So Joss wants to make a Star Wars movie...
He's one of the emperors of contemporary geekdom. It's one of the few enduring legacies that billions would sell souls just to be part of. And now the man who gave the world Buffy, captain Mal Reynolds, Dr. Horrible, a black-and-white Shakespeare movie, and the Avengers Initiative openly admits he wants to step in the shoes of George Lucas, J. J. Abrams, and Gareth Edwards and make a Star Wars movie.
But aye, there's a rub, as the Bard from Stratford-Upon-Avon would say: he said he'd do it if it's not connected to any other movie.
Here's the direct quote:
Do I want to make a Star Wars movie? Yeah. I was like, "I don't want to make a Star Wars movie. Like, God damnit. Why?" But I saw the trailer for Rogue a while ago, and I was like, "I want to do that". To make a Star Wars movie and not be wed to the bigger picture.
Sorry, Joss, but if you want to make a solo Star Wars movie, there's already a 'Solo' movie being made!
But in all seriousness: few can't empathize. Joss was famously worn ragged after Avengers: Age of Ultron. The beauty of Marvel's master plan of the MCU is how fluidly and neatly each movie snaps into place with each other like Lego bricks. The characters don't just age, they develop. Tony Stark now isn't the same guy from Iron Man or even The Avengers. Steve Rogers went from the noble and virtuous icon of American ideals to an international fugitive who questions his alliances. And even little details like, why does Thor have to fight Malaketh alone in a catastrophic portal-filled battle in the Thor: the Dark World, but all six of the original dream team are required to break into a small stronghold in Age of Ultron? In fact, it seems to be a running gag in the solo movies when some character coyly asks about the Avengers or where the rest of them are. They're a slight turn of the head away from looking straight into the camera and asking the audience, "Did ya catch that? We know you're thinking it. Nitpick THIS, you ungrateful twats!"
But Marvel has a grand plan. By planning out each movie, each character has to be in a particular place by the time they appear in the next film. Captain America: Civil War may have been the trickiest of all, which had to believably place the characters on their sides for causes that feel right by the characters, but also balance out the two sides. As I pointed out before, Stark and Rogers started out anti-government and pro-government originally and respectively, but their ideologies evolved to the opposite sides after all they'd been through with the Red Skull, Loki, the Mandarin, the Winter Soldier, and Ultron.
Imagine being given a chessboard in mid-game. And your job is to move the pieces into another set position, where another guy will take over. It's doable, challenging, and as long as you can have a certain realm of creative freedom, it can be fun. But Joss (As well as Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, James Gunn, et al) had something even more intimidating at stake: to make a coherent narrative into a good movie where Marvel and Disney would make kajillions of dollars. So given that Joss pulled this off for two movies in spades with this in mind should impress you even more.
So is it any wonder why the God of Geeks, the sovereign of superheroes, the colossus of comics wants to make an independent movie, part of one of the most famous franchises, but steering clear of in-canon continuity?
Let's talk about the concept of continuity for a moment.
For the longest time, series followed what's called, according to Tvtropes.org, "negative continuity". It's been a powerful go-to for writers in creating series that allows almost total freedom. Have you ever wondered how characters like Donald Duck seem to have done a variety of careers, such as park ranger, a construction worker, toy wrapper, car mechanic, window washer, zookeeper, army private, Navy sailor, or an assistant on Noah's Ark? Unless we accept the idea that Donald is just a Hollywood actor playing these roles (As suggested by The New Spirit and The Autograph Hound), there's no way Donald could consistently be all these things. There wasn't any need back in the thirties or forties for movies to have to follow arcing storylines because each eight-minute cartoon had so little time to establish where they came from and who they were that it just became easiest to throw a personality in a variety of situations. If a joke worked better if he were in space versus in the army, then so be it. Charlie Chaplin, Tom and Jerry, Felix the Cat, Batman, the Animaniacs, Bugs Bunny, and Betty Boop were the same characters in each picture, but their settings altered frequently because it suited the needs of the story.
I admit I don't know when it truly started. Maybe it goes all the way back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's' Sherlock Holmes novels. Maybe the Penny dreadfuls of yesteryear. But I like to think it came from comic books and television.
