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The Star Wars/MCU Crossover is Inevitable
The death of mythology in American culture is good news for Disney's bottom line.
I had a lot of fun watching Spider-Man: No Way Home. Why? Well, because it’s fun for someone my age to be catered to in the way that the film caters to people my age. (That’s a ridiculous sentence, but it’s the only way I can make the point without spoiling the movie!) At the end of the day, there’s something to be said for movies that don’t take themselves very seriously, that lean into the space that culture creates for them, and that break the fourth wall with style. And no, the Oscars don’t need to give Spider-Man Best Picture in order to “be in touch” with America. No reasonable person thinks that Spider-Man is high art, and no reasonable person thinks that this is an argument against its value. What’s so bad about having some nostalgic fun?
I am more concerned about what Disney is going to do with its shiny multiverse down the road. Granted, the secrets of No Way Home only happened because of a legal quirk that prevented Disney from owning the Spider-Man franchise outright when they bought the Marvel universe. But what we see in No Way Home is an obvious tease for more grandiose revelations via the multiverse. The showrunners at Disney now have a narrative device capable of explaining just about anything. No appearance, no intrusion, and no appropriation within the Disney/Marvel timeline is logically off the table now the stories are self-consciously open to alternate universes.
Now, at this point I am going to have Marvel-hardened readers who object to this for very knowledgable reasons. So let me get ahead of those objections by saying: I don’t think fidelity to the metaphysics of a fictional universe or franchise is the operating principle at Disney. The only reason for No Way Home to do what it did—delightful as it was!—is money. No rules were broken because no rules really exist, except the rule that says fans need to care about what you’re doing if you’re going to make money, and the best way to make fans care is to show them something they’ve already decided they love.
Given that rule, can you think of a single compelling reason why Disney would not try, perhaps at a small scale at first, to integrate the Star Wars and Marvel universes? Seriously, take a minute and try to think of a reason they wouldn’t do this. But remember: It needs to be a reason that couldn’t have also applied a decade ago to the directions that Disney have since taken the Marvel universe (or, for that matter, the directions they took the awful Sequel Trilogy).
Earlier this year, pop culture magazine The Ringer pretty much made this same point. Everyone seems aware that a Star Wars/MCU crossover would be the financial behemoth of our times, and that includes everyone who was or now is in positions of power at Marvel. I mean, come on:
Another Marvel mastermind, the late Stan Lee, anticipated that temptation in 2016. “Obviously the people who produce these [movies] are looking to be as successful as possible,” he said. “If they feel that incorporating Star Wars with the Marvel characters will be very successful, they’ll find a way to do it.” Even Feige—who, by the way, is producing a Star Wars movie—didn’t totally rule out the idea, noting that “If you’d ask me if anything we’re talking about right now was in the realm of possibility 20 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘I don’t think so.’”
The only real reason to think it won’t happen is if you believe that it can’t, and the entire point of Disney’s Marvel series and their reimagining of the Star Wars universe is clearly, “There’s nothing we can’t do.”
But there’s another, more salient reason the Star Wars/MCU mixer is inevitable, and it’s about the role that stories now play in contemporary culture.
What made the George Lucas Star Wars saga compelling to many was its participation in a mythic tradition. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is a very good book if you’re interested in seeing this laid out in full, but the point is that the Star Wars films tell a particular story, conditioned in a particular time, culminating in a particular climax and resolution. To enter into this story is to exit your own context and lose yourself in a different world which simultaneously remains “other” and “same.” Humans behave like humans in Star Wars, but the objects of their fears, hopes, and loves are different. This is what all mythology does; it recasts our world in light of a different one.
Contemporary pop culture, especially in the superhero and fantasy genres, looks much different. The Disney/Marvel series, by far the most popular, most successful piece of pop culture in the last decade, is not a mythology in this sense. Its world is totally open, which means the hero’s journey isn’t a journey, but a mere persistence. Its characters look other worldly and have alien powers, but this is by accident; they are mostly reflections of the audience. Two major traits characterize the MCU and most other pop culture franchises: a relentless sense of juvenilia, and the use of technology to escape the natural constraints of storytelling. Absent from the vast majority of popular art is any sense that the hero’s journey might be a micro-narrative of something even more significant in our own universe; instead, these fictional worlds never end. They are rebooted, rewritten, and repurposed.
This is what’s currently happening to the Harry Potter saga. The original seven HP novels are masterworks of pop mythology, and the final book in particular beautifully ties together the story with Christian eschatological meaning. I suppose J.K. Rowling is courageous for believing that women are women, but I wish she would have remembered that stories are stories, and that her endless tinkering with the Potter mythos damage the imaginative wonder of the tale.
Thus, the Star Wars/Marvel crossover will be Disney’s summa theologica, a manifesto that reflects our generation’s forcible end to myth building and desire for films and TV shows and books that merely distract us forever. Star Wars’s appearance in the Marvel universe (rest assured it won’t be vice versa) will be accepted by the vast majority of audiences because they won’t have expected anything different from their stories. The only people who will seriously object to such an alchemy will be people who think the Star Wars series has a particular tale to tell, a tale that inherits its significance from a wider spiritual tradition. Those who see no such tradition will not see its significance, and thus, will not see what Star Wars has to say that it can’t say in the MCU.
Don’t be fooled. The revolution is more “family-friendly” than you think.