Disney is Giving ‘Star Wars’ the Marvel Superhero Treatment

By  · Published on September 18th, 2013

When Disney announced that their future, non-trilogy Star Wars movies would be origin stories, two things struck me as funny.

One, we already got an origin story of one of the universe’s most iconic characters (he was supposed to be the chosen one!), and pretty much everyone hated it. Maybe the problem was that it took three movies instead of one?

Two, Disney wants Han Solo to be their Iron Man.

They haven’t concretely confirmed that they’ll be focusing one of their stand-alone movies on Solo, but he seems like an obvious choice alongside Yoda and/or Leia, and regardless of which character they feature, the studio will have pulled a kind of Reverse Marvel by taking a sprawling, established film universe and re-introducing its players as monolithic superheroes.

I get that that’s normally called a spin-off, but after the enormity of Marvel’s Avengers success and with Disney owning both properties, it’s difficult to avoid seeing this franchise move in non-Assembled terms. It’s also unusual to see a pure spin-off in the movie world (it’s a tool best utilized in the realm of TV and other places where we’d better call Saul), but the method has seen a slight resurgence in the past two decades. Going back further, Star Wars itself has already played the spin-off game with Ewoks: The Battle for Endor and Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.

Why they chose to focus on Ewoks so heavily is a baffling mystery (that’s actually easy to solve when you look at the target audience and the popularity of Muppets at the time).

If you don’t buy the Reverse Marvel model, perhaps the closest thing we can relate to the upcoming interstitial movies written by Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg respectively would be Wolverine’s origins popping off of the X-Men franchise.

It helped that they could do an origin story with a character that essentially looks the same in any era, a helping hand that the storytellers for Star Wars: Origins won’t have unless they focus on Yoda. For a character like Han Solo, the greatest challenge won’t be in finding the right adventure, but in finding the right actor to introduce us to a person we already know – like River Phoenix becoming young Indiana Jones in 1989 for Last Crusade without the safety net of a Hat Swipe to Harrison Ford fighting off the Portuguese Coast for a gold cross.

Robert Downey, Jr. was perfect for Iron Man, but the guy who was already perfect for Han Solo won’t be able to play the young version, meaning that they need to find someone else who can nail the part and carry a feature on their own.

Whoever ends up playing Young Han Solo, or Young Leia Organa, or Young Admiral Ackbar will have the weight of the world on them, but beyond the casting challenge, the origin stories offer Disney a chance at scaling back the scope while still delivering Star Wars movies every year in perpetuity. If one of them is a smash hit because of the actor or the character, the production can easily think about individual sequels, but if one isn’t deemed popular enough, they aren’t committed wholesale to making more.

The other advantage is that they move outside the current trilogy in order to find anchors, although it’s also plausible that Disney could seek to do individual movies for characters that are found exclusive in VII through IX. It’s a drawback in that they can’t shift popular spin-off characters into the current timeline like Marvel can with Iron Man and The Avengers, but it’s also a great opportunity to broaden our view of the Empire while deepening our appreciation of its characters.

It’s a gigantic universe after all. So imagine a timeline like this:

Now slap your forehead to stop it from spinning. This is just one of many possible futures, but it’s a shrewd calendar that ties Disney to Star Wars for almost a decade while still allowing for some pivot room if things aren’t working as well as they should. Marvel didn’t drop Tony Stark after a disappointing Iron Man 2, but film history would be drastically different if his first outing hadn’t been a success.

As an added creative bonus, if they choose to make the origin stories smaller in budget and scope – which seems a given considering they’re up against saving the entire universe in the soon-to-be nonatilogy – they can avoid audience blockbuster fatigue by giving us different views into the nooks and crannies of a time long, long ago. They could even follow the Marvel format further by making short film single shots of popular side characters.

With Emperor Palpatine and Pals, Disney has the benefit of having a popular cinematic galaxy already in place. All they have to do is explore it in an interesting way. They seem to understand that. At least Kasdan does. He said when he got the new spin-off writing gig, “I’m trying to start fresh. There are certain pleasures that we think the saga can bring to people that they’ve been missing, and we’re hoping to bring them that, and at the same time, have them feel that it’s all new.”

Just as Marvel can relish the success it built in a cave with spare parts by filling up the big screen with comic book legacies, the new team behind Star Wars can enjoy an ancient, three-decade-old storyscape with its own individual heroes on which to focus.

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