For me, Star Wars is all about the saga. I’ve been ambivalent – at best – about the idea of doing standalone spin-offs. Sure, there will be good ones and bad ones, and I’m sure I’ll go and see them all anyway.
But, I never questioned why Disney didn’t just apply standard Marvel principles to crack the Star Wars nut; now when I think about it, it does seem rather curious.
The patented Marvel Formula consists of a number of tent-pole film events, such as an Avengers movie, that are set-up and supported by any number of ‘smaller’ interconnected stories (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Doctor Strange etc). On the surface this seems pretty similar to their plans for Star Wars, doesn’t it? But actually there are subtle differences.
As the boss of Lucasfilm as a Disney subsidiary, Kathleen Kennedy has 2 primary objectives:
- Make great movies
- Build a Star Wars Universe
Disney didn’t pay all that money for one trilogy. However, Kennedy has confirmed that the Saga films will be largely independent of the standalones – the first of which was 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – and even these will not necessarily connect to one another.
Why didn’t Kennedy just copy Marvel? It would’ve been the obvious move (Warner Bros/DC did after-all, and numerous others have attempted it, e.g. Ghostbusters, Terminator).
I think the reason is that Disney has seen a weakness in the MCU, one I now see myself, and more clearly with each new movie.
The flaw is inherent. The Marvel films, like the comic books they are based on, are essentially a giant soap opera: endlessly entertaining, but without ever telling a proper third act. Like soaps, the films don’t get endings, they get arcs. Characters never die, and if they do they invariably come back to life. It is all confectionary – until eventually your stomach tires of sweets and craves a more substantial meal. This is what ultimately turns me off comic books, and what is starting to grate about the movies.
Everything has to build from, connect to and set-up everything else, and because the story can never be allowed to end, you can never feel fully satisfied. This is the reason why Thanos appears for no real reason in Guardians of the Galaxy, why Avengers: Age of Ultron lacked narrative cohesion and why Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was just a complete mess.
However, a true standalone need not connect up with other elements of the IP, and is therefore liberated to tell a story that builds to a proper conclusion.
As a first attempt, Rogue One fumbles the ball, but it was at least brave enough to satisfactorily end the story it is trying to tell. Any film which features massively outnumbered and outgunned rebels trying to steal secret documents, aught to be prepared to sacrifice its heroes. Killing Jyn, Cassian and the rest was the right decision, and was only possible because of the franchise structure Disney/Lucasfilm have put in place.
Of course, characters dont have to die: the heroes are still alive and kicking at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark for example, and we can be certain that Han Solo will make it to the end of this year’s standalone. I’m just hopeful that it’s a good movie which has a proper beginning, middle – and end.