Wednesday 22 March 2023

On outgrowing franchises (Star Wars, natch)

"Is it enough that they can fly now?"

The very nature of television franchises is repetition: give them the same thing, only slightly different. Like eating the same bowl of porridge, just with different lighting. Characters do not evolve: they stay the same through the entire series. Their nature, interrelationships and circumstances shape the franchise stories, which always follow a similar pattern (or you're not getting greenlit), and everything resets at the end of every episode. 

This way, the series can be watched out of order in syndication. If the characters evolved and changed, you'd need new sets, new locations, new characters, and it would no longer be The Show anymore. Friction/conflict generates stories, and that comes from the dynamics of the cast. Someone is always the foil, for example. 

Real changes in franchises only occur when actors ask for too much money, or ratings dip and the show runners get desperate and add a cute fluffy dog to the cast. Or Ted McGinley, the Patron Saint of Shark-jumping, if you want to kill the show off quick. 

Eventually, after a couple decades of this endlessly churning story watermill, you get bored. People stop watching. Ratings dip. Cancelation strikes and the program is shipped off to the archives, or that Christian station that still airs Happy Days.

Times change, too, and what young viewers want to see now isn't what I wanted to see thirty years ago. I'd say kids are more media savvy (and saturated) than I was as a kid. I only had 3 channels plus PBS. Kids today have cable, multiple streaming services, movies, internet, YouTube, Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook (or is that just for old fogies now?), cell phones, and stuff I'm not hip enough to keep up with. 

Franchises need to grow and adapt to stay fresh; sadly, such change also risks alienating earlier generations of viewers. 

Star Wars is a toy line with a film franchise that's migrated to television, where Mando remains Mando and Grogu is eternally an insufferably cute marketing placement. I mean baby. Even the films just cycle through the same stuff, blowing up the Death Star over and over and over again, or recycling the stories of entire earlier films, just juggling the order of events. Empire or First Order, Rebellion or Resistance, nothing really changes. 

Fortunately, by the time you're on the brink of death from boredom, there's a new generation waiting in the wings to replace you; after that, marketers don't give a crap what you watch. Just toddle off and die under a tree somewhere, old timer.

Franchises like Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars I don't enjoy much anymore. It all blends together now, like some kind of gigantic genre pastiche golem. 

Took long enough! 

I tapped out of Who with the later Matt Smith era (too convoluted, characters all sound the same, and when everyone is snappy and glib, no one is), Star Trek changed too much (got dark and more like Star Wars), and Star Wars pumped out a deluge of poorly thought out content.

It's long past time I was done with Star Wars, in particular.

It is explicitly made for children. I'd say the first two films (Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back) are all ages films, but Return of the Jedi (and the Ewok merchandising placement) aimed at a much younger target audience, and the Prequels even more so. 

George Lucas has repeatedly and loudly affirmed that the films are for kids.

Maybe we should listen to the guy.

For example, in Kenobi where they escape from an Imperial base with Little Leia Lulu hidden under Obi Wan's trench coat, he looks like a character from the cartoon Bojack Horseman. I kid you not. I don't think this is political commentary on the Empire (which was an impressive logic pretzel someone tried to construct, and kudos for the effort), but if it is, it's preposterously hammy. My bet is that the writers thought little kids would find it funny, and they very well may. No doubt it's been tested with focus groups. It's Disney after all.

Yet when I was a kid, I hated shows that talked down to me. 

Some kids (and some adults!) will love Kenobi, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.

The characters in Kenobi have no more dimension than the cardboard cutouts populating The Abominable Book of Boba Fett

I am greatly enjoying shows like Severance, Better Call Saul, The Expanse, The Boys, Barry, Dark, Mindhunter, The Witcher, To the Lake, Bojack Horseman, Devs, Brooklyn Nine-nine, White Lotus, and Tales from the Loop. Many of these are bleak, but I find them much more compelling than Star Wars.

The whole franchise has been pulled along for almost 50 years based on the strength of the first two cinematic outings. Personally, I think they should have aimed at all ages rather than titling so far towards kids, but that's just me. 

I understand Taika Waititi is making the next Star Wars flick. If any director can get me to throw money away on this franchise, it's Taika or James Gunn. Both are smart, funny and have a strong creative voice. 

Jojo Rabbit showed Taika's got things to say; he comes across as someone with artistic integrity (and maybe also a creative madman; I cannot imagine trying to pitch the concept of that film and getting a green light). My fear is that Taika's sense of humour would make him a much, much better fit with Flash Gordon than Star Wars. 

The tone of Flash Gordon is almost identical to Ragnarok. They're a perfect match: both are fun, irreverent, wahoo space adventures. Pure fun.

The original directors of Solo were fired for deviating too much from the Star Wars tone (presumably making the film too funny), and I suspect Taika would make a wickedly funny film that is totally unacceptable to Disney stakeholders.

Change, just not too much change.

Could be wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok, and expect to like Love and Thunder (EDIT: I hate Love and Thunder). 

I was going to post this last July, but Andor really surprised me, so I shelved it for awhile. Andor's definitely for adults, and won't appeal to most kids. Hell, a lot of adult fans found it boring, but I loved it. That said, the whole franchise can't move in this direction: there's not enough of an audience for it, and you can't afford to alienate kids. 

But it was nice to see the franchise stretch.

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