Movies in a series could come out every year, maybe two or three back in the forties or fifties. Audiences would watch them, go about their lives, and struggle to remember what they saw some months ago. Not a difficult task, to be certain, but compared to the luxury of television, well, it was far easier. With Davy Crockett, Zorro, Star Trek, or other shows, the story would continue every seven days, not months. And comic books were, by design, made for continuity, given that readers would buy a comic book, read it, and keep it. So after Frederic Wertham swooped in and made comics stupid, it was fiercely bittersweet to read about when Superman used to fight Nazis and in less than a decade, was in all sorts of wacky shenanigans in his marriage with Lois Lane. Both introduced that oft-despised, equally thrilling three word phrase, "To be continued"
To be continued. The phrase itself implies that the story being told is bigger than one comic or one half-hour of TV could contain. How exciting!
When I was a kid in the early nineties, watching the Disney Afternoon or Nickelodeon, there would invariably be one episode where a fictional character would appear in their universes: sometimes they would be the celebrity in their fictional character costume, other times it would be the character him or herself transported from their favorite media. The main character would thrust them into battle with Shredder or Fat Cat and stand on the sidelines shouting helpful phrases like "Use your blast ray gun like you did in episode 326, "Attack of the Sludge Mummies!". This was, if nothing else, a naked display of the writers inserting their own fanboy fantasies into the shows that they were now old enough to create. However, it also brought up some interesting questions: like if whatever heroes we looked up to could have certain technologies, abilities or tricks up their sleeve like they displayed in previous episodes, why didn't they use them again in in other episodes? We never really got answers to them but that was sort of the point. These episodes were usually mocking the tropes we saw over and over in our classic favorite TV shows and serials.
But now that we had VHS tapes and old comic books in our attics, only reminding us of the great stories we loved in the years before, they were now reminding us of the clichés and the tropes we'd seen a million times, and now they couldn't be ignored any longer. They had to be enacted upon, and our heroes now had to be more realistic. They had to recall experiences to make sure that the enemies would go down in a believable manner.
Even more confusing, we now had to choose our favorite versions of the things from the same universe. Which Batman did you like best, Adam West? Christian Bale? George Clooney? Michael Keaton? Kevin Conroy? If you like Star Trek, did you like William Shatner or did you like Patrick Stewart? We now try to find the definitive version of our favorite fandoms.
But Star Wars has a whole different set of issues.
Much like the Harry Potter franchise, what makes the story work isn't the setting or the characters. What makes it work is the story that's being told. Strip everything away from Star Wars; take away the light sabers, Take away Darth Vader, take away Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, and what you have is a story of a powerful government being taken down by a small force rebels. This is a powerfully consistent and relatable story that transcends across generations, nay, hundreds of years, across people of all nations. The laser swords and good/evil religious dichotomy makes it iconic, but the narrative is what makes it endure. But at the end of the day, how many stories are left to tell?
I know, I know, there's a ton of books exploring the tales of other Jedi warriors, but what makes Star Wars so popular is its basic story of revolution. Even the prequels and the new trilogy can't just abandon it, seeing as they use the the senate, the council, and the First Order as the establishment to fight against.
Unlike Star Trek, which can do any story imaginable as long as there's the Federation, phasers, and transporters, Star Wars needs more than light sabers and the Force or it's not Star Wars. Joss Whedon could probably do it and possibly do it well, but it'll be tricky. It has to be wed to a bigger picture for it to be Star Wars or it won't be Star Wars. Rogue One is outside the continuity, but still ties back to the theft of the Death Star plans, which set Episode Four in motion.
1972 was when the Watergate scandal was made known to the public, and 1975 was the end of a twenty year war in Vietnam that was a major source of discontent in the American public. By this time, the American public did not trust their government. We realized we lived in a country that wasn't as virtuous or glamorous as we had been led to believe. If our government could spy on people with few repercussions or send 58,000+ soldiers to their deaths to a war that was a lost cause, how could we, as citizens of the United States, trust them? Here was this major superpower, possessors of atomic energy, fighting in foreign lands we had little business in, under a government that felt just in spying on certain people. Is it any wonder why Star Wars: A New Hope was such a big hit in 1977?
Bottom line: if Joss wants to make an independent Star Wars movie, he has to find either a new establishment for the Jedi to fight against (again) or find a new story that can somehow keep the spirit of the franchise alive with a completely new type of threat.
But on the other hand, Joss is a fantastic director. He gets how his fans think and what they want to see in a fan-favorite movie. He knows how to incorporate fresh, fun action with witty one-liners and likeable characters. He can do it, that I have no doubt. But given the challenges he faces, it may be tough one for Joss. Unless the schwartz is with him.
Of that we have no doubt.