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Report: Disney to unveil 'significant expansion' of Star Wars, new streaming and theatrical plans

By Matthew Jackson
The Mandalorian

The Walt Disney Company is reportedly about to unveil major new content plans in service of beefing up its streaming service Disney+ in a call to investors on Thursday evening. According to a new report in The New York Times, the four-hour presentation — which has been teased since summer and is already driving up the company's stock prices — is part of a major push to turn the streaming service into an "always-on" commodity for Disney fans.

Among the new offerings: More original movies, a potential shift in the Disney film distribution model, and a "significant expansion of the Star Wars universe."

The Times' report stems from "three people with knowledge of the matter" who spoke anonymously to the paper of record, setting the stage for an even more highly anticipated Disney showcase on Thursday afternoon. In addition to the Star Wars "expansion," the investor presentation will also reportedly include fresh footage from Disney's numerous upcoming Marvel Studios projects heading to Disney+, as well as word that upcoming films like Tom Hanks' live-action Pinocchio will be heading directly to streaming, while other high-profile projects like the upcoming Lion King prequel from Barry Jenkins will stay the course and head for theaters. Black Widow, Marvel Studios' next big-screen release, is reportedly set to hold its course as well, keeping an eye on a May 7, 2021 theatrical release.

No matter where each individual project is headed, the presentation is all in service to beefing up Disney's streaming prospects after Disney+ announced that it reached nearly 75 million subscribers in the first year. With an increased reliance on streaming in the pandemic era, and the continued rollout of the streaming service internationally, some speculate that Disney could announce it's nearing 100 million subscribers to Disney+, a big number that has big implications for stock prices, future pricing of the service, and Disney's streaming priorities in the near and far future. Despite the continued emphasis on streaming, though, Disney is not planning something quite as drastic as WarnerMedia's earth-shaking decision this month to move its entire 2021 theatrical slate to a same-day HBO Max release.

So, what does all of this mean in terms of content? For starters, more original movies will likely hit Disney+ instead of theaters in the months to come, and while some will arrive at no extra charge (like Pixar's Soul, hitting the service Christmas Day), others are likely to embrace the Mulan model and come with an added cost to view the films early.

Then there are the Marvel shows and, of course, this still-mysterious "significant expansion" to Star Wars. The Times report does not elaborate on exactly what this means, but we've known for a while that growing Star Wars on streaming is a Disney priority. The Mandalorian remains a massive hit for the company, and shows focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Cassian Andor, and a still-mysterious female-led series from Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland are all in development. How Disney expands beyond those offerings before we've even seen the shows is still a mystery, but it could be anything from new animated series to original Star Wars films for Disney+ subscribers.

Disney's investor presentation is set to begin at 4:30PM EST this afternoon. Keep checking SYFY WIRE for breaking news from the event.