Feature

In the future, we will only watch Star Wars

Disney is out of ideas. They're winning anyway.

The piece of criticism I think about the most was written in 2014, for the now-defunct website Grantland. In it, critic Mark Harris stared down the next half-decade of movies, 32 of which were set to be DC or Marvel comic book installments, while an additional 70 were planned sequels and franchise hits. "Movies are no longer about the thing," he assessed, in those halcyon days before Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens had yet come out. "[T]hey're about the next thing, the tease, the Easter egg, the post-credit sequence, the promise of a future at which the moment we're in can only hint."

Almost six years later to the day, Disney on Thursday announced 100 imminent new projects, including 10 forthcoming Star Wars television series, two Star Wars movies, 10 Marvel television series, and an assortment of other franchise spin-offs and installments (such as Lightyear, "the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on"). But while there are a few scattered original stories in the mix, the company's "guiding philosophy" — to quote The Washington Post's entertainment business writer Steven Zeitchik — seems to be "let's take every single property in our catalog and make a prequel, sequel, reboot, new take, feature, limited series, hybrid CG-live-action sci-fi musical comedy melodrama and then let's see who's winning the streaming wars, Netflix."

The lack of originality isn't startling — as Harris' piece illustrates, this future was a long time coming (besides, "giving the people what they want over and over again until they don't want it anymore is an idea, and a business model, that is almost as old as the movies themselves"). But if you'd hoped to watch anything other than Star Wars spinoffs in the next decade, you nevertheless may be out of luck.

While Disney was once a bastion of original stories, it has been out of ideas for years. And what Thursday's investor presentation cements is that, for every Marvel series or animated-toy-origin-story the company greenlights, that's another dollar and platform that could have gone to something, or someone, new.

Admittedly, new is risky. But new is also exciting and challenging and artful — as opposed to another obligatory, mediocre installment that we're required to watch as a paver toward whatever Disney has decided for us is next.

"Think of how old you'll be in 2020," Harris wrote in that 2014 piece, when this year still felt very far away indeed. "Where will you be in your life? What will be different? Do you imagine that your taste will be exactly what it is today? Hollywood profoundly hopes the answer is yes."

As it turns out, it is.

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