Should Franchise Revivals Aim For Nostalgia Or Innovation?

Studios are increasingly picking up older franchises just to essentially reboot them. Is this the right move – or the best one for fans?

Season 9 - 10 Reasons Why We’re Worried about the X-Files Revival

If rebooting properties – such as Casino Royale and Batman Begins – was all the rage in Hollywood in the ‘00s, then this decade’s quickly-emerging trend seems to be revivals. Whether it’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Dumb and Dumber To, or Twin Peaks’ third season, picking up long-dormant franchises for a brand-new spin around the block(buster) seems to be the wave of the future. And it’s easy to see why: the studios are able to bank on nostalgia while audiences still get new content. It’s a win-win scenario.

At least, it is in theory. In reality, it seems that one particular approach to this revivalist craze has already become the dominant strain: revival-as-remake. In this permutation, a sequel story also serves as something of a soft reboot, where, in addition to seeing how the cast of characters continue to change over time, audiences also get the narrative deck cleared away and essentially reset for a whole new generation of fans to undertake eerily similar adventures as their pop culture predecessors did 20 or 30 years before.

This is precisely what both Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the beginning of a whole new trilogy of Star Wars adventures, and the X-Files “event series,” which may kick off several more mini-seasons, are in the midst of doing. If both prove to be either creatively or (especially) commercially successful, this could potentially provide the predominant influence upon Hollywood for the next decade – for better or worse. Indeed, while this proposition might appear to be the perfect way to thread a franchise needle, it also runs the risk of undermining the narrative progress that the previous iterations of the properties worked so hard to build – and which fans deserve to see continue after all their years of dedication.


The X-Files TCA trailer (2016)

With both Star Wars and X-Files, the properties underwent a remarkable evolution over the years and across their many installments, whether the original creators wanted them to or not. For creator/writer/director George Lucas, he opted to take his prequel trilogy in an entirely different direction than the original films, highlighting political/social commentary and overall world-building over rollicking action (and character, though this last one probably wasn’t by design); if the two trilogies were paintings, Lucas opted to use warm colors for the originals and cool for the prequels, creating different-yet-complimentary palettes. In his treatments for Episodes VII through IX, George once again attempted to shuffle the aesthetics, hoping to make the third generation of the Skywalker family utilize a third narrative focus.

With The X-Files, creator/showrunner Chris Carter’s hand was forced by the studio’s desire for continued content no matter what. When it was decided for him that David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder would only appear in a handful of the eighth season’s episodes, Carter had no choice but to create a brand-new main character - a potential new protagonist for the entire show to transition over to. And this is precisely what ended up happening: by the end of that season’s run, Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick) is unequivocally made the head of the X-Files office - the best chance for the unit’s legitimacy in the face of the FBI hierarchy’s skepticism - and, of course, the star of the series.

Along with the change in the cast came a new focus for The X-Files as well, eschewing the human-alien hybrid clones – and the Alien Bounty Hunter (Brian Thompson) that policed them – for the brand-new human replacements/alien replicants/”super soldiers,” beings that are nearly indestructible and, thus, that significantly up the action quotient. It was a whole new day for the television show, with its writing staff quietly making plans to run for another set of seven or eight years.

Season 9 - 10 Reasons Why We’re Worried about the X-Files Revival

Except it ended up being a short-lived day instead of a new one. When the decision was made to end the series just a year later, Duchovny quickly returned to the fold to star in the two-hour finale episode – and, just like that, Carter unceremoniously dumped Doggett and his new partner on the X-Files, Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), rendering them background dressing while pretending that Mulder never went away. And when it came time to do the follow-up movie, I Want to Believe, Carter didn’t even bother to include either Doggett or Reyes in the slightest.

In this sense, the Star Wars sequel trilogy and the X-Files miniseries can both be seen as an attempt to steer both ships back to their original courses. The Force Awakens, headed up by new corporate owner Disney and a whole new slew of filmmakers, set the story three decades after Episode VI: Return of the Jedi but spun a tale that hewed remarkably closely to the original. Just as in Episode IV: A New Hope, The Force Awakens sees a fallen villain (who is secretly a Skywalker) pursuing a young, unknown, but nonetheless extremely Force-sensitive protagonist who is clearly destined for great things. X-Files’ “season 10” is Carter unapologetically throwing the last two seasons of his show out the window and getting to pretend that Mulder and Scully never left the office - even though it’s 16 years later and Mulder was a wanted fugitive by the Bureau for most of that time.

Next: Did Star Wars: The Force Awakens Succeed By Playing It Safe?

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