. There’s a lot of bad stuff there, to the point where it starts to outbalance the good stuff. Sure the Original Trilogy is great… but the Prequel Trilogy is pretty bad. Sure some of the video games are great… and some are the Force Unleashed. There’s no real quality control when it comes to the Star Wars franchise. Widely different levels of quality infiltrate the franchise. There’s no knowing ahead of time whether the expanded universe you’re picking up is going to be good, or it’s going to be a pile of Hutt dung. Whereas with Harry Potter, everything is consistently good. Oh sure, some of the films and books aren’t the greatest. But on the whole it stands on a more consistent level of quality, higher than the Star Wars franchise. So does this make the Harry Potter franchise better than the Star Wars franchise? Again, it’s apples and pears. I prefer apples and their crisp taste, others prefer a mushy, bloated pear. But when you got a franchise that has the bad outweighing the good versus a franchise that is mostly good and very little bad, I’m gonna have to pick the latter. No matter how good Star Wars is, it’s let-down by the fact that The Star Wars Holiday Special was a good idea on how to make money.
(And if I can sidetrack for a little bit: That’s my other problem with Star Wars. Now Lucas is famous for starting the merchandising binge, or so it is claimed. I disagree with this, since the likes of Mickey Mouse were merchandised up the Sarlacc. If anything could be said to have started the concept of merchandising, it would be Walt Disney and his little mouse friend. There was a lot of merchandise around that character that was mostly successful. And merchandising didn’t disappear. The likes of Star Trek, Doctor Who and the Beatles were all big merchandise hits in the 60s. Disneyland opened in 1954 and essentially merchandised the characters created by Disney. So Lucas was by no means the first to get the idea to make money off his creation. Granted he was the first to keep the rights to it, and thus made a lot of money from selling out his creation, but he was by no means the first. Anyway, back on track.)
The main difference between George Lucas and J. K. Rowling is a perceived loved for their creations. Rowling is famously protective of her story, having quite strict criteria when it came to the films and have a firm hand in guiding the creation of the ‘official’ expanded universe. Compare that to Lucas who, despite having final say on all things Star Wars, still thought that Star Wars: The Clone Wars was good enough to be released theatrically for reasons aside from money. Now Lucas probably does care for his creation as much as Rowling, but Lucas also appears to be more willing to sell out his creation to make some extra cash. And that’s my main bugbear when it comes to the Star Wars franchise: It’s a sell-out. It’s become more focused on making merchandise and by extension money than by being good. Just take the Prequel Trilogy. The first movie was made for kids for reasons I suspect have to do with tempting children into buying the toys. There’s something dishonest about a creator who only creates a universe to sell merchandise rather than tell a compelling story. Now, granted, Lucas probably went into the films wanting to make a good film. All film-makers do. But I can’t argue with the logic that a lot of what made Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace so bad was the desire to make a lot of merchandise from it. Perhaps if Star Wars wasn’t so bloated as a franchise, the films themselves might have been better. Anyway, side note over).
So ultimately I do prefer the Harry Potter franchise to the Star Wars franchise, if only because the Harry Potter franchise is more ‘pure’ than the Star Wars one. But that’s the ‘official’ franchises. What about the fandom? Well join me next time as I take a look at the ‘cultural mythos’ of both franchises. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.