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Going Rogue: Could Anthologies Be the New Sequels?
September 28, 2016 By Brad Young
Christmas is dead to me this year. December means only thing: Rogue One, the first part of Disney’s new anthology series that promises to expand the Star Wars universe and bring us new tales about characters and events attached to the core universe.
For people reading this site, the idea of extending a universe with spin-off stories is probably less than groundbreaking. For years, we’ve been reading novelizations, comic books and one-shots, crawling through board, card and video games, looking for the elements that expand our favorite fictional universes. Sometimes you’re helped by the strong hand of a creator to help it all fit together as canon and sometimes you just had to fight it out with your fellow fans.
But Rogue One is different. Rogue One is the first big budget, canonical, movie universe expansion (that I know of). The Marvel Cinematic Universe may combine individual hero and Avengers movies, but the stories of those tangential to the action, like the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., get the lower budget TV treatment and a very shaky footing in the canon.
For the first time, geeking out is getting the full tentpole treatment – and this could bring exciting times. Not just for Star Wars fans, but for what this could mean about the future of mainstream storytelling.
Every year Hollywood seems a little drier, a little more nervous. For every exciting new idea, typically made on a lower budget, there are plenty of completely unnecessary reboots desperate to milk the money cow. While these high cost, high reward films allow studios to invest in new stories and voices, it often feels like a cynical exercise in selling nostalgia for a strong opening week.
If Rogue One is a success – and with the hordes of new Star Wars gifts being created for it, it’s clearly expected to be – it could be a powerful message to the industry. You can enrich a fertile universe with new stories and still have a blockbuster. You can use the tentpole for all it’s worth to share exciting stories that would get hidden otherwise. This has been the way of comic books for years, but now it could be the way of Hollywood.
On this note, though, Rogue One may still disappoint. Despite early pitches of the movie as an Ocean’s 11 heist caper or a grittier view of the struggle of the rebels against the Empire, most recent reports suggest the last reshoots bring it closer to the feel and tone of the main franchise. Where it could be attracting a wider audience or sowing seeds for different Star Wars concepts, this suggests they’re playing it safe.
Likewise, the latest trailer relies on the familiar crutch of Darth Vader’s labored breath to tease audiences, perhaps lacking the courage to rely on its original characters. Even the plot, focusing on stealing the plans for the Death Star, falls back on the Death Star as the only threat in the galaxy worth worrying about – an issue that also hampered Force Awakens.
We’ll all have to wait for December for the full experience. However, television has already adopted the anthology format to stay keep viewers hooked, with True Detective and Fargo due or expecting third seasons, and the must-watch Stranger Things is exploring an anthology approach. If Rogue One helps this approach come to cinema and replaces sequels with reinvigorated storytelling, it really could be a new hope.
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