“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” We first thrilled to the hallmark blue text heralding the opening of a Star Wars movie displayed on wall-sized screens as we sat quietly in darkened theaters all over the world. It doesn’t lose much of its impact on the small screen at home, or even on the smallest screen of our smartphone. When we need a Star Wars fix and the only viewing option is our smartphone or tablet, we turn to finding it on a video streaming service. For a Netflix-o-phile, the pertinent question at that time is, “Does Netflix have Star Wars?”
Netflix began in 1998 as a video rental service. The idea came to co-founder Reed Hastings when he had to pay $40 in fees on a late return of Apollo 13. Hastings and his partner, Marc Randolph, were looking into a new business model for the internet at the time. They started the Netflix subscription DVD service in 1999.
Streaming video was available by 2001 but it was not until 2007 that the company began to invest more heavily in streaming content than in DVDs. Once the fastest-growing customer of the U.S. Postal Service, Netflix would become the largest source of prime time internet traffic in North America by 2010.
Netflix has grown to having more than 80 million paying monthly subscribers who watch a total of 10 million hours of programming per day. The 36% of American homes with a Netflix subscription stream an average 1.8 hours of content per day, and 90% are engaged with the site’s original programming. Millennials make up the majority of viewers at 79%, followed by Gen X-er’s at 38%, and Baby Boomers at 26%. These stats put Netflix in strong position for the future.
The term “binge watching” can be traced back to the 1990s though it did not enter most people’s vocabulary until 2013, when Netflix began releasing full seasons of episodic programs all at once rather than week by week. This was the first time that tens of millions of people had the opportunity to sit and “binge watch” an entire season of a series in one sitting.
The site is a favorite among many for bringing series like Mad Men, Archer, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad to people who find a series late and want to catch up on earlier seasons, as well as those who have cut the cable plug.
Netflix also brings us content that cannot be found anywhere else. Millions of fans flocked to Netflix for its reboots of Arrested Development and Full (Fuller) House. Netflix originals like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black are darlings of viewers and critics alike.
While Netflix’s popularity has soared in recent years as a result of its serial offerings, the service remains a chief repository of movies available for streaming. You will never exhaust the selection of children & family movies for a rainy Saturday afternoon, comedies for a date night, or horror movies for a Friday night fright fest. Netflix has an extensive range of genres to choose from, including Sci-Fi & Fantasy, which brings us back to Star Wars.
It is a journey many of us began “long, long ago,” in a world that now seems “far, far away,” when the smartphone was not yet even a concept. From the two-sunned horizon of Tatooine to the equally barren plains of Jakku, we follow the adventures of our heroes Luke, Leia, and Han with heightened expectancy across that faraway galaxy.
In the very first scenes of the first Star Wars film, we knew that Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were souls we could trust, and we cheered aloud for the Rebel Alliance against Darth Vader and his infamous Death Star. In The Empire Strikes Back, we gasped as Han was consigned to a possible eternity in carbonite, and our hearts sank when Luke learned that Darth Vader was his father. When Leia became enslaved in her attempt to free Han, we shared her disgust and humiliation in The Jedi Strike Back.
When George Lucas announced a trilogy of prequels, we went along for the ride. Even a character like Jar-Jar Binks couldn’t stop us from hoping beyond all hope that somehow little Anakin would grow up to embrace the bright side of the force in The Phantom Menace. We rose up with him and Padme as their love grew in Attack of the Clones, then crashed with them as Anakin spiraled further and further into the abyss that would become Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith. The latest chapter, The Force Awakens, brought heartbreak beyond words as Han was ultimately lost to the dark side.
Some of us began that journey in a small town movie theater where we saw Star Wars – no New Hope, just Star Wars – in 1977. Our first home version of the movie was a VHS tape. DVDs were a huge improvement over those, so we upgraded when the movies became available in the new format.
Seeing that the first and second trilogies were later made available in corresponding boxes sets, we expect the same for Episodes VII through IX, enduring the month-long gap between DVD and VOD releases to re-watch Episode VII: The Force Awakens at home until finally, on Star Wars Day 2016 (May the 4th be with you), our patience was rewarded.
We were not able to stream Star Wars’ Episode VII: The Force Awakens through Netflix or any other subscription service. We had to rent it. In fact, to answer our earlier question, none of the Star Wars movies is available for streaming through Netflix.
Star Wars on Netflix
The lack of Star Wars films seems to be a glaring gap in an otherwise healthy library of movies on Netflix.
Netflix is not showing a weakness in this area. No subscription viewing service has ever owned the rights to stream a Star Wars film to its members. The films have been shown on television, sold on VHS and DVD, and made available to rent over video-on-demand (VOD) services, but not one has ever been available on demand to subscribers on a site like Netflix.
It all comes down to who owns the rights to the films and when they owned them. No matter how strong you are in the force, you cannot persuade studios and distributors that it is in their best interests to make the Star Wars film more available to us. Contracts for rights to show or stream a show are often exclusive, always air-tight, and those party to such agreements have minds like a Toydarian.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. Its first glimmer appeared in late 2012, when George Lucas sold pretty much every part of LucasFilm to Disney. Its most valuable properties, which Lucas often called his “kids,” were the Star Wars movies.
When it comes to distributing the Star Wars movies gained through their purchase of LucasFilm, Disney has to first honor a deal already in place with Starz. That contract brings all Disney film releases to the premium cable service six to twelve months after online and cable VOD services have their run.
Disney’s contract with Starz covers all Disney films released through the end of 2015. That includes the December 2015 release date of The Force Awakens which will, accordingly, air on Starz. It will not be coming to Netflix.
Nor are Episodes I through VI likely to be available to Netflix subscribers any time soon. These films have been out of commercial public viewing since LucasFilm’s contract with Spike TV ended in 2014.
In January 2016, Variety reported that Disney is pitching the rights to all existing and future Star Wars films to television networks. The downside is that it’s likely the exclusivity rights terms on those movies will include no availability on Netflix.
A New Hope
There is still a bright future for Star Wars viewing on Netflix. According to the terms of a deal signed in 2012, Disney will make all of its films available to Netflix subscribers following their respective DVD releases and VOD runs. The deal begins in 2016, however, which means it does not include The Force Awakens (as mentioned earlier).
It will bring the next two Star Wars films, Episode VIII (planned for release in 2017) and Episode IX (in 2019), to Netflix subscribers. When we calculate the usual six to twelve-month lapse between subscription TV and VOD, it is reasonable to expect that Netflix viewers can begin viewing Episode VIII, first full-length Star Wars feature film ever available on the Netflix streaming service, onto their home TVs or mobile devices beginning sometime in 2018.
All of this sounds like a long, long time away, but time flies these days. In the mean time, we have our DVDs to pull out whenever we want to watch our favorite episodes of the Star Wars epic. We can also be on the watch for a chance to catch them on the TV outlets that Disney may contract with before the Netflix deal brings Episode VIII to us. And, we can always turn to Netflix to binge watch our other favorite movies and series, including the fantastic original programming Netflix has to offer. If the stats are accurate, by the time we’ve all watched another quarter trillion hours of Netflix, we’ll be able to answer with a resounding “YES!” when someone asks us, “Does Netflix have Star Wars?”