Bursting The Bubble: an article by: GF Willmetts.

Reading Wednesday that the first weekend returns of the ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ hasn’t had the success of its recent Disney franchise ‘Star Wars’ run did make me think how long before the critics will start yammering that the bubble has burst for all expensive SF films. Hopefully, they might just stay within the ‘Star Wars’ franchise as its Marvel Universe films are doing very well, thank you.

If anything, the real problem is Disney’s need for a return from its $4.05 billion (£2.5 billion) investment and to get into profit as quickly as possible. Considering this is now at least $8.2 billion, recorded in December 2017, one could say they’ve already achieved that in the space of 4 films so they have to accept the odd low grosser was inevitable. It’s not like the supposed ‘Star Trek’ jinx where only even numbered films did well or is it? There have to be other factors involved.

Bursting The Bubble
Where’s the damn wookie?

Having a new ‘Star Wars’ film and merchandise out every year is saturating the market somewhat. Unlike when the original three ‘Star Wars’ were films released back in 1977-83, there was little competition for viewer interest. When George Lucas did three more in 1999-2005, there was a little more creaking, mostly because there was a lot more SF films around and looking at the history of Darth Vader was seen more as a backward step than going forward with what was going to happen next. It wasn’t as though ‘Star Wars’ fans weren’t aware of his basic history.

I suspect us old-time viewers were more interested in the next step than looking back and Disney wisely chose to do that when they bought the franchise. However, this now appears to be the ‘Star Wars’ jinx. ‘Star Wars’ viewers don’t want back history stories, they want to go forward so maybe we might be spared ‘Luke Skywalker: The Missing Years’ or ‘Chewbacca: His Family Life Years’.

Something that needs to be considered with all the various SF franchises out there is there has to be a saturation level, especially with so many series on the market now. Science Fiction film has now gone mainstream and I doubt that it will ever go back into cult levels of struggling to get critical recognition anymore. Mind you, if you look at the most successful films, SF has been doing well for many years now and is enabling the ‘normal’ studio films to be supported now than the other way around. However, the studios need to respect the different ends of the market place.

I’m sure even most ardent SF fan would like wall-to-wall SF films but with the franchises would prefer not to be bombarded every year with them being seen as a cash cow, more so not having them trying to out-do each other, let alone other SF films that are out there. If you want regular viewing, there is always TV, which has also experienced a similar SF surge.

There are limits in the out-do stage where expectations become harder to do. That is what will ultimately break the resolve of even the most hardcore. I mean, how many ways can a lightsaber generate a laser light now? Ben Kenobi described the lightsaber as an ‘elegant weapon’ but the way it’s being turned now, anyone with little training can turn it into something destructive. In many ways, the Death Star itself is little more than a giant lightsaber capable of taking down planets.

A problem with any franchise is that there is a fear that if you damage or change the tropes that sold it in the first place then you will lose the fan-base. There is always bound to be a slice of the audience who will not accept any changes and move on. Equally, other people will be attracted because of the change as they see the series evolving and not remaining static. It’s also sort of a contradictory backward step considering that at the root of any Science Fiction story is a need for change. There’s still a necessity for a natural growth as well rather than do something for something’s sake.

To do a film purely for spectacle is not enough. We’ve seen what Ridley Scott did with the ‘Prometheus’ films to see that he moved away from extra-terrestrial to synthetic menace to realise he went in the wrong direction pre-Alien. His disregard for sympathetic characters you could care for was also another peg in the coffin. Milking the past too much isn’t a good thing and I suspect viewers would rather have been more interested as to what happened to Ellen Ripley next or would the xenomorphs still be out there waiting to pounce again. Somewhere down the line, the ‘Alien’ franchise has to come back to the ‘present’, maybe the Engineers will return to see what mess they’ve created. After all, they’ve had to have had more than one colony world or where did the Engineers starship come from that crashed on LV-426?

For the likes of ‘Star Wars’, to live up to its series title, it needs more battles between different factions who want to hold the sway of power in its galaxy. I suspect the various planetary populations would just wish it away if they could. After all, most of them are having a happy time without the need or care for who’s actually in charge and taking their taxes if they keep quiet and behave. If the ‘Star Wars’ franchise is to move on then it needs to address such issues to give any direction to what is going on than regurgitate what has gone on before. Do we need any more bigger and better Death Stars?

With a singular Emperor having held this galaxy in his grip for so long, even the rebels wanting to form a new singular control are bound to face a lot of tin-pot dictators who see themselves as the next natural leader than some form of democratic control. If it wasn’t for hyperspace travel, most planets don’t need some mega-government control running things unless there really was something out there which could jeopardise their galaxy.

Disney’s problem with their ’Star Wars’ franchise was a promise of an annual ‘Star Wars’ film. I commented a few years ago that it would be stretching their film production unit to do that. Their back history films was probably their solution. The real problem is likely to backfire. It would be far better for their fanbase to be hungry for the next film than being over-fed on an annual basis.

In many respects, the Marvel Universe films are actually doing the right thing so far. There might be an underlying theme and build-up to stop Thanos, but the other films are going in different directions than relying on that as their main objective. They’ve even broken past the origin story problem. The art for them is to keep doing that is new ideas and progress is the key. Sooner or later, one film is bound to backfire but it shouldn’t be seen as a disaster. To just rely on ‘spectacle’ misses the point as to what the SF fan wants out of their films which is good storytelling with the effects as the icing not the selling point.

I doubt if the SF film bubble is bursting any time soon but there does need to be more going than chucking money into a film and expecting a big return when missing the point that people want films to go forward than just filling the gaps. If you want a film series to grow from a beginning, then at least start at the beginning. After all, it works on TV.

© GF Willmetts 2018

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