‘Star Wars’ and the dangers of a saturation point

“I want to go to Star Wars and see Darth Vader.” So said my 3-year-old daughter, unprompted (and verbatim) earlier this evening. She learned everything she knows about Star Wars from her Disney-licensed graham crackers.

Rogue OneRogue One: A Star Wars Story

Earlier today, the first Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer (embedded below) was released. Looks pretty cool. But I figure I would probably say that about any competent-looking feature film bearing the Star Wars name. I’m a fan. The Disney machine guarantees it will be big, high-tech, and marketable. Hopefully it will also be good. I was very much encouraged by The Force Awakens. I only see about four or five movies a year in the theater these days, and I’m about 90 percent sure Rogue One will be one of them for 2016.

But it does makes one wonder: Does the fact that The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie in a decade have something to do with fans’ thirst for it? And now, with Disney’s elaborate plans for the franchise — which include not only the sequel trilogy but also three other standalone movies being released on each side of the trilogy releases between now and 2020 — is there a risk of watering down the franchise into a rote, routine series?

I was talking about this with a friend a couple weeks back, and his take on it was that the Star Wars franchise in Disney’s hands is essentially like having a second Marvel franchise. It’s something that, given a large enough stable of directors, writers, and new stories (which in this franchise can jump between time periods), can be milked for years and years to come. After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no signs of slowing down.

I think he has a point. And after seeing the Rogue One trailer, I can see it even more clearly. Here’s a franchise with a captive audience whose connection may not be limited to the characters at all. As much as The Force Awakens promised to be a continuation of the Skywalker saga, that no longer seems to be the point. It’s the universe itself that will sustain the franchise — something long known to the people (I am not one of them) who have been into the various spinoff animated series, books, and video games. Now this strategy extends into the feature franchise itself. It’s something that Disney’s version of a Lucas-less Lucasfilm can and wants to do, and something Lucas himself could never have done, and didn’t want to. But isn’t there more of a danger now of people actually getting sick of Star Wars?

George Lucas commodified Star Wars. Make absolutely no mistake about that. But Disney is going to do tenfold what Lucas could only have dreamed. They are a machine. Lucas always wanted to be more of an auteur (even if he was a machine-like one).

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Honestly, I think I’m okay with it, so long as the machine cranks out a good product. Of course, the fact that it’s now, even more than before, so nakedly a product might seem a bit sad. But only a little bit.

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16 comments on this post

Tim
Friday, April 8, 2016, 4:43 am (UTC -5)

Disney & Marvel’s handling of the MCU thus far gives me great confidence that Disney will also be excellent guardians of the Star Wars universe. Let’s face it: this is where things were always headed, even if wasn’t till Lucas was dead. Just like Star Trek, it’s so firmly embedded in pop culture that the moneymaking opportunities are just too irresistible to whoever’s hands it wound up in.

I think we should all just be thankful it didn’t wind up with someone like goddamn Zack Snyder and whichever idiots are in charge of DC’S movie business nowadays.

Patrick D
Friday, April 8, 2016, 9:28 pm (UTC -5)

I’m frankly sick of Star Wars. Please don’t get me wrong. I *adore* the Original Trilogy (and would be first in line to buy an unaltered version of it on Blu ray). Apart from that, I don’t care one whit about Star Wars and frankly resent having the culture practically ram it down my throat on a daily basis. I can’t go a day without seeing a Star Wars image somewhere (I’m talking the real world, not the Internet)–and I live in a small town. I can barely go a day watching TV without a Star Wars reference being made. Give it a frickin’ rest already!

And and on somewhat related note, there’s barely a peep in the public sphere about the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. They’ll probably be a blurb about it on the news–if it’s not interrupted by an extensive report about George Lucas’ colonoscopy or something…

Chris L
Friday, April 8, 2016, 9:43 pm (UTC -5)

I was skeptical about Disney’s take over of the franchise until I saw the first trailer for Force Awakens. They seem to know what they are doing and the Star Wars universe is big enough to give us a lot of varied stories. The fun of Star Wars is in being able to play in that universe. Disney is giving us a chance to do just that.

NCC-1701-Z
Saturday, April 9, 2016, 12:39 am (UTC -5)

I for one am very interested in seeing Rogue One, but I do understand the concerns about oversaturating the Star Wars market; without trying to start a Star Trek vs. Star Wars argument, oversaturation did have a role in killing Star Trek almost for good. If you have one mega episode every 2-3 years versus one episode every year, I can imagine the excitement gradually declining year by year for the second scenario and charges of “milking the franchise” gaining clout as fatigue sets in, versus more “staying power” in the long run for the first scenario.

Then again, Trek vs. Wars isn’t really a fair comparison. It appears that Disney, thus far, is making an attempt to do something new and innovative with each of these “anthology” films to keep things fresh (i.e. next film will tackle a young Han Solo, etc). Trek, on the other hand, never really innovated or took chances with the franchise after DS9 ended, and when the later movies started coming out at a faster pace they began to feel less special individually (but that’s just my opinion and a whole other can of worms that can be discussed elsewhere).

So I may be too cynical here, but we’ll have to wait till Rogue One actually comes out to render judgement. But Disney is doing a good job with the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, here’s hoping they can recreate the magic with Star Wars.

