Cinematic Universe 2.0

Worldbuilding is kind of my jam. As entertainment media has shifted away from the Stories As Told By A Storyteller model to something a bit more ephemeral and interactive, I feel like worldbuilding is more important than ever. I remember writing research papers on the move from narratives that were entirely about characters to the idea of introducing an entire world with its own rules and concepts. It’s a surprisingly recent shift, as far as the whole of human storytelling goes.

Cinematic Universe 2.0

I’m also fascinated by big shifts in media development. The Marvel Cinematic Universe shifted the entire concept of the “summer blockbuster” from throwaway fun to a surprisingly deep, interconnected web of movies and shows that all link up. The biggest issue the MCU is dealing with right now is audience fatigue– people are getting a little tired of superhero movies dominating the scene. It makes the reintroduction of Star Wars so relevant, especially since it’s really apparent that we’re going to see a Star Wars Cinematic Universe in much the same vein as its Marvel precursor.

What I find interesting about this is the postmortem of the MCU– it’s obviously not finished yet, but there’s an interesting question about what lessons have been learned from the MCU’s arc– specifically, what is Star Wars going to do differently? Rogue One hints at this– it’s essentially a war movie set in the Star Wars universe, and I think it speaks to a bit of playing with genre within the setting. It’s a strong differentiator, since most of the Marvel movies follow the same theme of “superhero-action films” which likely drives audience fatigue. It’s entirely possible that we’re going to start seeing a lot of Star Wars movies in entirely different genres.

While it hasn’t been done before, the idea of a Star Wars war movie makes conceptual sense, and on the extreme other end, a Jedi-heavy movie structured like a martial arts film would also fit the setting, while being a heavy genre departure. There are a lot of possibilities, and the setting is big and varied enough to support a lot of them– a crime procedural, a disaster movie, a romance (read Lost Stars for an example), even a horror film could all work within the setting pretty easily. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably thought of the appropriate in-universe proper nouns that would go with all of the above.

I think that one of the big things that’s going to be important is figuring out all of the things that cause audience fatigue and working against them. Certainly they’ll have to do away with the classic opening crawl sooner than later, or it’ll become a tired trope very quickly. Character cameos will also need to be curtailed or kept to a minimum, lest the universe feel too small to fit all of these stories. I think Rogue One does a smart thing by emphasizing its unique title and not that it’s a Star Wars movie.

Furthermore, I suspect we stop seeing numbered “mainline” Star Wars movies after Episode IX, and a shift into a more disparate, more spread out series of movies rather than everything working towards a singular plot arc. It creates a lot of space for other media– comics, video games, TV shows, etc and allows the same experimentation that the MCU heralded with less risk of a single disliked offering bringing the entire thing down.

This might be my own bias talking– I checked out of the MCU because I find Captain America boring and eye-rolly, so I missed literally everything to do with Hydra. Essentially, two movies: the specifically Captain America one and Winter Soldier. Not wanting to spend the time with that section of the property meant that I found it hard to get into parts of Civil War (and disliking Captain America even more), and it left me uninterested in the MCU as a whole.

Star Wars can avoid this kind of outcome because it can separate its movies by genre and exclude entire portions of the setting without jeopardizing the setting. It’s entirely possible to have a Star Wars movie without Jedi, for example, or one that is entirely Jedi, and neither diminish the other. There’s even the possibility of setting up some unreliable-narrator stuff by having characters disbelieve the events of other movies– there’s already precedent for it in the original trilogy. It means that the audience can cherry-pick the parts of the cinematic universe that they like and skip the parts they don’t without necessarily being left behind by the whole.

Long story short, I’m really interested to see what happens in the next few years of Star Wars movies, and how they map to their Marvel predecessors.

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