Cinematic Universes are killing cinema and Star Wars is next

Not so long ago in a galaxy you may be familiar with, George Lucas sold the rights for Star Wars to Disney.

Disney paid a hell of a lot of money for the rights to Star Wars, and they want it back. This is a point that needs to be hammered home hard before we move on. Disney didn’t buy Star Wars because they had a great idea for future films, or because they wanted to redeem the franchise for the fans. Disney bought Star Wars because it is the biggest mother fucking cash cow out there. A cash cow that will be milked until it is dead. How are they going to do it? By pushing Star Wars towards that most lucrative of formats, the cinematic universe.

We should be viewing Disney’s choice to start a Star Wars cinematic universe with trepidation.

To be clear, the original Marvel cinematic universe is a masterstroke of cinematic vision and planning, the films do consistently well financially and critically and well, they’re just good movies. However, their success has lead to every studio out there desperately trying to launch their own cinematic universes. The results have been ugly. Warner Brothers have managed to make two of the most depressing and convoluted superhero films of all time with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman. Not to mention the dizzying clusterfuck that was Suicide Squad. Paramount are keen to get the Transformers cinematic universe off the ground. Universal kicked off their new Monster cinematic universe with the wet fart that was The Mummy. Ghostbusters was intended to be a cinematic universe during in it’s production and even set up it’s standalone production company ‘Ghost Corps’ to oversee this . The makers of Hasbro, Lego, 21 Jump Street are all planning future universes and the list goes on and on. Everyone wants in and so far, everyone but Marvel has been terrible.

Which is why we should be viewing Disney’s choice to start a Star Wars cinematic universe with trepidation. In terms of structure, it really is a clone of Marvel. The new trilogy is serving as the Avengers style main events and we are to be treated with numerous Star Wars Stories in place of the standalone superhero titles.

Now, before we jump into the nitty gritty of just how fucked Star Wars may end up, it’s important to understand the two things that made the Marvel universe a success and which every other universe is fucking up. Easter eggs and studio control. Easter eggs were a game changer for Marvel. Leaving hints, clues and trivia throughout their movies to reward viewers who have kept up with the broader universe as well as the now mandatory ‘end credits’ scene where a future film gets its first mini trailer and the hype train gets rolling straight out of the previous film.

Studio control has also been crucial to Marvel. Whist each film plays with different tones and genres (Winter Soldier being a spy action thriller, Ant Man a heist movie etc.) a man by the name of Kevin Feige has the final say on more or less everything. It’s his job to ensure all the films are staying within the overall plan for the universe. He performs this duty successfully on the most part (though many won’t forgive him for depriving us of a Edgar Wright directed Ant Man) and allows the separate films to breathe whilst keeping them all pointing towards the same end game. Here is how other studios have approached easter eggs and control: throw in as much shit as you can that people will recognise and backseat direct every film in production, frequently paying for expensive re-shoots and edits until the film is a tattered mess of an idea. Got that? Good, back to Star Wars.

Our second glimpse into the future of Star Wars was Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars Stories outside the main trilogy. A simple premise that was deliberately tied to Episode IV in order to shoehorn in fan service (easter eggs), the film did well financially and critically. It was a pretty good space war movie, albeit one with boring, depressing and utterly forgettable characters. It is also highlighted how Disney have misunderstood why their Marvel movies have been so successful with heavy handed studio control and re-shoots, as well as over reliance on previous films ie. an orgy of distracting, irrelevant easter eggs.

the job of directing Star Wars films is the new teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts

Let’s start with studio control. Gareth Edwards was chosen to take the helm for Rogue One after impressive work with Monsters and Godzilla. It’s a badly kept secret that the studios were unhappy with his first cut and ordered extensive re-shoots. A large amount of footage from the original trailer did not make the final cut. We will never know for sure what these re-shoots were but my guess is that it was to add in more characters from the original trilogy and lighten the violence.

The future Star Wars films are having similar issues. The almost announced Josh Trank Bobba Fett movie was pulled after Trank’s fight with Sony over the latest Fantastic Four debacle, another car crash caused by studio meddling and late re-shoots. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who found success with the Jump Street films, were fired over half way through the new Han Solo movie after Disney assessed it to be trying too hard to be a comedy (what else were they expecting?!) and instead recruited Ron Howard to finish to cut. The tone for that film is going to be all over the fucking place. Most recently, Colin Trevorrow has been jettisoned from Episode IX making the job of directing Star Wars films the new teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Now, things change in the shooting of movies and occasionally adjustments need to be made. However, frequently having to make directorial changes in your movies is sloppy and the films will suffer for it.
Which brings us to pointless easter eggs and callbacks to the original movies. What do the following have in common? A badly CGI’d Grand Moff Tarkin; a badly CGI’d Princess Leia; a distracting shot of the back of C3P0 and R2-D2; and Darth Vader hacking people to death with his lightsabre while sounding like a very old James Earl Jones and Mon Mothma. The answer – they were all pointlessly included in Rogue One and were ultimately nothing more than an irritating distraction. It’s there as ‘fan service’ but it’s getting old really quickly. I think the Han Solo movie will double down on this. Just a hunch, but I think it’s a safe bet that the Kessel Run is going to feature heavily. If this does happen, bear in mind that the Kessel Run featured in Episode IV for literally two seconds. The problem is that, if you’re going to release a never-ending stream of Star Wars films, at some point you’re going to have to do something new and Disney does not seem at all comfortable with that. This point of course was immediately reinforced when Disney announced that JJ Abrams would be the replacement for Episode IX, so we can expect a competent and safe finale to the new trilogy. Meh.

It’s important to note of course, that these films will likely make a shit load of money for many years to come before audience fatigue truly starts to affect the box office. The prequels were horrible films, but financial successes. People just love Star Wars. But with every additional trilogy, every spin off, every stand alone ‘story’ the magic of why people love Star Wars is going to be slowly eroded.

Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But this is starting to feel like a Twilight Zone episode where Rob Sterling is going to appear at the end credits of the 34th Star Wars Story (probably about how Admiral Akbar became an Admiral) to remind us to be careful what we wish for.

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