Paul M.
Sunday, April 10, 2016, 6:16 pm (UTC -5)

I’ll agree NCC above. While I am a bigger Trek fan than I am Star Wars fan, I have to admit that SW presents a much larger playground for “sustained cinematic milking”. Trek has always been more at home on TV, exploring continuing adventures of a set roster of characters. The franchise has an established feel and morality that it can’t violate all that much. Star Wars, on the other hand, is much less about particular characters and morality plays and more about worldbuilding and mythology. It’s a huge sandbox that offers nearly unlimited option to creative film makers.

Latex Zebra
Monday, April 11, 2016, 8:39 am (UTC -5)

2 Movies a year set in the Marvel Universe… Love it and this from a DC comics fan.

I love Star Wars so one movie a year doesn’t strike me as over-saturation, I’m actually distressed that they have pushed back VIII to December next year now. My big concern is a young Han Solo film. I think they’ve made a mistake here. Sure there enough anthology tales that can be told that don’t need to potentially tarnish one of the greatest movie characters of all time.

Patrick
Tuesday, April 12, 2016, 4:30 pm (UTC -5)

To me, I look at the new films as a new Expanded Universe. They’re actually more like a TV show than anything else, with Force Awakens serving as the pilot.

The original trilogy will still be the real film series. But these films I kind of look at any other scifi tv series, and that’s the quality level I’m looking for out of them.

FlyingSquirrel
Thursday, April 14, 2016, 10:48 am (UTC -5)

Maybe if I were more of a “hardcore” fan I’d have a better appreciation for the Star Wars universe. As things stand, I feel like the picture is a bit incomplete. For example:

1) Were the Republic, the Trade Federation, and the Empire all fairly limited in their jurisdiction? I’m wondering how a world like Tatooine – which seems to be rife with corruption and organized crime – continues to operate as it does. Are the “authorities” unable to do anything about it, or just unwilling? I could see Jabba paying off the Empire in return for resources and/or intelligence on the local goings-on, but why would the Republic tolerate his operation?

2) Are some worlds mostly lacking in interstellar mass communication? In the prequels and the original trilogy, the existence of the Jedi and the Force seems to be an established fact that everybody knows about, but Rey appears to think the Force is a myth, and Finn is sufficiently ignorant about it that Han has to explain that they can’t just “use the Force” to pick a lock.

3) Has there not been any organized effort to explore, map, and catalogue solar systems and planets? The presence of the Ewoks on Endor seems to take the Rebels, at least, by surprise. I suppose this can be justified if you assume that the Rebels haven’t always been able to keep up with these sorts of discoveries and the Empire assumed they wouldn’t be a problem.

In thinking about two other sci-fi franchises that I’m familiar with or that involve interstellar civilizations – Star Trek and the Mass Effect video game series – I feel like I’d have clear answers to these sorts of questions, or they just wouldn’t arise. You never have Star Trek characters encountering a Federation planet where nobody’s heard of transporters or replicators, for example, or species in Mass Effect that think biotics aren’t real, because these things are known and communicated to pretty much everybody. A colony run by crime lords would clearly be established as not being part of Star Trek’s Federation or under the jurisdiction of Mass Effect’s Citadel Council.

Though again, maybe if I followed Star Wars in more detail I’d understand these things better.

Daniel B
Monday, May 2, 2016, 2:08 am (UTC -5)

“I was skeptical about Disney’s take over of the franchise until I saw the first trailer for Force Awakens. They seem to know what they are doing and the Star Wars universe is big enough to give us a lot of varied stories.”

No varied stories yet, as the Force Awakens was only the exact same stories we’d already seen.

JPaul
Monday, May 2, 2016, 1:00 pm (UTC -5)

I actually despise The Force Awakens because it’s a movie that tries to succeed by trashing what came before it. The original trilogy is a beloved story, and the writers of The Force Awakens couldn’t come up with a new story of their own, so they had to tear down everything that went on the original trilogy in order to tell the same story that A New Hope tells. Make Han, Luke and Leia into failures so a new generation can come along and fix everything they did wrong.

So to me, the possibility exists that Rouge One will actually be a much better movie than The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams isn’t producing or directing it, so it already has that going for it.

chris l
Thursday, May 12, 2016, 4:30 am (UTC -5)

@Daniel B
My point is that Star Wars allows for more varied stories, so it is possible to sustain a movie a year pace with out approaching burnout.

Q
Friday, May 20, 2016, 9:45 am (UTC -5)

And now we have first treaser of new Star Trek series too ;):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXpPweAooeE

Yanks
Wednesday, June 1, 2016, 7:34 am (UTC -5)

Well, one thing Disney has gotten right is they came right out and said ‘Rogue One’ is not part of the original story.

No quantum/parallel universe time travel split timeline crap there.

Pretty smart. Seems to me that another SCI-FI franchise could have employed such clarity.

Star Wars is an epic cash cow and there is no one better that could be at the utter than Disney.

Oversaturation? The current pace does not concern me. Will the market be tested?

I’m sure.

Samuel Stinson
Sunday, June 5, 2016, 5:21 am (UTC -5)

I amjust upset that Disney isn’t allowing its main character to be a person of color–each hero is now a white woman instead of a woman of color. What gives?

Samuel Stinson
Sunday, June 5, 2016, 5:22 am (UTC -5)

Disney could be trail blazing here, but they are taking a rather conservative tack.

Other Chris
Friday, June 17, 2016, 9:40 pm (UTC -5)

@Samuel Disney is doing what a lot of companies are doing these days: the absolute bare minimum in regards to diversity. They get the acclaim and the kudos for “going there”, but when you really examine these products (think Ghostbusters), you realize that the effort rings false. They’re tapping a market for added revenue, not adding anything significant to the culture for minorities and women.

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