Why Lucasfilm is failing to create the next Marvel Cinematic Universe

Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace | Lucasfilm

Some spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story are ahead.

Star Wars is going to be taking a long break from the big screen. After releasing movies in December 2015, 2016, and 2017, Disney and Lucasfilm waited just six months to put out Solo: A Star Wars Story. With Episode IX scheduled to release in December 2019, we have plenty of time to debate how director J.J. Abrams will wrap the sequel trilogy.

But in the meantime, Disney won’t exactly be sitting on their hands. A new cartoon TV show, Star Wars: Resistance, is already in production. Jon Favreau will be working on a live-action show, as well. Several novels and comic books are planned or already in production. In short, there is plenty to satisfy that diehard Star Wars fan. But can this expanded universe help Lucasfilm bridge the gap between Star Wars and the Marvel empire?

It’s a major uphill battle. Marvel is famous for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is a network of well over a dozen movies that all exist within the same story. Beyond that, there is also Agents of SHIELD and a handful of Netflix TV series that fall into MCU canon, but are mostly ignored by the events in the movies.

Lucasfilm would love to build a similar universe, and they’re well on their way — at least, in created content. Episode IX will be the 11th Star Wars movie released (at least in official canon), and there are plans for many more. Rian Johnson has an announced trilogy, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are making at least two, and it appears likely that a Boba Fett anthology film and an Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone are on their way.

But as far as making this universe interconnected goes, there are several problems. The most important of which is that there is no clear vision for how that can happen.

Let’s take that major cameo from the end of Solo for an example. In the final moments of the movie, it’s revealed that the true villain – the big bad, as it were – is actually Darth Maul. With his mechanical legs and new double-bladed lightsaber, Maul represents the head of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate and a major looming threat for sequel possibilities. Or maybe his own spinoff movie. Or maybe nothing at all.

Darth Maul battles Obi-Wan Kenobi in Rebels | Disney XD
Darth Maul battles Obi-Wan Kenobi in Rebels | Disney XD

Lucasfilm loves to tease things like this, without any clear direction that has been set. Maul was resurrected in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a canon cartoon set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. He also appeared in the later cartoon, Star Wars Rebels, and had his story arc come to an end with a beautiful final duel with the Alec Guinness Obi-Wan.

Having the former Sith apprentice pop up in Solo is a major treat for diehards that know Maul is alive, having survived his bisection in The Phantom Menace. But no doubt, it confused many movie-goers that immediately took to the internet to question Solo‘s position in the official timeline. Eventually, people will figure it out, but what’s the end game here? Is it simply connecting the expanded Star Wars media with the movies?

The first thing many fans thought when they saw Maul was that this would be an excellent tease for an Obi-Wan movie. And they’re not wrong, to a degree. If Maul’s appearance in Solo was just intended by Disney to announce his survival to the general populace, teasing him as the bad guy in the unannounced-but-inevitable Kenobi movie, that would be awesome.

But it won’t happen.

Maul’s story in Rebels is airtight, and there’s no way that Disney could put him on Tatooine to face off against Kenobi without retconning an entire arc on their beloved canon cartoon. If they were to do it, they’d be tooling with that whole interconnected universe they’re trying to create in the first place.

Had this been planned out from the start, maybe Maul never would’ve reappeared on Rebels at the end of Season 2. It’s possible Disney would’ve kept quiet on what happened to the character following the end of The Clone Wars, brought him back for the Solo cameo, and set the stage for an Obi-Wan movie that would have fans bouncing off the walls. But that level of planning simply doesn’t exist at Lucasfilm.

We need no better example than the sequel trilogy, itself. Abrams set up key plot points in The Force Awakens without knowing how they’d turn out. He simply handed the baton to Johnson for The Last Jedi, and many fans were frustrated with the end result.

On the opposite end, note the many ways in which Marvel has teased movies years in advance. Such as the Wakanda Easter egg in Iron Man 2, eight years before Black Panther arrived in theaters.

If Lucasfilm wants to make Star Wars the next MCU, they’re going to need to start planning ahead. It could work, if done properly. “Star Wars fatigue” is often the excuse I hear for why Solo has under-performed expectations at the box office, given its close proximity to The Last Jedi in release dates. But Marvel releases a new superhero movie every few months, and we never hear about “Marvel fatigue” being an actual thing that exists.

That’s because, by and large, Marvel gets it right. They plan things out well in advance, and the stories have a payoff for the viewers. It remains to be seen how the Darth Maul reveal will pay off, or if he’ll even make another appearance on the big screen. If he doesn’t, it’s a failure on the part of Lucasfilm.

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