Marvel is not Star Wars – and vice versa

Vader vs. Captain AmericaSo the spate of summer cons where Lucasfilm might announce news related to Episode VII has come and gone, and we’ve gotten some announcements, but nothing mind-blowing. As Dunc said earlier this week, let’s not lose our heads over it. Is it frustrating that Celebration Europe’s big reveal was John Williams, and nothing much came from D23 Expo? Perhaps. Especially when compared to the glut of Marvel movie news that came out at Comic-Con and appearances made at D23. But as film franchises go, Marvel is not Star Wars. And Star Wars is not Marvel.

At Comic-Con, Marvel brought out some big guns to rock the house at its presentation: the cast of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the super-sized cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy, Tom Hiddleston as Loki for Thor: The Dark World, and Joss Whedon announcing the title for the second The Avengers film: Age of Ultron. And at D23 Expo, there was new footage for both Captain America and Thor sequels. That’s a lot of stuff!

But let’s back up a step: From now until the end of 2015, there’s only going to be ONE Star Wars film. In that same time period, Marvel Studios has for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (currently distributed through Disney):

  • Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8, 2013) – currently in post-production
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014) – currently in post-production
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014) – currently filming
  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015) – filming to begin in early 2014
  • Ant-Man (November 2015) – beginning of Marvel Phase Three.

And that’s not including other movies based on Marvel comics from other distributors: X-Men: Days of Future Past, distributed by 20th Century Fox, is coming out in May 2014, or any reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise (also from 20th Century Fox). Want to climb aboard the MCU train? They’ve already got more movies than the Star Wars saga so far – all out in just the past five years. As for the stuff that Marvel has brought to the summer cons, most of it is for stuff coming in the next year: Thor and Captain America, and this is the last con season to hype those titles. Star Wars is still nearly two years away. Marvel movie releases are movie releases. Star Wars movie releases are events.

So Marvel Studios is currently sitting on the third largest grossing film franchise (after Harry Potter and James Bond – Star Wars is #4), and it has five films between now and the end of 2015. Star Wars has just one, Episode VII, in May 2015. Marvel needs to use every marketing opportunity to push its wares, because it is going at breakneck speed: two movies a year (2013 already had Iron Man 3 – how long ago does that feel?), and the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. Can casual fans even keep up with the hype? Of course the good news is that you don’t have to watch every single MCU movie to get the next one. Or do you? Iron Man 3 heavily relied on knowledge from the events of The Avengers to explain Tony Stark’s motivation. How do you keep up?

Going further into the future, Marvel Phase Three is not very concrete, but signs point to Avengers 3 and Doctor Strange following after Ant-Man, but not an Iron Man 4, and Kevin Feige might be planning all the way out to 2021. While on the Star Wars side, we’ll finally have our own glut of films: Episode VII kicks us off on a five year binge, alternating sequel trilogy episodes with standalone movies. It just takes a while to ramp this all up – and even then, it’s not going to be at a two-per-year-pace.

While it takes a lot to produce a movie, at least some of the basic story elements for a Marvel movie are already in place – a large slate of stories written in comic book form that can at least form the core elements of a new story, or provide new villains and heroes. Star Wars, while it has its Expanded Universe, is primarily a film franchise, and the story writers have a blank slate and George Lucas’ story ideas.

For Marvel, putting a title out there is important because it generally will connect with fans who know the existing material and immediately give them hope: Ultron will be the baddie of Avengers 2, and the real question is how to incorporate his origins (in the comics, he was created by Henry Pym, who becomes Ant-Man), and though there was an Age of Ultron story arc, Whedon has claimed that the Avengers 2 will be an original story with Ultron and not an adaptation of the 2013 story arc. Putting out a title for a Star Wars movie would have very little to lean on – and the initial reaction to two of the three prequel names was mixed at best (The Phantom Menace was at most confusing when it was first announced, while Attack of the Clones was blasted for sounding grade B campy).

While Marvel needs to push its slate at every opportunity because there is so much of it streaming out, Lucasfilm right now has a great opportunity to build up the wait and not spoil things too early, which might build buzz that crashes before the movie comes out. Right now, they are still just getting their ducks in a row – there’s no need to build up expectations with casting or titles or whatnot. Let that wave draw up at the right time, so that it peaks when Episode VII is released. While Marvel has been building its MCU pipeline for the past decade, the Star Wars production system is only now just ramping up again. As Mike Ryan pointed out in his history of Star Wars title announcements, we’re probably a year off from the Ep VII title announcement, and I think that’s a good thing.

With a single-movie-per-year approach, a one year timeline for the main hype is all that we need, and right now we’ve been stretched out to a two-year lead-in, what with the 2013 announcements, and the kick off for ticket sales for Celebration Anaheim. The party’s set, and we’ve been invited.

2014: Star Wars Rebels, and all the building up of Episode VII. Remember 1998. Square it. 2014 is going to be an awesome ride. And the ride’s just starting.

15 thoughts on “Marvel is not Star Wars – and vice versa

  1. Aaron

    Very nicely put. :-)
    And I’d like a t shirt with the line “Marvel movie releases are movie releases. Star Wars movie releases are events.”, please. :D

  2. jawajames Post author

    Thanks – Columbia Pictures will be distributing ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ in May 2014. There may be two more sequels to it planned, for 2016 and 2018.

  3. Dom

    What’s the source for the grosses of the film franchises? I’ve seen one source, but if I remember correctly it didn’t account for inflation, much less changes in ticket prices, larger international audiences, etc.

    That makes a HUGE difference because so many of Star Wars’ top performers were released over 30 years ago. I’m pretty sure (but haven’t yet calculated) that if one were to use real dollars or adjust for inflation, Star Wars would be the top grossing franchise.

  4. Dom

    ah, that’s it. I was thinking those numbers counted merchandising as well. I remember seeing these numbers in a really cool graphical display and while Star Wars movies were 4th in ticket sales revenue Star Wars was first in overall value as a franchise.

  5. taikwan

    Not asking for a banquet…just a crumb now and then. RotS – released in 2005 but we knew (or thought we knew) so much even as early as 2002-2003. And once we had Pablo diaries, it was a blast trying to figure out what he wasn’t saying.

  6. Mark Newbold

    Top article and totally agree, while the Marvel template seems like the logical one to follow, Marvel films are character based, allowing one-offs much easier than Star wars spin-offs, at least in the short-term.
    If Disney are able to manage Star Wars correctly (and that includes managing fan expectation which was displayed by fans disatisfaction – rightly or wrongly – over the lack of announcements at this summers conventions), then in a decade or so we could be in a situation where saga movies, stand-alones and TV shows are as ubiquitous as Marvel films. Episodes 10, 11 and 12 anyone? We were promised it a long time ago…

  7. Mike S

    I really do not care one iota about superhero movies or comic books. Star Wars to me, has an almost religious appeal and it is something I follow with all of my spare time.

  8. Crazy

    Mark Newbold – I think Star Wars can be every bit as character-based in some ways as the Marvel universe. I think it is easier to loose track of character developments in SW because of the scope of everything. (i.e., a whole galaxy vs. one world, main characters leading forces rather than fighting one-on-one with bad guys)

    I will add that I adore and follow various SW characters in a way I never have Marvel ones. Though Black Widow is pretty cool.

  9. John

    I’m just throwing this out there, if there is another train to jump on it is mcu. Mcu already has there characters and stories still very cool. Star wars does not. Great article and I agree fully.

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