This article is the first in a new series by The Edge which sees a group of writers come together to talk about issues and debates within the entertainment industry. This time, prompted by the upcoming release of Rogue One, Anneka Honeyball, Rehana Nurmahi, and Rebecca James come together to talk about the expansion of fictional worlds, when it works, and when it does not. Listen to the audio of our conversation below.
This installment of ‘The Edge in Conversation’ began with a discussion of the newest expansion of the Star Wars universe, Rogue One, which is scheduled to be released 16th December 2016. The incredibly well known universe is seeing a massive expansion of its world thanks to the Disney purchase of the property from Lucasfilm. This began with the release of Episode Seven in 2015, and is being continued with the upcoming release. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the premise of Rogue One, it acts as more of a side story, relating to the events of the two main trilogies, but featuring new characters central to the narrative. The action occurs prior to Star Wars: A New Hope, and centres on the attempts by the rebels to attain the plans for the Death Star, filling in the gap between the original trilogy and the prequels of the early 2000’s.
The placement of the film is a potential snagging point for the film in terms of narrative, because the knowledge that the rebels are successful removes some of the dramatic tension from the story – it begs the question of whether this removes the uncertainty of success that many films are predicated on. In the place of this uncertainty, some of the appeal of the film may come from the characterisation of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and how she factors into the wider universe, but nonetheless, this particular story could be a little unnecessary – it largely depends on how the character is embedded into the world. This expansion also gives the opportunity to explore the character of Darth Vader further, because the character was badly served by the prequel trilogy – audiences didn’t get the satisfaction they wanted or expected from the exploration of the figure there. Rogue One is an opportunity to reignite the character and to make him scary again.
The planned Han Solo origins project then turned conversation to origin stories. Origin stories do not have the best track record, thanks largely because of the travesty which was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, generally accepted as one of the worst of the series. The X-Men universe is a particular example of how muddled and confused an expansion can be. Seemingly a victim of its own success, the commercial and critical success of X-Men: First Class created the impetus for further installments featuring the new, younger cast. The world was then confused by X-Men: Days of Future Past, and was complicated further by X-Men: Apocalypse, which left audiences unsure about the place of the original trilogy of films, and wrapped viewers up in considerations of the logistics of the paradoxical timeline. However, concerns about these films expand beyond this, as by and large Apocalypse was slightly disappointing, particularly with the characterisation of the villain. Compared to the cartoons and comics, this character felt impotent in his own right. Similarly, Days of Future Past comes from an idea which seems so good on paper, but which for some, failed to come off. Part of the problem stems from how The Last Stand closed so many doors, that this kind of reset was almost needed.
Questions then arose about whether anyone could think of an origins story which had actually worked, and Maleficent was the only one which seemed to fit the bill for the most part, however it failed at the last hurdle with the change of ending. While it is easy to understand that a film aimed at children doesn’t want to kill off the character whom the audience has just invested an hour and a half in, but as a film which deals with dark themes, the original Sleeping Beauty ending seems more in keeping with the tone of the film. Live action remakes or sequels/prequels seems to be the Disney way of expanding their universe, which have been a little hit and miss, and doesn’t really feel to be an expansion of the world. In particular, it seems that origin films that have been produced don’t seem to be as fulfilling as the original property. Superhero films seem obsessed with this idea of origins – how a character came to be the hero – when often these moments are the heaviest in a film. The non-linear narrative of Deadpool works really well in this regard. Origin stories don’t seem to translate well in film, and literature seems the better medium for this. It is certainly exciting to see that Spiderman has moved beyond this formulaic origin narrative. Comparing the successful expansion of the Marvel universe with the largely unsuccessful attempts by DC seemed inevitable after this consideration of Marvel’s use of origins. Marvel’s ever expanding world seems to be successful because each film has their own genre and style, and the directors are given a lot of opportunity to place their stamp on the franchise. Captain America is a World War One film, Thor is a fantasy, and the Netflix television shows have a very dark, ‘street level’ flavour.
Finishing the conversation the group turned to the forthcoming expansion of the Harry Potter universe, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Previously David Yates directed other installments in the Harry Potter universe, and it will certainly be interesting to see how his style, as demonstrated in the other films, translates into this new storyline which is set in a different time and space, but still in the same world. In many ways Fantastic Beasts is a new kind of expansion, with new characters and in a previously unknown space, however there have been hints that the five film series could stray into the Dumbledore/Grindelwald confrontation.
The main thing this discussion demonstrated was that we want to see the expansion of worlds which are created for narrative reasons, to tell new stories, rather than for monetary reasons, or because that’s what creators think the audiences want.
Look out for more ‘The Edge in Conversation’ in the future.