UnMarvelling and UnStarWarsing

I’m a board-certified geek, and proud of it. I read fantasy series that are longer than 10,000 pages. I watch all of Jackson’s Middle Earth movies in a marathon. (The extended versions, naturally.) I have gone to a party dressed as a Slytherin student. In other words, I’m the prime audience for Marvel and Star Wars.

And I’m getting tired.

It’s not that I don’t like Marvel or Star Wars anymore. I like water plenty, but if you give me too much of it, I drown. (Or I get tired of all the rain. Or I complain about the flood. You get the point.) And that’s really where it feels like we’ve gotten to with both Marvel and Star Wars.

Case in point: Ahsoka is now airing week by week on Disney+. You would think that I would be watching each episode, looking forward to hearing what happens next. Instead, I’m . . . ignoring it. Not because I think I’d dislike it. Rather, I feel like in order to enjoy it properly, I’d have to rewatch about a hundred hours of tv episodes and movies, and I just don’t have it in me to do that. Ahsoka is a character introduced in a film (Clone Wars) that was turned into a cartoon (Clone Wars). It’s got characters from a different cartoon (Rebels) and from the movies (Star Wars). It incorporates narratives from a tv show (The Mandalorian). Do you have to watch all of those to “get it”? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet it’s made on the assumption that you know who all the characters are and what their backstories are. There will be reveals that are supposed to be shocking, but if you don’t know who’s who and what’s what, you’ll just be left scratching your head.

That’s a problem.

It’s the same problem Marvel’s facing now. I’ve ignored She-Hulk completely. I haven’t seen Ant Man 3. I’ve lost track of who was doing what with who and when and where. And to get back to the point where I can really get it all, I’d have to either rewatch the movies (and the tv shows), or I’d have to read a ton of website summaries.

To enjoy a 2 hour movie.

The thing is, I like all of these things in moderation. I’m even willing to extend the definition of “moderation” to include 10 movies. But once you get much beyond that, I start to get confused. I forget. And this is coming from me, a person who will happily throw himself into a book that’s incomprehensible at first, confident that I’ll figure it out in a hundred pages or so, and that it’ll be worth it when I do.

The Avengers arc in Marvel was fantastic. All those individual movies that ended up tying together into a huge plot arc? I loved it. But we’re beyond that now. I get that it’s tempting to keep falling down the rabbit hole for film makers. They want invested fans who keep coming back again and again. Repeat customers. But at some point, they need to understand they’ve locked in their audience and are actively turning new people away, and alienating old fans. That big audience they had will get smaller and smaller until it’s not worth exploiting any more.

And that’s sad.

I have it happen in books sometimes. Because it can be years between when a series starts and when it finishes, I can lose interest in reading a series that won’t be complete until 15 years from now. Honestly, there are times when I get to feeling that way with some of Brandon Sanderson’s latest books. Getting back up to speed on what’s happening so that I can understand what happens next is a commitment, and when I know I’ll have forgotten a lot of it by the time the next book comes out . . .

It’s tough, because I still love connecting narratives. When I find a show I haven’t seen that’s already complete, and has all that deep back story, it’s a blast to watch. But I’m thinking more and more that there’s a limit to how big these connected universes can get before they get crushed under their own weight. There’s a reason comic books reset themselves fairly regularly.

My hope is that as this narrative form continues to develop, creators will begin to realize the sweet spot, and more will be made in that zone. Series that aren’t too short, but aren’t too long, either. But making things like that costs money, and spending that amount of money can be daunting, since there’s no guarantee of a payoff. We’re seeing the flip side of that with several shows now, where they get canceled before they have a chance to gain traction with an audience.

So I end up feeling like Goldilocks, complaining about series being too short or too long.

Can’t we just have more that are just right?

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