It wasn't an ideal way to market a movie.
Marketers at Disney (DIS) - Get Report were forced last year to agree to embargo ads for the company's upcoming big-budget movie, RogueOne: A Star Wars Story, because Viacom's (VIAB) - Get Report Paramount Pictures already had registered the Rogue name with the Motion Picture Association of America for Tom Cruise action vehicle Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.
After reaching agreement with the studio, Disney delayed its promotion of Rogue One until after the fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible series opened in July 2015, giving up the ability to build the early buzz many films need for a fast start. Instead, the company only was able to offer up a short trailer at Disney's D23 fan club convention in Anaheim, Calif.
The marketing delay isn't likely to keep Rogue One from warping into hyper-drive, however. According to Drexel Hamilton analyst Tony Wible, the film likely will open with a massive $150 million opening weekend when it debuts on Friday and will end up with about $550 million in U.S. ticket sales. That could make it the year's top film. So far, Disney's animated Finding Dory is the year's biggest hit, with $486 million in domestic ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo, followed by the company's Captain America: CivilWar with $408 million. Disney's The Jungle Book sits in fourth with $364 million, potentially giving the company four of the top five spots.
"The pent-up interest for anything Star Wars is just incredible," said Peter Sealey, former president of marketing and distribution for Sony's (SNE) - Get Report Columbia Pictures. "This will be a huge movie, although I don't understand exactly what they're doing."
Despite its name, Disney executives planned Rogue One as a standalone film and not a sequel in George Lucas' iconic series of Star Wars films. Set before Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and others went to battle -- that is, immediately before the 1977 original, or between the third and fourth episodes in the series chronologically -- the film follows a group of rebel spies on a mission to steal design schematics for the Galactic Empire's new superweapon, the Death Star.
Unlike the seven core Star Wars films, which have collected $6.7 billion in worldwide ticket sales over the franchise's 39-year history, Rogue One doesn't start with the trademark crawl that opened the Star War films.
Disney executives insist that Rogue One is unlikely to have a sequel. Instead, it will spawn a series of standalone stories from the Star Wars universe and stars. A film about the young Han Solo is in the works for 2018.
The media company has said it intends to continue to make future installments of the initial Star Wars series. The latest, Episode VIII, is in post-production and set to premiere on Dec 15, 2017. Its successor, Episode IX, is due on May 24, 2019.
Rogue One cost Disney an estimated $220 million to produce and tens of millions more to market, but the company got a lot of help. The film was made in several foreign locations, including in Great Britain, where it qualified for about $25 million in U.K. tax breaks.
Disney also lined up promotional deals with Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.B) - Get ReportDuracell, General Mills (GIS) - Get Report , Procter & Gamble's (PG) - Get Report Gillette, Nissan and Verizon (VZ) - Get Report. Duracell has shown its batteries powering Star Wars light sabers, Nissan used stormtroopers in ads promoting its Rogue SUV, and General Mills plastered Star Wars on its cereal boxes.
Disney also has used its well-oiled marketing muscle for in-house promotions. It temporarily transformed Epcot Center's iconic Spaceship Earth attraction into the Death Star for holiday travelers to the Orlando, Fla., park and began nightly Star Wars light shows at its Hollywood Studios park. The company's Disney Stores held special Star Wars opening ceremonies the day Rogue One merchandise arrived.
Disney's Maker Studios, which distributes digital channels on Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report YouTube and other outlets, held a contest for video creators to create and upload action videos. The winner attend a special screening of Rogue One that included a big-screen showing of the winning video.
The marketing seems to have worked. When presales of Rogue One tickets began Nov. 28, the requests crashed the server at the Fandango online ticket site. The site, a unit of Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Report, was forced to tweet it had set up a "wait room" to accommodate disgruntled customers.
Most Hollywood insiders figure Rogue One may not match the mega-sized box office of last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which generated $936.7 million in domestic ticket sales, but that's not the best measuring stick.
"Rogue One is going to be judged unfairly against the outlier $248 million opening weekend performance of last year's box office juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for the consumer measurement company comScore. "If Rogue delivers the goods as expected, we could be looking at a film that has incredible long-term playability and may have a trajectory more similar to Titantic and Avatar. They started out with sub-$100 million debuts but went on to become the two biggest box office hits worldwide of all time."
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held positions in Disney, Comcast, Verizon and Viacom.