I don’t know about you, but when Disney announced that Rian Johnson would be helming a new Star Wars trilogy, I was like:
And then after that, Disney announced an impending live-action TV series as well. So, that’s a double-Vader scream right there.
Is that unfair of me? Maybe a little. Look, I like Star Wars, you like Star Wars, and more Star Wars should be a good thing. Except that I feel a little like I just ran two marathons, I’m in the middle of a third, and was told that I need to run another one after that. Plus a couple of 5Ks every year in between the marathons.
Lemme stop you right there: there is nothing wrong with Disney saying: hey, let’s keeping milking the cow; the kids love it. Star Wars is a cultural staple and if we keep paying for it, they’ll keep pushing product. And we all know we’re going to see whatever this new trilogy is, because it’s Star Wars, right?
So, what I’m lamenting here is the fact that the more Star Wars we get, the less special it becomes. Eventually, it just becomes mandatory. It’s like when lovemaking turns into maintenance sex: both feel good, but only the first one feels right and the other is just incredibly rote.
If you grew up in a time before 9/11, you actually remember when there were, count them, three Star Wars movies and only one trilogy that had actually completed. Yeah, we had The Phantom Menace, but it was a weirdly botched operation and we were all like, well, I can kind of ignore that and still enjoy my originals. This was a time when you could say “I’m going to do a Star Wars marathon” and actually be done it in six hours and still have another 18 to have a normal day. One of my fondest high school memories was during the great North American Blizzard of 1996, where, God bless them, my video store remained open when the rest of the country shut down. That was the year I purchased my first copy of the Star Wars trilogy and watched the whole thing straight to stave off cabin fever.
Well, three movies gradually turned into six, and I guess you can still do a marathon, but man, that’s getting longer. And now we have eight films, with a ninth coming next month, and a tenth and eleventh on the way. And Disney’s now like: hey, you need to watch another three. And, oh yeah, here’s a pair of multi-season cartoon shows.
Those three films were special. They were a very closed story that we could enjoy in a tight space. Six films became less so. Nine is starting to get exhausing, and twelve is going to damn well kill us.
If you haven’t been paying attention: franchising is not doing great things for movies. Franchise fatigue, as it were, is becoming a real, identified problem. It is to the extent that, yes, these movies exist and people keep seeing them. But franchise films aren’t necessarily getting rave reviews, with some exceptions (people actually seem to like all these Planet of the Apes movies). Many are simply copying the Marvel model of making film after film, knowing that you’re going to pay and then go see the next one. And yet studios keep doing this, perhaps because they don’t know any other way of bringing in a steady stream of dollars.
One thing the original films had is the lost quality of replay value: they’re something you can watch again and again without wearing down. We may love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we’re now at 17 films in almost 10 years, with three more coming next year (and that whole X-Men franchise from that other film company). They’re all enjoyable, but how many of them do you honestly rewatch with love on an annual basis?
Disney and other film companies seem to have forgotten this concept: making a classic which would be a long-term investment to the company. This concept worked in the past, believe it or not. Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was a financial loss when the film first came out despite being a critical success. But the film had value long-term with many re-releases in the years that followed, until it finally became a merchandising juggernaut in the 90s when the Disney company discovered the value of marketing to little girls.
Star Wars, similarly, was a long-term success even in the years when there were no films in theaters. The franchise worked just fine with novels, comics, toys, and the rerelease of the films in 1997 was an amazing success that pumped up fans for the prequels two years latter. It may not have been a financial firehose year after year in those days, but Star Wars was nonetheless a steady source of income for George Lucas, and a special, cultural watershed for the rest of us.
Point is, Star Wars fatigue is setting in, and this new film trilogy is going to accelerate this. I mean, it might be good. It probably will be “good.” But I’m laying money that we’ll be worn out from five years of nonstop Star Wars prior to it, and we won’t feel the same sense of wonder and excitement that we did in the 1990s when we did our annual VHS viewing of only three movies.