What Star Wars Could Learn from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Whatever your thoughts about The Force Awakens are, you cannot deny that the film was a commercial success. Being the first film in years, and one of only three, that has grossed over two billion dollars, the Star Wars franchise now finds itself in a very lucrative position. The question now is: how does the franchise go forward? If Star Wars wants to remain relevant, it needs to do many tricky things at once. It needs to cater to fans of The Force Awakens and the original trilogy, it needs to expand its market well beyond families, and it needs to deliver diverse and quality content. If Star Wars wants a guideline on how to do this, they should turn to their next-door neighbor for some advice, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe once found itself a very similar position. Spoilers for Episode VII follow.
Many problems that major franchises run into revolve around the side effects of sequels, and luckily Star Wars already has a leg up on the competition in this area. The main problem regarding sequels is that, with so many films to set up, each can film feel like a trailer for the next few installments. Whether you loved or hated The Force Awakens, few would argue that the film suffered by setting up Episode VIII and IX.
Details regarding Kylo Ren’s escape, or Rey’s parents were left unanswered, but the overall story had a clear beginning (The Resistance and the First Order searching for the map to Luke Skywalker) and clear middle (Rey and Finn running from the First Order) and a clear ending (The Resistance destroying Starkiller base and retrieving the map to Luke). Unlike Age of Ultron, which forced the audience to spend time with Thor as he yelled in a dark pool of water in order to set-up Infinity War, every piece of foreshadowing in The Force Awakens was brief and made sense.
For example, Rey has a short vision after touching Luke’s lightsaber, displaying elements of her and Kylo Ren’s past, which will be showed in greater detail later. This quick scene grants the audience slight details of future events, while still fitting in the narrative of the story, as the scene also points to the fact that Rey can use the force.
Instead, Star Wars faces a problem that most other franchises have yet to run into: justifying its own existence.
The franchise won’t have to deal with this for a few years, and Star Wars is massive enough that if Disney continues to release films, chances are they will be successful for a while. However, having recently wiped the slate clean, Star Wars has a limited number of stories to tell. Some would argue the pre-existing Star Wars lore that Disney has recently eliminated would have been too obscure to translate to film, but even ignoring the effects of the new Star Wars canon, Star Wars will face a massive fork in the road once Episode IX is released.
Episode IX will mark the end of Disney’s first Star Wars trilogy, and where the franchise goes from there is a major point of speculation.
There are a few likely possibilities, but it Star Wars wants to avoid crushing under its own weight, it should examine what the MCU did when it ran into its own brick wall: The Avengers.
The Avengers was the end of Marvel Phase One, and the franchise very well could have fallen victim to a loss of direction after its release. The film was the pay-off of everything the MCU set up over four years, and a very real sense of ‘what now’ could have quickly set on, but luckily Kevin Feige had very far seeing plans, and even used to The Avengers to establish the true villain of the MCU: Thanos.
The secret to Marvel’s success in a post Avengers landscape is simple: diversify. When The Avengers was released in 2012, the MCU had established six Avengers, and following the release of Doctor Strange in 2016, the MCU contains fifteen potential Avengers. This means that Marvel has a larger list of characters to choose from, which, when done skillfully, can help suppress audience fatigue.
And not only has the list of characters grown, but the style and tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become incredibly diverse. Yes, almost every MCU film has a weak villain, an interesting hero, and a healthy dose of humor. But looking beyond that reveals that these films are becoming extremely varied in very interesting ways. For example, 2014 saw the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a dark and gritty political thriller. But 2014 also saw the release of Guardians of the Galaxy¸ a fun, emotional, and eccentric sci-fi opera.
This year saw the release of Captain America: Civil War, a darker, and more destructive Avengers film than what we have seen before. But 2016 also saw the debut of Doctor Strange, a bizarre film about the mystic arts and alternate realities.
And another thing: The Star Wars films should be good. The average MCU movie pulls in an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, and while there is a range of quality within the series, that is a very respectable number for a franchise.
If Star Wars wants to survive it needs to do the same thing. The first lesson it should learn is Marvel’s saving grace: diversify your franchise. The fact that Star Wars franchise’s second film, Rogue One, is be a spin-off is an encouraging sign, but Disney and Kathleen Kennedy will need to do a lot more.
Star Wars has a massive history to pull from, so large that Disney could easily craft films out of thin air. What I mean by this is, if Disney wanted to, they could fabricate a story that took place during the rebellion or during the days of the Old Republic with no pre-existing source material. What matters is that they release spin-offs often, and that they have a high level of quality.
Just because a film carries the Star Wars logo doesn’t mean that people will go see it. Looking back at the prequels reveals that about half of the people who turned up to see The Phantom Menace went to see Attack of the Clones.
And if the franchise wants to keep making main storyline films, it should take a break after Episode IX. Audience fatigue is very dangerous to the main Episode films, because, since they are the franchise’s main draw, if audiences tire of them Star Wars could find itself in a very dangerous place. Hopefully, Disney already has an idea of where the main films will go after Episode IX.
A clear sense of direction, variety, and quality are key in Star Wars’ continued success and survival. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to hit a major stumble, and if Disney adheres to the same rules, neither will Star Wars.