The Deathless Franchise

As a werewolf who consumes media, I’m really tired.

Noted American musician and activist Frank Zappa once said that it isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice, because there are two other possibilities: paperwork, and nostalgia. While a world ended by paperwork was very easy to imagine, until recently I found it difficult to envision exactly what a world ending in nostalgia might look like.

Fortunately, we have contemporary media to provide us an excellent example.

We now live in a world where some franchises can never really end. Shareholder cabals and corporate executives refuse to innovate and so we’re stuck in a world where, for example, there will be a Star Wars movie every year for the forseeable future. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue to churn out film after film through phase after phase, and it’s exhausting.

The Lord of the Rings cinematic trilogy is widely considered to be one of the best movie franchises of all time, and that is largely because it told a compelling story with a cast of engaging, well-acted characters, it had good cinematography, excellent visual effects and a stirring musical score, and, I would venture to guess, that it was relatively self-contained. Each movie was fairly long, yes, but there were only three of them, so it wasn’t a massive investment of time and energy to watch through them at a rate of, say, one every weekend.

There are currently 19 feature-length films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in addition to several full-length Netflix series. There are eight main-track Star Wars movies with a ninth coming out next year, in addition to Rogue One and the Han Solo movie coming out this year. There are five seasons of Orange is the New Black, with a sixth in the works and a seventh supposedly already approved – a series that, it should be noted, has already lasted five times as long as the real-life imprisonment that inspired it.

These franchises cannot end, because they make too much money to end. The commodification of entertainment has created a situation in which stories can’t really have endings anymore because there needs to be a hook for the inevitable sequel. If there’s money to be made in creating a new Star Wars movie – and there is always money to be made in creating a new Star Wars movie – it will be made.

However, corporations, while holding the lion’s share of the guilt, are not entirely to blame for this. We as consumers bear some responsibility as well. Return of the Jedi wasn’t perfect, and as I’ve grown older I’ve come to accept it’s the weakest of the original trilogy, but it was an ending. It wrapped up lingering plot threads. It finished the arcs of all its major characters. We had that much. The story was over.

But that wasn’t satisfactory. We loved the original trilogy, and we wanted more. The reason the prequels exist, more than anything, is because we weren’t content with just three Star Wars movies. This led to three movies that never needed to exist. Everything about them is superfluous; we didn’t need to know what the Clone Wars were, or have additional characterisation for Anakin or Obi-Wan. The original trilogy left us with enough to go on. But we still wanted more.

There was a demand, and so eventually Lucasfilm came along with a product to meet it. It wasn’t a good product, but it wouldn’t have been made if people hadn’t wanted something like it. After the negative reaction to the prequel trilogy, George Lucas quite wisely decided to shelve plans for any more Star Wars movies, until, eventually, the franchise was purchased from him by an organisation less reluctant to capitalise on demand for new content.

And so, it seems, there will be a Star Wars movie ever year for the rest of my natural life. Because we can’t bear to let stories end, and because corporations will never tell us to stop being nostalgic if that nostalgia can make them a lot of money.

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