• J.R. Zbornak

Guardians Of The Galaxy: Star Wars Is Not The MCU (Nor Should It Be)

It's hard to imagine a world without Star Wars. Ever since George Lucas introduced his iconic space opera to the world in 1977, the Star Wars Saga has always remained a constant staple of pop culture. However, there are some who are convinced otherwise. While no one can really pinpoint when the long assembly line of fake outrage and toxic fandom originated online, the mantra "Star Wars is Dead!" has been repeated time and time again for almost as long as I've been alive. Whether it was the Special Editions, the Prequel Trilogy, The Clone Wars, Detours (which never saw the light of day) or the Sequel Trilogy, there are many fans who really want the franchise to be dead. Has the series ever truly died? Not really. Its popularity has had its ups and downs, especially in the late 80's, but Star Wars has never died. It's too big, too influential, and too popular to die. Sure, it can stumble, but it will never die. Despite being one of the biggest franchises on the market, there's another one that rivals it in influence and popularity.

May 2nd, 2008 is a day for the history books. That was the day where Jon Favreau's Iron Man hit theaters, thus jump-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since then, Marvel Studios has released hit after hit, with many of them becoming some of the best reviewed blockbusters of all-time. The franchise has also made cinematic legends out of the Russo Brothers, Peyton Reed, Scott Derrickson, and James Gunn. Also boosted Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi, and Jon Watts to mainstream success. The MCU really hit its stride with the release of Joss Whedon's The Avengers in 2012, proving that Marvel was the one to beat. Under the command of producer, Kevin Feige, the MCU is truly one of the most consistent franchises out there. But like many successful things, there are downsides.

Many studios and producers have desperately tried to replicate Marvel's success, almost to no avail. Sony has tried building cinematic universes out of their Ghostbusters and Amazing Spider-Man franchises, yet neither one really took off, as the studio decided to reboot the franchises a second time to avoid future failures. Paramount put together a writer's room for their Transformers franchise as well as potential franchises based off of Hasbro toylines, yet nothing has been done. Universal infamously tried to jump-start a franchise with The Mummy, resulting in the death of their "Dark Universe" before it even had a chance to begin. Lesser known, yet equally as embarrassing, attempts at building cinematic universes have been quickly killed due to financial failure, such as Liongate's Robin Hood and Warner Bros' King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Speaking of Warner Bros, their experience with cinematic universe has been mixed. Their Conjuring Universe is still going strong, as all their films have been major financial successes. The DCEU has had its up and downs, but has finally found their footing with no sign of stopping. The future of their Monsterverse and their potential Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe all depends on the success of Godzilla vs. Kong and Scoob!. The point I'm trying to make is, all of these failed cinematic universes have two things in common; a lack of ambition and a lack of planning. No, Kevin Feige and his directors have not mapped out every single little detail of the MCU and to believe such a theory is foolish to say the least. However, Feige and co. did know that the importance of building a cohesive and successful cinematic universe is to focus on each individual film first. Sure, Marvel tends to often get lost in its set up, as Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron are hampered with set up for future movies, but they're the exception, not the rule. Studios see what Marvel is doing and immediately jump into crossover/set up mode and it reeks. You can't build a cinematic universe without making sure you have an audience for them first. The MCU will be fine because they thrive on their reputation and international appeal. But who is really going to jump up at the opportunity to see a movie based on one of Robin Hood's merry men? Not many I can promise you that. There's little to no benefit for a film or franchise that's based entirely around the "Just do what Marvel does!" mentality.

