Playing it safe
Despite the similarities in approach, however, it turns out the intent behind these soft reboots are quite different. The Walt Disney Company is clearly in the position of wanting to not only capitalize on its $4 billion investment as much as possible, but to also earn back the goodwill of fans who collectively felt shortchanged by George Lucas’ creative change of heart (and, perhaps, erosion of filmmaking skill). An example of this can be seen in the cancellation of Lucas’s Clone Wars animated series, set during the heart of the prequel trilogy, and the institution of Disney’s own Rebels, which transpires in the several years before the original film.
In this way, essentially retelling A New Hope – while still adding enough new narrative materials to make The Force Awakens feel at least somewhat fresh and compelling – is playing it safe rather than wanting to rewrite history; Disney is being the prudent investor rather than the total revisionist.
Disney and the new leadership at Lucasfilm’s decision to unabashedly reboot the Expanded Universe of novels, comic books, short stories, and videogames is another manifestation of this approach, wishing to send the unambiguous signal that a new page is being turned and that it’s safe for all the fans - both old and new - to come jump in the narrative pool. Given such creative decisions, it’s really no surprise that Disney is already a significant way towards making back its $4 billion. Star Wars has become more successful than ever, begging the question: will The X-Files follow suit, catching that same lightning in the bottle that it originally did 23 years ago?
But “success” in either commercial or Hollywood’s own internal terms is a fluid benchmark, and one that is becoming ever-more-shorter-lived; Superman Returns made more money at the global box office than Captain America: The First Avenger – and it did so five years earlier, meaning it doesn’t have inflation on its side – and yet one property was deemed successful enough to go on to become a massive franchise, while the other was chucked aside in bitter disappointment. It doesn’t take much for a studio to change the metrics of its measuring stick.
Or, for that matter, for audiences to do the same. J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek remake – which, like The Force Awakens and The X-Files’s tenth season, was a combination of a reboot and a continuation – was widely embraced by viewers, but now that Star Trek Beyond is aiming to double down on that movie’s formula for success, audiences have already met it with near-uniform disdain.
There’s one final perspective to adopt in our survey, one that is long-term in nature instead of immediate. While Disney’s shareholders are clearly celebrating and Fox’s executives are eagerly anticipatory – and while there is obviously more than enough room for a solid level of quality to be delivered in these new Star Wars and X-Files offerings – it’s not at all clear that, in the final analysis, fans are getting the ideal advancement of their respective overarching narrative. Forget about having a satisfactory new chapter – is it ideal? Is it the best, most inventive, and most artistically sound way to explore these beloved characters and story beats?
Call this the film scholar lens. What will the next generation of media consumers, those fanboys and -girls 30, 40, or 50 years from now, think when looking back and having the full context of history to gauge our popular culture mythology? Will they see a seamless narrative and thematic progression, or will they detect naked corporate (or narcissistic) self-interest?
Part of this, one has to suppose, will depend on how the next iteration of these seemingly never-ending franchises will play out, and whether they will once again prioritize the status quo over evolution.
Are you excited for the next installments of these rebooted continuations to arrive? Are you convinced that a whole different creative approach was necessary – and missed? Have any thoughts as to how Episode VIII or The X-Files’s potential season 11 will play out? Share your insights in the comments below.