Early in Lost in Translation‘s run, I covered Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The movie, while being successful at the box office, had its problems – awkward moments, odd pacing, weak writing. The entire Star Wars prequel series shared the problems, with a romance between Padmé and Anakin that felt rushed in Attack of the Clones. The sheer amount of events to be covered in just three movies was one of the primary causes; at best, only highlights of the Clone Wars, specifically, the beginning and the end, could be touched. Characters came and went without much fanfare but with backstory connected to the main characters; Clone Commander Cody and General Grievous both appeared from nowhere* but had met Obi-Wan previously.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe may hold the key to fixing the problems the prequels had, though. Instead of patching in details afterwards, the concept of a larger universe could be built up prior to the first production’s release. The idea changes from filling in plot holes and introducing characters who become important in a movie to laying out groundwork for projects that connect as a whole. The rushed romance in Attack of the Clones can be expanded on and given the time it needs in a televison series, which was the case with the Star Wars: The Clone Wars CGI-animated series. The animated series also showed Anakin’s slow fall to the Dark Side, making his Face-Heel Turn in Revenge of the Sith far more believable.
The key to this approach is to capture the audience’s attention and curiosity. In the past, the goal of a TV series, especially a science fiction series, was to get enough episodes for syndication and enough of a following to justify a movie. Books are routinely turned into films. Right now, there is a massive boom in comic book movies. Even tabletop role-playing games aren’t immune; Gary Gygax had been trying to get his Dungeons & Dragons RPG for two decades. The silver screen has been considered the ultimate production for some time now. However, Hollywood is running into problems. We here at Musehack have been covering it, from The Lone Ranger‘s belly-flop** to movie fatigue to Steve’s look at the inevitable bubble popping. Cable television is getting more attention, thanks to series like Dexter, True Blood, and A Game of Thrones. Even animated series are getting attention. Thus, use the movie as a pilot. Plan out movies to deal with big events in the plot line and use television to deal with reactions, romances, and slower moving yet still needed plotlines. Movies have limited run times; few people will sit for longer than two hours unless the movie is riveting. Television, however, allows for a more expanded plot. If the villain is manipulating people like pawns, a movie will make him or her obvious, while a television series can use subtle moments that lead to the reveal. The Clone Wars is a great example of watching a chessmaster play both sides of a conflict.
Let’s take Star Wars as an example. George Lucas released the original Star Wars first because it was self-contained and it got to the heart of the main conflict. If the movie failed, no cliffhangers would be left dangling. Star Wars would still be the first movie to be released if everything was pre-planned. Get the audience’s attention with leading edge special effects and a classic storyline. Afterwards, a TV series showing the fighting between the Rebellion and the Empire, introducing more setting elements and Vader’s search for the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, with everything leading up to The Empire Strikes Back. People following the TV series would know why the Rebels are on Hoth and the screen crawl would catch others up on events. Following Empire, a new TV series that leads people up to the events of Return of the Jedi, including Luke’s training, the search for Han, and the discovery of the second Death Star. The prequels can follow a similar format. The Phantom Menace introduces the new series, shows the beginning of the fall of the Republic. The follow-up TV series shows Anakin’s training, the budding romance between Anakin and Padmé, and early machinations of Darth Sidious, leading to Attack of the Clones. The next TV series is, essentially, The Clone Wars, leading to Revenge of the Sith. Optional TV series or series of series to bridge the gap between the fall of the Republic and the attack on the first Death Star.
The problem is audience fatigue. Star Trek ran into the fatigue problem when Star Trek: Enterprise lost its audience. Enterprise followed directly after fourteen straight years of Trek, from the beginning of The Next Generation to the end of Voyager, with a seven year period where Deep Space Nine accompanied the other two series***. The franchise should have allowed to lie fallow for a few years, until viewers wanted more instead of just expected a Trek show to be on. A project that incorporated both movies and television would need to be aware of the risk of a falling audience. The other problem is trying to get the audience in the first place. If the first movie fails, the audience for the project may not exist; no studio is going to throw more money into a project that has already floundered. The work put into the setting up the film-and-TV series will go to waste, possibly to be integrated into other works.
Back-filling, for now, may be how movies get plot holes fixed. With Hollywood seeing a burst bubble on the horizon, a new approach may be needed.
Next week, Ma and Pa Kettle.
* Actually, in non-movie works. Grievous first appeared in a Star Wars comic.
** Despite having a shirtless Johnny Depp in leather pants.
*** Three year overlap with TNG, four years with Voyager. Twenty-one years of Star Trek in a fourteen year period, ignoring syndicated reruns of the original series.