Why are so many Science Fiction properties disappointing now?
I remember seeing Empire Strikes Back at the Drive-In, and Return of the Jedi in the theaters. I camped out for Episode 1. I caught nearly every episode of Babylon 5, and Farscape, and Star Trek, and Buffy, and the Battlestar Galactica when they were on the air.
If I went back and told 24 year old Chris, the guy witnessing Y2k, and the change over to a new millennium, and told him I no longer care about Star Wars as a universe he'd look at me like I was insane. I no longer love Star Wars? But...lightsabers. Jedi. Yoda. Leia. Han.
How? That's impossible.
You're no doubt familiar with the controversy around the new films, especially if you've read any of the articles on this site. Every author at Scifireads has spoken out about Star Wars in at least one blog post, and other than The Mandalorian those posts have not had anything kind to say.
Disney broke the conventions of the Star Wars genre. They murdered the past. And they lost much of the fan base.
This is the same Disney that released Iron Man back in 2010, the movie that legitimized comic movies forever. It put them on the map in a new way, and before long, Marvel became the hottest universe in the world. I saw every last movie in the theaters, from Iron Man all the way through Avengers Endgame.
Almost all of them were great stories. Captain America, the Avengers, the Hulk, Thor...so many movies I absolutely loved and everyone of them brought to life the comics from my childhood. I loved those movies, and the sequels.
I haven't seen one since Endgame. They're still making them, but I'm not interested. What happened? It was no one thing, at least for me.
Some people question the political slant in recent Disney movies, and whatever side of the political aisle you sit (or if you just leave the building) many fans were irked. They don't want a message so much as a good story.
I don't think politics mattered much. A political bias can absolutely be inserted into your own work, and generally isn't a problem for most readers, if it's subtle. I do it in every one of my series. I don't think we can avoid our bias leaking in sometimes. But I know as an author it's my job to provide escapism, and that my message needs to come second to the story.
The stories in the new Marvel movies simply aren't good enough. They don't hide their messages, or if they do it's clumsily done. In my not-so-humble opinion, Captain Marvel was meh. So was Black Panther (though visually amazing). So was the 2nd Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Marvel movies were still good, but they'd gone downhill. They weren't breaking new ground. They weren't making me laugh, or delighting me in the same way.
Modern franchises wear a straitjacket. They cannot be too original, but they also can't be too similar. If you release another Terminator and the basic premise is one robot travels back in time, and another comes back to stop it, then you've already failed out of the gate. You are asking no new questions.
Terminator 1 was incredibly original. Terminator 2 riffed on the formula in an unexpected way. Every other terminator movie has the same 2 robots back in time to kill someone plot.
Fans aren't upset about their favorite franchises because of politics, or diversity, or other social stances, as director Rian Johnson accused the fanbase in the wake of the Last Jedi backlash. We're upset because they're rehashing the same stories over and over and over.
The new Star Wars is a reboot of a story we're familiar with. The new Star Trek movies, before being cancelled, were a reboot of a story we're familiar with. We were seeing content we've seen before. How many times do we need to see Peter Parker be bitten by a spider, Batman's parents die, or Spock and Kirk meet for the first time?
Re-imaginings are great, if they deliver a fresh story, with memorable characters. When characters become ticks on a page, and the story is "exactly what we did last time, but with these two twists" then fans will drift away.
We want great stories. Not the same story over and over and over. Not bad stories that break the universe, and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the material. We want to lose ourselves in our favorite universe, nothing less, and nothing more.
Until Hollywood stops playing it safe, and starts letting franchises evolve, they will only continue to lose fans. But what about Star Wars, you may be saying, the Last Jedi was as original as you can get? None of us saw that coming.
True, but the story has to be internally consistent with the universe. Characters need to act consistently with the previous behavior the audience has been shown.
Story first. Audience first. Hell hath no fury like a jilted fan base.
Chris Fox is the author of The Magitech Chronicles, The Void Wraith Saga, and many other fantasy and science fiction novels. You can find download free stories, artwork, and other goodies at Chrisfoxwrites.com