Franchise Me

The author contemplates how the new ‘Star Wars' model will impact the stories it tells AP PHOTO

The author contemplates how the new ‘Star Wars’ model will impact the stories it tells AP PHOTO

I haven’t yet seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I’ve heard enough rumblings about its four (!) sequels to already feel tired of the whole franchise.

Yes, franchise. The first one hasn’t even left theaters, and that’s where we are. Somehow that tiny paperback book that was little more than fanciful descriptions of monsters is going to spawn five movies. That seems quite a stretch to me. But now we’re also getting deluged in Star Wars thanks to “side stories” like Rogue One and the forthcoming solo Han Solo adventures.

Is there sometimes too much of a good thing? Yes, there is. I’m concerned that we’re becoming storytelling slaves to a canon — the canon of corporate interests.

In a press release shortly before the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, these ominous statements appeared:

“While Lucasfilm always strived to keep the stories created for the (Extended Universe) consistent with our film and television content as well as internally consistent, (George) Lucas always made it clear that he was not beholden to the EU. He set the films he created as the canon. This includes the six Star Wars episodes, and the many hours of content he developed and produced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. These stories are the immovable objects of Star Wars history, the characters and events to which all other tales must align.”

This would be one thing, perhaps, if George Lucas were still the main mind behind Star Wars. But he’s not, and Disney, in fact, chose not to use his preliminary ideas for the current trilogy. The direction of Star Wars is now the responsibility of a “story group” that aims “to oversee and coordinate all Star Wars creative development.”

What’s the result? Films that are “safe” or “boring,” to appeal to the maximum number of people. Films that take too much time trying to set up future films, instead of their own (as much of the criticism of Fantastic Beasts centers on).

I realize I sound like a hypocrite because it is well documented in the pages of this newspaper that I unabashedly love Marvel and DC. But I think other companies are taking the wrong lessons from the successes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel’s relentless model has become a beast of its own, but its origins are in the simple comic model — regular installments of different-yet-connected storylines. What makes that compelling — rather than oversaturated — is that new voices are constantly weighing in on a character’s development. Tony Stark as written by Matt Fraction is different than Warren Ellis’ take, which is different than Brian Michael Bendis. All these takes are, in turn, different than the film Iron Man.

The result is a prism of different perspectives — a recognizable but distinct incarnation for every author. It’s not unlike the ever-revolving door of Sherlock Holmes reinventions. It’s the same Holmes, but a different Holmes, every time.

This approach is discouraged in “cinematic universe” franchising — we want one Luke Skywalker, and only one Luke Skywalker, consistently presented, from now to eternity. We are ever building to the preordained crescendo, and there are no surprises or ambiguities here.