Disney’s first Star Wars film only hit theaters five years ago, but excitement for the series has already faded. Box office reports of the latest trilogy, Rogue One, and Solo show a steep downward trend, especially compared to its predecessors. Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is over a decade old and has never been stronger. Avengers: Endgame, a culmination of 10+ years of stories, beat out Avatar to become the biggest movie of all time. So why has interest in the MCU endured over 23 movies and 12 years when moviegoers are already exhausted with Star Wars? The answer may not be as simple as you think.
Lucasfilm can certainly be criticized for its handling of the brand, but Star Wars fatigue isn’t solely the result of poor decision making at the top. Truthfully, its footing was never as secure as the MCU’s. No matter the quality of the films, Star Wars was always going to struggle to retain the attention of moviegoers. Here are just a few reasons why Marvel Studios continues to excite audiences who have already grown tired of a galaxy far, far away.
Marvel is a confluence of genres, Star Wars is one sub-genre
One secret to the MCU’s success is its diversity. Their movies are generally categorized as superhero films but, in reality, Marvel’s output represents wildly different genres. Captain America: The First Avenger is a World War II movie; the second Cap film, The Winter Soldier, is an espionage movie; both Ant-Man films are thinly-veiled heist flicks. Even the original Avengers follows the structure of classic alien invasion movies. Viewers are happy to revisit the MCU multiple times a year because, while the Marvel films have established a consistent tone, audiences still feel like they’re getting something different with every outing.
Star Wars, on the other hand, always feels like Star Wars, even when the franchise tries to do something different. Rogue One clearly wants to be a gritty war film focusing on the unsavory elements of the galaxy, but the Star Wars aesthetic gets in its way. Talking droids and Storm Troopers serve as constant and unwanted reminders of the film’s space fantasy roots.
The visual style of the 40 year-old series is incredibly iconic, but that is ultimately to Disney’s detriment. After only five years and five films, Star Wars already felt too familiar to viewers. Disney executives expected an annual franchise but found that audiences weren’t looking for a new Star Wars experience every year.
The MCU is more carefully coordinated
Much of the MCU’s success has to be attributed to the man leading the way. Every major studio tried to create its own intertwining movie universe, but those initiatives keep failing because they didn’t have someone like Kevin Feige. Feige has a rare gift for building larger storylines and frameworks which make the MCU feel cohesive but (usually) don’t hamper the creative visions of the filmmakers.
The new Star Wars trilogy felt less carefully coordinated than the entire last decade of the MCU. The Lucasfilm Story Group tried to mimic the model of the original Star Wars trilogy by handing each chapter of the trilogy to a different director, but didn’t designate a single individual with the last word on story decisions.
During the production of the original trilogy, George Lucas was the steady hand guiding the ship. Even when he had a co-writer, he was the one responsible for the story. Episodes VII-IX, on the other hand, lacked a single voice dictating the course of the trilogy, which explains why director Rian Johnson was able to take it in a completely different direction. No matter how anyone feels about The Last Jedi, allowing Johnson to alter the course of the new trilogy proved disastrous for Lucasfilm.
Following Episode IX, audiences feel soured on Star Wars. Rise of Skywalker abandons the themes and characters introduced in The Last Jedi. At the same time, it fails as a viewing experience in its own right. Based on reactions from critics and fans alike, neither side of fandom left the theater totally pleased with the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga.
Indiewire shared a rundown of reactions to the film. Last Jedi fans were, of course, frustrated by Rise of Skywalker‘s dismissal of key characters and plot points. But the majority of viewers sampled also admitted that the film felt bloated and at times nonsensical. The uneven-to-negative sentiment to Episode IX and the franchise as a whole could have been avoided with a more confident, capable hand steering the multi-billion dollar franchise, which is why the recent news of a Star Wars movie produced by Feige, a man whose track record with the MCU is as solid as Lucas’ with the original trilogy, is so enticing.
Marvel distribution is malleable; Star Wars is trapped in its cycles
Once it acquired Lucasfilm, Disney had virtually no choice but to initiate a new Star Wars trilogy. Since the franchise followed a specific template for decades, moviegoers expected a three-film series tying up the Skywalker Saga. But that structure posed several challenges.
Disney, seeing dollar signs in its eyes, decided to release a new Episode every two years. As a result, the end of production on one film bumped up against the start of production on the next. The Star Wars Story Group had little time to ensure the series felt like one multi-film epic instead of three separate parts. Disney wanted to milk its cash cow for all its worth but put the cart before the horse, forcing the corporation to put Star Wars on a brief (but costly) hold.
Due to how much significance Disney and fans placed on the trilogy, the films released between chapters of the Skywalker Saga felt inconsequential. Solo was the franchise’s first major box office disappointment. After viewers satisfied their curiosity with Rogue One, they seemed to decide they weren’t interested in Star Wars side stories. That forced Disney to shut down production on several projects in development, including movies starring Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi (before the now-delayed Disney+ series was revealed.)
Feige’s Star Wars entry is a standalone film, which may be a wise strategy for the brand’s entire slate of movies. By not prioritizing any one film or trilogy over the rest of its output, Lucasfilm may persuade audiences that every new Star Wars movie matters again.
Marvel Studios was able to chart its own path, unconstrained by what came before. Feige and his team started with the production of Iron Man and Incredible Hulk. Incredible Hulk features a Tony Stark cameo that ties the movies together, but not to the extent that it dictated Marvel’s future plans.
Marvel Studios continues to introduce new franchises rather than just milking its existing IP. Thanks to that strategy, Marvel doesn’t rely on any individual property. The end of Avengers: Endgame says goodbye to two of its most lucrative film franchises, but no one seems concerned about the future success of the MCU.
Plus, because it’s made up of so many different parts, Marvel Studios can gauge audience reaction to determine which paths to go down. Everything is expendable because Marvel Studios isn’t dependent on a single character or franchise. Every Marvel property following Hulk has received a sequel. But, if a movie ever fails to meet expectations, Marvel can reposition itself and chart a different course to the same destination.
Iron Man has always loomed large, but Marvel Studios developed a world rich enough to live on without its first hero. As vast as the Star Wars universe is, the first seven movies all focused on one Jedi lineage. When Disney tried to stray from that, the films immediately felt like side stories. Thanks to smart decision making and the deft hand of Kevin Feige, there are no side stories in the MCU (on the film side, at least). Everything ties together.
Starting in 2022, Star Wars films will trade off December releases with James Cameron’s Avatar sequels. But the jury’s out on if audiences will even be excited about a Star Wars movie every other year. The omnipresence of the brand diminishes its value. For decades, new Star Wars felt like something to treasure while we had it because we never knew when it would be back. Now that the brand is owned by Disney, Star Wars will stick around as long as it’s expected to net a profit while not damaging it to an unrepairable extent.
All fans hope that Lucasfilm impresses us with its next era of Star Wars. But Disney clearly has to rethink its use of the iconic series, especially now that it’s seen how it measures up to the continued success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.