In the past year, the once-golden Marvel Cinematic Universe has struggled at the box office, with both Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania and The Marvels failing to perform critically or commercially. There are a lot of culprits that can take some blame for this. The pandemic made some movie fans hesitant to go back to theaters (though comic book movies were the first to bounce back). Avengers: Endgame seemed like as good a place as any to get off the ride for casual fans of the movies. Those who stuck around after Endgame are increasingly plagued by superhero fatigue after 16 years of the MCU. And the output just hasn’t been as good.
I tend to think that all of those factors played a role in the sharp financial downturn the MCU has taken in 2023. But, it’s an objective fact that there was more MCU product put out in Phase 4 than in the previous three phases combined. As Marvel expanded into TV, it pumped out hours and hours of new content that fans were expected to watch if they wanted to keep up with the overarching story. You can argue that The Marvels works to explain whatever viewers may have missed, but the fact is that the sequel to a billion dollar movie had two characters on the poster that audiences would only recognize if they watched two different Disney+ streaming series. That the film opened to the lowest box office returns in the franchise’s history seems to indicate that general audiences aren’t keeping up.
Disney seems to understand that it has diluted its brand by pumping out so much content and tying its big blockbuster movies to the fortune of streaming shows. CEO Bob Iger admitted that the glut “ended up taxing our people, in terms of their time and their focus, way beyond where they had been” and “diluted focus and attention.” Perhaps in an effort to address that issue, there’s only one MCU movie, Deadpool 3, set to debut in 2024. But, Disney’s awareness is precisely what makes it so puzzling that its other mega IP, Star Wars, is set to follow in Marvel’s footsteps.
I’m not talking about any stated plan for the future of the series. All we know about the upcoming Star Wars slate is that the series that have already been announced, like The Acolyte, are still set to come out, and that there are three movies with dates (and others announced without many solid details). That hasn’t changed. But Disney’s decision to promote Dave Filoni to be the franchise’s Chief Creative Officer represents an unwillingness to learn from the recent failures of the MCU.
Filoni’s shows epitomize the problems that plagued Marvel. While it’s possible to enjoy Andor, for example, entirely on its own as a compelling sci-fi story, Filoni’s work is increasingly only compelling to people who love Star Wars lore. Ahsoka was a series about a character who originated in animation, which tied into even deeper elements of Star Wars lore, like Thrawn (and did so with a complete lack of craft). It’s the same issue that Obi-Wan Kenobi (which Filoni didn’t work on, but which feels in line with his ethos), The Book of Boba Fett, and The Mandalorian have had. The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian are as guilty as any MCU project of requiring homework to understand given that the Boba Fett spin-off took a break from following the famed bounty hunter to become a miniature season of The Mandalorian, that then led back into that show’s most recent season. That kind of interconnectedness seems to be pushing audiences to fatigue and indifference in the MCU and it’s a bad idea to build the future of Star Wars on that crumbling foundation.
Filoni and his creative collaborator Jon Favreau have described working on their forthcoming Star Wars movie as playing with action figures, and that outlook is the problem with Filoni’s corner of Star Wars. His outlook is that of a kid who grew up on Star Wars and can’t believe that he gets to play with these toys. George Lucas’ original films took inspiration from samurai movies, westerns, world history, the Vietnam War, and World War 2 dogfights. Filoni is a bad steward for the Star Wars universe because the Star Wars universe is all that seems to interest him. We don’t need to fill in increasingly small gaps. We need entirely new frontiers.
NEXT: Dave Filoni’s Mandoverse Movie Sounds Like My Own Personal Hell