For the past couple of years, I keep seeing a common take repeated by mainstream pop culture circles "Star Wars should be more like the MCU". The basic message of this mantra is to "Come up with a plan". Others have said that the Star Wars Saga should emulate the MCU's methods of storytelling, mainly its shared universe format. Of course, who can forget the endless amount of "Kevin Feige should take control of Star Wars!" videos, tweets, and articles? To put it simply, Star Wars trying to act more like the MCU is a terrible idea. As I've mentioned above, nothing good comes from producers trying to replicate the MCU without understanding what makes it work. But trying to force a different method of storytelling to a franchise that's been around for more than 40 years isn't ideal either. Yes, Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are both owned by Disney, but that's not an invitation to make them exactly the same. While I know some Star Wars fans like to look down at the MCU, it still has it's own merit. The MCU's number one priority is to create memorable and relatable characters. Whether it's Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, or the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's track record with character is, in my eyes, equal to that of Star Wars. Not to say Star Wars has had a shortage of characters; BB-8, Rey Skywalker, Kylo Ren, Din Djarin, and Baby Yoda are just a few examples of modern Star Wars characters who have become icons. However, with the exception of The Last Jedi, none of the modern Star Wars movies have been "Character First" kind of movies. The Empire Strikes Back, Revenge of the Sith and The Last Jedi are the only installments of the series to be fully character driven. Should there be anything from the MCU that Star Wars can take inspiration from, it should be placing a greater emphasis on character. And if I'm being honest, that should be it.

It's no secret that some Marvel alumni are entering the world of Star Wars. Jon Favreau has had major success with The Mandalorian, Kevin Feige is currently planning a Star Wars movie of his own, and Taika Waititi is apparently being courted to direct a Star Wars movie. Many have made the assumption that the involvement of these filmmakers means their making the franchise more like Marvel, for better or for worse. I don't think that's the case. It's easy to see the differences between Jon Favreau's work on Iron Man and his work on The Mandalorian. A few similarities yes, but they're still different. The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be the biggest franchise in the world, but its style of storytelling, mainly it's shared universe format, work for it and it alone for the most part. Star Wars doesn't need that. As I mentioned, a greater emphasis on character should give Star Wars a boost, but it doesn't need the grand theatrics of the MCU in order to survive. Star Wars and its creatives should focus on improving the methods of storytelling they already have. The Mandalorian is a step in the right direction, however, they shouldn't rely solely on that either. Move away from trying to replicate the style and tone of the Original Trilogy and focus on moving on. The MCU is great for what it is, as it's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the franchise myself. I'll even argue that there are a handful of Marvel movies (mainly the ones directed by James Gunn and The Russo Brothers) that can stand toe to toe with any Star Wars movie post-Empire. Yet, the two franchises are fine being what they are. The two franchises thrive on entertaining the audiences and fans that see them, but they're different. Not to say one is more fun or more cerebral than the other, but they should stay on the paths they're meant to be on. Star Wars doesn't need to be saved, never has, never will. To blame the division in the fandom squarely on the Sequel Trilogy is willfully ignorant. And to believe that Kevin Feige is gonna magically unite the fandom is a fool's dream. I shouldn't have to tell you that a specific part of MCU fandom circles on social media treat Feige, the Russos, and James Gunn the same way more undesirable members of the Star Wars fandom treat Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, and J.J. Abrams. Leaning heavily into one specific tone and making the series more accessible to international audiences is far from what Lucasfilm needs to focus on. Lucasfilm should bite the bullet and allow their storytellers to create. Rian Johnson, Jon Favreau, and Dave Filoni have proven what wonders can happen when storytellers are given the creative freedom they deserve. While Leslye Headland, J.D. Dillard, and Matt Owens have yet to reveal what their projects are, hopefully they will be given the same creative privileges as their predecessors. Taika Waititi and Deborah Chow have proven what they can do with Star Wars, directing the best reviewed episodes of The Mandalorian, their involvement should be crucial to the franchise's future. And yes, hopefully Rian Johnson will return to the fold as well. While Kevin Feige and the likes of Chloe Zhao, Cate Shortland, Destin Daniel Cretton, and Sam Raimi will more than continue the MCU's winning streak, their methods of storytelling are fine where they are. As long as Lucasfilm remembers that creative freedom and time management are important to the creative process, we shouldn't have any problems. Whatever happens, one thing will remain; The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars aren't going away for quite some time.


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