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Five Ways Star Wars Can Improve on Marvel’s Formula


If you listen closely, you can still hear it: The sound of people protesting Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm and its Star Wars properties more than two years ago. Their howls of indignation are still echoing today, even as Disney and the Episode VII cast and crew have done everything they can to assuage their fears. But they needn’t be worried, as Disney already has a proven successful track record on another undertaking: building the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

By now it’s no secret what the Mouse’s plans are for a galaxy far, far away. If Star Wars is the newest addition to the Disney family, then Marvel represents the overachieving big brother who’s already overtaken the house’s trophy room (as well as the box office). Many guessed early on that Disney is already in the process of grooming the Star Wars child to be just like its successful sibling, and that’s not a bad strategy to go with.

But Marvel’s rise to the box office throne hasn’t been a perfect ascent. They’ve suffered a bit from sequelitis, often painting themselves into a corner because they don’t want to try anything new. And although the latest crop of films, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy have brought back the charm, it’s clear that given the chance, the studio might have done things a bit differently. Here are five tweaks I hope the creators of the new Star Wars trilogy make to the Marvel formula:

1. Craft a decent villain. The Marvel films’ Achilles’ heel is without a doubt its inconsistent attempts to create a villain. Yes, the series has Tom Hiddleston as an effective Loki to anchor the Avengers films, but across the board, every other antagonist, especially Thor: The Dark World’s Malekith and Iron Man 3’s The Mandarin, has been unmemorable.

The original trilogy gave us some of the most popular villains in history, and even the prequel trilogy made an impression in that category. If J.J. Abrams and crew want to stay true to the roots of Star Wars, they’ll give us a villain worth hating. Bonus points if he’s effective in  and survives all three movies.

2. Don’t be shackled by continuity. Since the Marvel films are brands first and stories second, it was important to the studio that every film was aware it took place in a shared universe. That led to cameos of characters from other films being shoehorned into scenes where they really weren’t needed, and it really sapped some of the individual personality from each story.

Here’s where Disney could take a lesson from that other property it acquired two years ago: the Indiana Jones franchise. The character was spawned from George Lucas’ and Steven Spielberg’s love for Saturday morning adventure serials, and the movies reflect that by not worrying too much about telling an overarching story. Star Wars is based on similar source material, and it really works best when it sticks to that format. I’m not saying Episodes VII-IX be self-contained stories, but they shouldn’t be too concerned with lining up the story elements so they precisely fit everyone’s vision. This is especially true of the standalone films, speaking of which …

3. Dispense with the origin stories. Origin stories are kind of like mullets. Maybe at one time people actually wanted them around, but they lost their coolness pretty early on, and the only reason they still exist is because people are too embarrassed to point out how bad they are. Thankfully, Marvel’s onslaught of origin stories finally seems over, as most of their franchises have at least one sequel. (The exception is Guardians, which deftly sidestepped this problem.)

Already, two iconic Star Wars characters will be getting their own films soon, and a third is rumored. How refreshing it would be if these characters leaped onto the screen fully formed instead of bumbling through an awkward embryo phase. But unfortunately, Disney execs have pretty much confirmed that these films will be origin stories in some way.

4. Avoid the overblown, repetitive climax. This is one problem that Marvel STILL hasn’t figured out. Too many of their movies end with a massive, CGI-laden aerial battle, with giant ships firing lasers and explosions decimating countless buildings. Even Guardians, which took the MCU to space, has a climax that looks too similar to Winter Soldier and Avengers.

Star Wars has plenty of rich worlds that offer unique, visually exciting opportunities for the new films. Even the series’s dogfights and chases set in space feel different from every other one. It’ll be a challenge to reach the standards of the films before it, but at least it’ll make the new entries stand out more among Disney’s output.

5. Make a film with a female centerpiece character. This is by far the unlikeliest scenario. Marvel still averts its eyes and mumbles under its breath whenever it’s asked questions about a female-led film, but even if plans do move forward, it will have taken them way too long to let women share the spotlight.

Even though Star Wars films are pretty much mapped out until 2019, I’m hoping Disney isn’t afraid to take a chance on a movie carried by a female actress. What with the series about to snatch up an entire generation of new fans (both male and female), this is a great opportunity for Star Wars to really take us into a better future, one not tied to the gender politics of a long time ago.