The Marvelfication Of Star Wars Has Officially Begun
Shortly after Disney executive chairman Bob Iger stressed that the company will always prioritize “quality, not volume” during a presentation to investors last week, Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy announced ten brand new Star Wars television series and films coming to movie theaters and the Disney+ streaming service. That’s on top of existing and ongoing projects like The Mandalorian, Lucasfilm’s first live-action TV series, and Disney+’s first monster hit.
The Mandalorian is currently winding down its second season. Not long after it returns for a third season it will be joined by two new series that are supposedly “set within the timeline of The Mandalorian”: Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka, starring Rosario Dawson as the live-action version of the popular animated character who first appeared on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
All three shows will then cross over in some kind of event series for Disney+ down the line. It’s an unprecedented concept for Star Wars — but it sounds exactly like the model Lucasfilm’s sister studio Marvel uses for both its movies, where Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America led to The Avengers, and television shows, where Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil became The Defenders on Netflix. And that is not an isolated example in the upcoming Star Wars slate. Nearly everything Kathleen Kennedy announced during Disney Investor Day connects in a Marvel-esque way to other existing Star Wars projects. Andor spins out of the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series will bring back Hayden Christensen and Darth Vader. The animated series The Bad Batch is not only a spinoff of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it also features a supporting character from The Mandalorian.
Increasingly, it looks like Lucasfilm is transitioning Star Wars from a galaxy far, far away to a full-fledged cinematic universe much like the hugely profitable one Marvel designed over the last decade. That this move is happening on the heels of a year when Avengers: Endgame became the biggest hit in the history of cinema and The Rise of Skywalker became a critical and commercial disappointment (it grossed roughly $1.7 billion less than Endgame and $1 billion less than The Force Awakens) makes it hard to believe the timing is a coincidence. To paraphrase a great Jedi, “Begun, the Marvelfication of Star Wars has.”
Granted, Star Wars has included character crossovers and multi-franchise stories in the past. Before Boba Fett became a cult figure in The Empire Strikes Back, he first appeared in a cameo in the misbegotten Star Wars Holiday Special. Shortly before the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy premiered in theaters, Lucasfilm released a multimedia project called Shadows of the Empire, which encompassed novels, comics, toys, and video games. In recent years, Solo: A Star Wars Story ended with a surprise cameo from Darth Maul, who hadn’t starred in a Star Wars movie since 1999’s The Phantom Menace.
For decades, though, these were very much the exceptions, not the rules. By the time Disney purchased Lucasfilm, there were thousands upon thousands of pages of Star Wars novels and comics, and they were deemed so inessential to the overall continuity of the franchise that in one fell swoop they were erased from official Star Wars history and declared non-canonical. (These pre-Disney stories, including Shadows of the Empire, are now referred to as “Star Wars Legends.”) And while Lucasfilm has often created many different ancillary materials like these through the years, they’ve only ever released on one movie project at a time: The Original Trilogy, The Special Editions, The Prequel Trilogy.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, they did begin making “Anthology” films like Solo outside the main Skywalker Saga. But they were treated as secondary titles to the primary franchise, and the company mostly kept the movies each distinct from one another. The connections that existed — like Maul in Solo — were not marketed as selling points, the way Marvel might promote Thor: Ragnarok with its special appearance from Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, or the way the only thing we know about Rangers of the New Republic at this point is that it’s set in the timeline of The Mandalorian and will eventually connect with it in some way.
There’s also been a notable Marvelfication of The Mandalorian between its first and second season. The show’s first eight “chapters,” despite their obvious references to the old Star Wars movies, were very much a distinct and separate work of storytelling. You could have never seen any previous Star Wars movie and totally understood what was happening. That all changed in Season 2, which has drawn heavily on previous Star Wars movies and shows. Episode 1 introduced Boba Fett’s armor; the character himself returned in Episode 6. Episode 3 saw Mando team up with Bo-Katan, a Mandalorian hero from the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Two weeks later, he met Ahsoka Tano, also from The Clone Wars. Both episodes felt like backdoor pilots for the characters, and at least one of them was, as Star Wars: Ahsoka will be coming to Disney+ in the near future.
Although Marvel President Kevin Feige has yet to publicly comment on the rumors, the internet was rife with stories last year that Feige was quietly working on a Star Wars movie. Some reports claimed the project was far enough along that he already had a star in mind for the film. True or false, Lucasfilm made no mention of a Feige Star Wars movie during Disney Investor Day.
Either way, Feige’s influence — whether direct or indirect — is obvious in this new Star Wars slate, which features movies and television shows joined in an intricate web of characters and stories. (Just one newly-announced projected, an anime series called Star Wars: Visions, appears totally separate from the rest.) For a very long time, you could just watch the Star Wars movies and have a handle on all the key characters and the story. In a few months, fans will need to follow way more than that — and maybe even go back to rewatch older series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Rebels — to fully grasp what’s going on.
When Star Wars made its debut in 1977, its business model of merchandizing and sequels became the template for generations of blockbusters. No franchise was copied more than Star Wars. When the series returned in the late ’90s, it continued to lead the way, introducing new technology and expanding its branded tie-ins even further than before. Star Wars subtly turning itself into Marvel In Space suggests that its era of total Hollywood dominance and clout may be coming to an end. Now Marvel reigns supreme. It’s their universe; we’re just living in it.
Gallery — Hilarious Foreign Titles For Popular American Movies: