A wise lady once said "The world is changed: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost." That was Galadriel in The Lord of The Rings, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t talking about the Middle Earth, but about how every movie playing at the Lothlorien Cineplex 20 was a sequel or an adaptation of one of her favorite '80s TV shows. Galadriel? BIG Magnum P.I. fan. We’ll get back to Galadriel in a second.
I’m writing this on the cusp of the release of Iron Man 3. The summer movie season is upon us; sequels, franchises, and superhero stories will comprise MOST of what hits theaters for the next four months. Iron Man 3 is the first movie in Marvel’s Phase Two initiative, which itself can be seen as sort of a sequel to their Phase One initiative. Phase One brought us Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and culminated with the highly successful-I-can’t-believe-they-pulled-it-off The Avengers. And now they’re going to try to do it all again.
Marvel is owned by Disney, and Disney’s plan is apparently to follow this same pattern until everyone is so sick of them that they are no longer lucrative. We all know Phase One only ended when it did because of the Mayan calendar. Why make movies when everyone will be dead? But that didn’t happen, so Phase Two, here we go.
I am not the first person to write about these plans for Star Wars. Patrick wrote a column about it months ago, and you should read that, if you haven’t. If you have, read it again. The fact is, film fandom is entirely divided on how they feel about all these Star Wars movies, superhero movies, and sequels to semi-successful movies that were based on TV shows or cartoons. It seems that there’s a LOT more people who are skeptical and are worried about over-saturation than there are who are unreservedly excited.
Upon the April 17th announcement that Star Wars would be in theaters every year from 2015 onward, dozens of embittered and disenfranchised fans climbed the nearest skyscraper and threw themselves off of it. Well, alright, it was 4 people defiantly jumping from a tree house that had a bloody C-3PO painted on the side. Okay, you got me, it was really just one person: a Sioux City, Iowa man, 46, who tumbled off the couch after falling asleep while watching Attack Of The Clones. Cheetos were everywhere. The point is, far from it being universally recognized as fantastic news, people are skeptical and unsure about the whole thing.
I live in a house divided: I am excited by the idea of all of these movies. You could even say comforted, because I like knowing that the movies that mean something to me and go back to my childhood are going to be a mainstay for years. My wife sees it very differently. She holds those movies just as sacred as I do, but she’s worried that new content will sully and taint (tee hee) the pure memories from her past, that Disney and companies like them will take these beloved properties that we hold dear and ruin them.
I’ve really been trying to examine all the angles on this, figure out where people are coming from and what their hopes and fears are surrounding these forthcoming movies. I’ve talked to people I know, but I’ve also talked to strangers, like the lady in the bookstore wearing the “I Love Star Wars” pin. When I asked her how she felt about more Star Wars, she said she just hoped George Lucas didn’t meddle. When I asked her how she felt about a new movie each year, she just kind of shrugged. So I suppose there are three camps: the excited, the skeptical, and the shruggers. To be honest, I’m not sure she knew what I was talking about. She had a deer-in-the-headlights look for most of our interaction. Perhaps I should have put my pants back on.
It’s important to note that all of these movies could continue at this pace for a LONG time. Gwyneth Paltrow is out making her rounds to promote Iron Man 3 and has said that she thinks this is the last movie with Iron Man. However, Kevin Feige (Marvel President of Production, aka Marvel Movie Man) has made it clear that should the actors tied to these movies choose not to return, Disney/Marvel will recast and move on. There will be no reboots or do-overs. The goal is to follow the pattern set by James Bond and continue the ongoing story without starting over. As long as that remains the goal, it appears that we’ll be seeing these characters (in some form) for years.
Amazing Spider-Man might have ended up a very different movie. And I really liked that movie, but think of how much better it would have been if they didn’t retell Spidey’s origin AGAIN. How many times does poor Peter Parker have to get bitten? The answer is 37.
However, as my wife is very quick to point out, movies are art; to exploit the affection we have for them can easily cheapen the whole experience. Movies are a snapshot of a time and a place, and she gets a certain “feeling” when she sees those original movies that she is very concerned can never be replicated. I think it’s probably more dangerous to continue something like Star Wars than it is to continue the Marvel Universe, because, at one point in time, Star Wars was one single iconic film, not a brand. I suppose that’s part of the problem, too. Disney purchased Lucasfilm not just to make more movies, but because it’s a brand that they know they can endlessly exploit. If we thought Darth Vader was already being used to market everything already, it’s about to get even worse. Disney has near unlimited funds and a PR machine the size of the Death Star. We ain’t seen nothing yet. Tatooine Tampons? Dagobah Deodorant, for when life feels like a swamp planet?
