This weekend, the new trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released, and it’s perfectly OK if you lost your mind. After all, Kevin Smith lost his mind. Chad Abbott (presumably) lost his mind. Oh, hell, everyone lost their #@*% minds.
But probably not as much as they should have.
That’s because The Last Jedi is disguised as something we’ve seen before: a sequel. But starting with the release (and maybe more accurately, the success) of Rogue One, that linear thought process – movie, sequel, another sequel, maybe a prequel, reboot – is no longer the right way to view these films. You need to add another dimension, where each film also launches its own set of stories. And once you add that second dimension, you don’t have a story anymore; you have a world. Or maybe more accurately, a universe. Or maybe most accurately: a paracosm.
That’s your word of the day: paracosm. A paracosm is an imaginary world. A prime example would be JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The films only hint at the world he imagined. Indeed his books, which include their own languages, races, cultures, gods and thousands of years of history, only give rough sketches of the full world he imagined. The rest of it is waiting to be filled in….
Enter Hollywood. Paracosms are an idea that is taking Hollywood by storm, and you can thank comic books, particularly Marvel and Disney, for ushering this into existence. The comic book hero movie universe that Marvel built, which includes with The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Netflix’ Daredevil and (recently) Spiderman, isn’t one linear story. It’s dozens of stories, all linking to each other, and that is where Star Wars is heading.
It’s big money; check that - it’s mind-boggling money. Since Marvel entertainment started this experiment, their 16 films have grossed over $10 billion. That’s just ticket sales; it doesn’t include merchandising, which Disney can monetize like nobody else. As a result, Marvel, which was filing for bankruptcy in the late 90s, was bought for $4 billion in 2009 by Disney. And then Disney bought Lucasfilm and Star Wars for $4 billion three years later. Turns out paracosms are expensive. And lucrative.
Star Wars’ paracosm could be the most lucrative yet. It’s been around for decades, built an enormous fan base, and has advantages even over a world like Marvel or Tolkien. For instance: there is no story line to which they need to adhere. Tolkien fans get all worked up if a sword is misnamed, but Star Wars has a blank slate from which to start. They also aren’t limited by a timeline. If they want to make a story about what happened hundreds of years ago, or a hundred years into the future, so long as their fans can see a tie-in to the world they know, they’re connected.
This is the power of the paracosm, and why it is such a phenomenon in the film industry right now. People come to trust the world, not just a movie. People line up to see a movie which is not a sequel or a prequel because they just plain care about that world. Rogue One is a perfect example. None of the main characters were anyone we cared about, or indeed had ever heard about. It’s only connection to
anything we knew was literally one line in the film’s introduction. If a different random space movie comes out about an orphan who gets together with a rag-tag team of rebels to try and steal some super-secret plans, it could do well, maybe. But if it’s titled “Star Wars: Rogue One,” it makes over a billion dollars.
Which line or scene from the The Last Jedi will be the launching point for another billion dollar film? The trailer suggests the story will be a potent mine for history about the past and future of the Jedi, so that’s a pretty good bet. For now, Lucasfilm is limiting itself to one film per year in the Star Wars paracosm, which is showing relative restraint; Marvel is up to two films per year and ramping up to three. And the next trailer that is going to make you lose your mind is only tangentially related to the main story line: it’s the story of a young Han Solo and how he met Chewbacca and won the Millenium Falcon.
If you looked at that description and thought “AWESOME! I MUST SEE THAT!,” then you’re proving the point. And I’ll be in line next to you.