We are at a very interesting moment in TV and cinematic history. Over the past 30 years, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm have been able to do something that only Star Trek had arguably been able to do before: use movies and television to create a consistent, extended storyline and a fictional visual universe for fans to enjoy.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Cinematic Universe have one thing in common: they are each grounded in a single, linear saga. Marvel has the Infinity Saga, and Star Wars has the Skywalker Saga. Both entities have taken a different storytelling approach–with Marvel telling their story with very little temporal deviation, and Star Wars starting with chapters 4, 5, and 6, then going back to tell 1, 2, and 3, and then 7, 8, and 9–but both stories are, supposedly, complete. But, why are both studios continuing to hold on to the old characters and the old storyline?
Lucasfilm announced that they finished all 9 episodes of the Skywalker Saga, yet every other project that takes place in the Star Wars Universe is a story within that saga’s timeline. Star Wars: Clone Wars filled the narrative gaps between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Then they gave fans a plethora of projects which filled the gaps between Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. Those projects include Star Wars: Rebels, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and now Obi-Wan Kenobi. Disney+ originals like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett help bridge the gap between Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode VII: The Force Awakens. And there are more story-gap-filler projects coming like Andor and Ahsoka.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s creative boss, Kevin Feige, also insists that the Infinity Saga is done, and they are on to “Phase 4” of the MCU and the unlocking of a “Multiverse.” But why do the most successful movies continue to be the ones that prominently feature the original Avengers? And movies like Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Disney+ originals like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, and Loki either still rely on the characters or the storyline that supposedly ended with Avengers: Endgame. Even upcoming movies like Thor: Love and Thunder seem to contribute more to an extended epilogue rather than introduce something new.
Star Wars and the MCU also achieve common ground in the shared fact that every “new” project references the root story, and anything “new” featuring their legacy characters receives a spike in popularity as well.
Both studios have made it clear that they want to develop their cinematic universes beyond their original narratives and characters. But this reporter is wondering if they can?
Yes, there will be the diehard fans that have read all of the comic books, and other literary canon, who will be lining up to see any new content. But will that audience be enough, or will the cinematic universes expand too far with stories too complex and arguably too niche to attract the casual moviegoing fans, or the fans only tied to the original storyline?
The Marvel and Star Wars content libraries are already intimidating enough for new fans. Have you, readers, recently tried to get friends or family members caught up on the MCU in preparation for the latest movie when they have not even seen Iron Man? Have any of you made any boyfriends or girlfriends sit through the entire prequel trilogy and Clone Wars so they could “properly appreciate” Obi-Wan Kenobi? It takes A LOT of time.
This is a very intriguing time for anyone who loves movies and storytelling, and it should be studied in film class decades from now. We have a cinematic universe built around a single story. Even though Marvel arguably has separate storylines, they are all branches that converge into one main story. Decades of fan investment in that story and its characters is what makes story-extending projects easily profitable, and narrative consistency based on the root story gives the “new” projects pre-established validity, like a legacy freshman walking into his dad’s fraternity house during rush week.
At this point, the cinematic universes need their original stories. The common perception among fans is that all previous movies and tv shows need to be seen in order to understand the new stuff. But can the universe exist and grow without the story? Can we go to a planet on the other side of the galaxy and tell a story that never mentions the Skywalkers or Darth Vader? Can we have a new super hero movie that does not include ANYONE from the first 25 films and does not “require” new fans to watch everything beforehand? And will enough moviegoers be on board for a new story that relies solely on a pre-established universe? Or will we never be able to cut the proverbial umbilical cord? Is it really now only a matter of servicing the pre-established fandoms?
Only time will give us these answers. But if Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm find the guts to make that jump and find out, this reporter will be there waiting to see what happens.