And here’s where things get dicey for me. Because like all those Marvel comics I’ve read over the last 25 years, Star Wars has been a brand for me for almost that long. I’ve read over a hundred of the novels, I’ve collected the comics, I’ve eaten terrible Taco Bell and Burger King food for crappy toys of R2-D2 and (D)Jango Fett. I’m a willing victim of the Lucas marketing machine.
Even though I find the stories of the prequels to be lacking, I love the worlds that those movies built, and find myself so eager to play in them. That’s why I don’t care for Patton Oswalt’s routine about wanting to go back in time and kill George Lucas before he could make the prequels. I think it’s hateful and disrespectful for Oswalt, who clearly loves the world Lucas built, to write a bit about murdering one of his heroes. So many people say George Lucas raped their childhood, but they’re all too willing to lay their money down for anything related to the galaxy far, far away.
But I suppose the point is fair: no, we don’t want to see how the sausage is made. I don’t need to trace a young Boba Fett’s every step and see how he ended up being the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy. George Lucas is not very good at writing dialog or directing, or understanding what his fans wanted from his movies. But he IS great at tapping into the myths of our past and creating landscapes and planets where good can fight evil. I mean, he did, after all, create Darth Vader. Therefore, the prospect of more Star Wars with a dedicated effort to return to the more adventurous and carefree style of storytelling of the original trilogy has me very excited.
My wife? Not nearly as much. She is reserving judgment on the new Star Wars movies until she sees them. She’s very excited about seeing Han Solo on screen again, but she’s apprehensive because Harrison Ford is in his seventies and can’t play the role forever. What happens when they decide to follow through on the rumored “Young Han Solo” movie? And for that matter, what happens when Chris Hemsworth doesn’t want to be Thor anymore? She’s built an attachment to these actors as these characters. She doesn’t want to see Han Solo or Thor played by another actor. When these actors can’t or won’t play those characters anymore, it’s time to retire that character for a while, maybe forever. This is where a movie as a piece of art becomes all-important. Until pretty recently, a movie existed alone, or in a trilogy. Now, with Disney’s plan, movies are now just product, more disposable than ever. Don’t like the new Marvel movie? Don’t worry, there will be another one along in six months that may be your cup of tea. Don’t like the new Star Wars movie? Try the next one. You won’t have to wait long.
The Phantom Menace. The Ewoks were the original Jar Jar. There were many who felt the story didn’t end with the consequences that it should have, especially after the darkness established in The Empire Strikes Back.
Before it was a product, Star Wars was a remarkable achievement of independent cinema. What George Lucas has failed to see in the years following that first movie is that you can’t change a work of art. My wife related it like this: you can’t go back and “touch up” the Mona Lisa. You can’t paint eyebrows on her, or give her a wider smile. It’s art. It speaks for itself and stands as a captured moment in time. Every time Lucas adds Darth Vader yelling “Noooooo” or puts a fuzzy alien in the middle distance, he’s painting eyebrows on the Mona Lisa. And by continuing the adventures of Han, Luke, and Leia, we’re trotting out the Mona Lisa once more and forcing it into a place it was not originally intended to go. If you have that painting hanging in the Millennium Falcon, then my work is done.
"But Hollywood," you say, "didn’t you just say that you were excited about new Star Wars and Marvel movies?" I sure did, dear reader, and I am DEFINITELY excited about the future. This is an interesting time for us as film fans, and there doesn’t seem to be a "right" or a "wrong" opinion on this to me. Like it or not, this is the direction things are going. Recently I lamented the loss of the way things used to be, but realized I just have to accept that things have changed. I could spend my time moaning about what we’ve lost, but in doing so, I could be missing out on what we’re getting.
I love movies, and I will always look for the good. In many ways it feels like we’ve returned to the days of the old black and white serials; only instead of every week or two, we get a new adventure once or twice a year, and with special effects our parents and grandparents could only have dreamt of. There’s value to that, isn’t there? And everything is a cycle. This current cycle, populated by costumed heroes and digital magic, will eventually end, giving way to something new, or, with luck, something old.
We ARE losing something by Disney, Warner Brothers, and pretty much every other studio cranking out endless sequels and cashing in on our love of these characters. When you push out so many movies based on previously established properties, you’re sacrificing originality and creativity. Of last year’s ten highest grossing films, not one of them was an original idea. They were all based on a previous movie or a comic book or a young adult book series. As we fall even deeper into franchises, we run the risk of seeing fewer and fewer movies like The Wrestler, or Slumdog Millionaire, or even original blockbusters like Avatar.
Still, in spite of the near omnipresence of superheroes and movies on their sixth or seventh sequel, there was enough room for films like Django Unchained, Argo, The Master, and Adam’s beloved Silver Linings Playbook. There may be less of it, but that original content is still there.
Save me a seat.