It is a Period of Civil War…
May 4th came and went this year with notably less Star Wars fanfare than we’ve come to expect since 2013. Absent were the Disney store offers or Solo teaser drops, and on a personal level it came up just once in a muted office conversation. As far as I can tell the only significant Star Wars related event yesterday was that tickets for Solo were finally on pre-sale.
It’s understandable. Even on its own terms, this May 4th was always going to be difficult for Star Wars. Disney has lost control of the narrative to the extent that The Last Jedi is now accepted as a problematic – at least – entry to the saga, while the box office drop speaks for itself. May 4th is obstinately an event “for the fans”, yet Disney knows that widespread fan disenfranchisement is a huge obstacle for promoting Solo. Why would they risk giving the fans a voice just weeks before the new movie hits?
These factors alone would be enough to dampen any Star Wars Day celebrations. Yet unfortunately for Lucasfilm, that’s only half their problem.
41 years ago Star Wars may have written the rules for summer blockbuster event movies. Yet this year, Infinity War became the crown jewel in a new beast of a fully-armed and operational cinematic universe.
The in-house competition between Star Wars and Marvel looked relatively one-sided after The Force Awakens. That inexplicable juggernaut of a film surpassed the first two Avengers films at the box office with ease, setting records aplenty in the process. To the casual viewer, Star Wars was back – other franchises could take a seat.
2016’s Captain America: Civil War, an Avengers film in all but name, never troubled the top 10 all-time box office list – but in hindsight, it may have been the moment that the balance began to shift.
Whether introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man reinvigorated the cast, or by the recognition that the MCU was on a remarkably consistent run of quality (as competitors such as DC fell by the wayside), Civil War marked the point at which the MCU shifted up a gear. The characterisations, built on years of painstaking continuity, contributed to a bust-up that left both sides scarred. After eight years we realised how much we cared for these characters.
Thor: Ragnorak, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol: 2, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man Homecoming didn’t set the box office alight, although it’s arguable that they were never meant to. It’s more important that these films didn’t disappoint.
And then The Last Jedi happened.
I’ve already looked at the box office before (check out that assessment here). Yet a more telling example of how The Last Jedi failed to deliver on expectations comes when it’s compared to the first MCU release of 2018: Black Panther.
By beating The Last Jedi’s box office total, generating insanely positive word-of-mouth and enough repeat viewings to guarantee that it’s still in theatres today, Black Panther delivered a tight, entertaining introductory story that remained true to the MCU. The fact that a solo Marvel film beat a tentpole Star Wars release is no mean feat.
It also did so while demonstrating real-world political awareness; something that The Last Jedi attempted with great clumsiness and mixed results. It is true, and fair to mention, that the two films attempted to do different things. Yet they largely service the same crowd, and when placed side-by-side, as per their release schedules, Black Panther’s dominance only confirms the gulf in quality between the two franchises.
With blood in the water, Infinity War could not have arrived at a worse time for Lucasfilm.
I doubt that Disney will mind that one of their franchises is stealing another’s thunder. But when they dropped a cool $4 billion for Star Wars back in 2012, it’s a fair bet that they thought Lucas’ franchise would become their star player.
As Thanos’ plan comes to fruition, so does a decade of hard work, planning and execution for Kevin Feige and the Marvel team. Infinity War looks set to break a billion at the box office in record time, while other records have tumbled in the week since the film was released. It’s being talked about in comparison to The Force Awakens in terms of potential box office performance – with a chance that it could even exceed Episode VII’s total.
What is more noticeable when comparing the two franchises is that fans actually like Infinity War.
Sure, it’s a film that rewards those who have seen every previous MCU film (which is why I don’t think it will beat The Force Awakens at the box office in the end). But isn’t that what films that form part of a series should aspire to?
It’s fun to see different characters mix it up because when they’re handled with respect and consistency we can enjoy the fireworks that inevitably occur (Iron Man and Star Lord, take a bow). It’s exciting when something happens that only makes sense because we’ve seen a previous film – as fans of the series it’s great to be rewarded for our fandom. With Infinity War I’m grateful to Marvel for making my investment over the years worthwhile with a film that massively delivers on what went before.
As for the Sequel Trilogy, full as it is of character assassinations and
cowardly writing subversion? That’s… not what I was in the market for, thanks.
With the new Star Wars cartoon Resistance warning that Lucasfilm won’t just let the sequel era die with Episode IX, Star Wars is indeed ploughing on into a brave new era – one without fans. It’s a bold approach, for sure.
Ultimately, the most succinct way of comparing Star Wars and the MCU comes from a comment on a clickbait article over at Slate.com (and for once the comments are worth reading):
How many of you are excited to see what happens after the events of Infinity War?
How many of you are excited to see what happens after the events of The Last Jedi?