Movies are increasingly taking on the characteristics of television, moving from standalone narratives to ongoing series—some of them with no finale in sight.
As Adam Rogers writes for Wired, “if the people at the Walt Disney Company, which bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, have anything to say about it, the past four decades of Star Wars were merely prologue. They are making more. A lot more. The company intends to put out a new Star Wars movie every year for as long as people will buy tickets. Let me put it another way: If everything works out for Disney, and if you are (like me) old enough to have been conscious for the first Star Wars film, you will probably not live to see the last one. It’s the forever franchise.”
And Star Wars isn’t the only franchise to leverage its imaginary universe, or “paracosm.” Marvel and DC Comics have similar plans to create all manner of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs. Paracosms ripe for additional mining include:
- Tolkein’s Middle-earth
- Lewis’s Narnia
- Greek and Roman mythology
- The Buffyverse
- King’s All-World
- The DC Universe
- Adams’s “Galaxy”
- The Marvel Universe
- Carroll’s Wonderland
- The Star Trek universe
- Bedrock (The Flinstones)
- Warcraft’s Azeroth
Beyond the relatively easy ability to make them—storylines being assembled and reassembled out of industrialized, prefab parts—the main advantage of the episodic approach is the customer’s pre-existing buy-in.
Noting that “audiences get a steady, soothing mainline drip of familiar characters,” Rogers adds that “the universe of Star Wars has more than an audience—it has followers. And followers are emotionally invested.”
Our soft spot for episodic media implies that our sense of narrative has been upended. We don’t want resolution so much as a never-ending escape from reality. (It’s no coincidence that these series tend to involve fantastical or superhuman elements.) On the other hand, these long, multi-generational, culturally shared journeys have something larger than life about them.
“It’s like continuing the construction of a cathedral someone else designed, or being the commander of a generations-long starship mission.”