The Sunday Magazine: The Beginning of The End

When I saw the trailer for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker something hit me. 2019 will be the final year in whatever this geek pop culture renaissance comes to be called. Starting tonight with the premiere of the final season of “Game of Thrones” through to Avengers: Endgame in two weeks until The Rise of Skywalker at Christmas. Three huge properties will finish the ambitious stories they took on.

The progenitor of all of this was Star Wars in 1977; what would come to be Episode IV A New Hope. The phenomenon which would spring out of its success is the spark which lit the geek pop culture renaissance on fire. What I would also say is things didn’t really kick into high gear until we made the turn towards the new century. Studios had no idea how to transform the subject matter at the comic book shop or the sci-fi/fantasy book store. It produced mostly okay to bad attempts with the best being things which weren’t adaptations. No fans to disappoint. No material to stay faithful to. Star Wars returned in 1999 with Episode I: The Phantom Menace. George Lucas was given the complete creative control he wanted. I like Episodes I-III more than most because it always felt like Star Wars. This would become the blueprint for what came next.

If there was a consistent issue with all the adaptations prior to 2000 it was the studios didn’t trust a creative team which loved the material as much as the audience. When Peter Jackson was allowed to film the three movies adapting JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” all at once; it was a huge risk for the studio. The success of those movies showed first priority, to adapting things, is to get someone who is also into it.

In 2008 a producer named Kevin Feige and director Jon Favreau took one of the biggest home run swings ever when they combined to film Iron Man. If there was something I wanted to see it was a great superhero movie. I thought Robert Downey Jr. was the right choice to play Tony Stark. I wondered whether anyone knew who Iron Man was. Shouldn’t they have gone with a more recognizable hero? The answer turned out to be no. What became even better was this added scene at the end of the credits when Nick Fury revealed the Avengers Initiative to Tony Stark. I was ecstatic that Mr. Feige was going to try and re-create the interconnectedness of the Marvel comic book universe in movies. That this first 22-chapter story will come to an end with Avengers: Endgame is all due to Mr. Feige. He has hired the right directors and writers who have hired the right actors to turn the comic book panels into movie frames. Every one of these directors respected the properties they were filming. They made it their own.

The other big change has been the rise of the premium cable channel and streaming services. Even with “The Lord of the Rings” nine hours wasn’t enough. HBO agreed. They saw the popularity of a new fantasy series by author George RR Martin. Two young producers who loved the books; see a trend, approached HBO to create a multi-season adaptation of the series. This was despite the fact the final books hadn’t been written. David Benioff and DB Weiss were given the green light. “Game of Thrones” had great source material given the time to breathe this sprawling story filled the small screen. It probably didn’t hurt that televisions were getting bigger and bigger. By the time dragons were burning things up I could watch it on my 60-inch television. The final six episodes begin tonight.

Which brings me back to Star Wars and the man who brought it back to life; JJ Abrams. It is still too far off to know more than a two-minute trailer for The Rise of Skywalker can tell me. Other than the way Mr. Abrams began his creative process on this final trilogy by asking the question “What happened to Luke Skywalker?” That’s a fan question by someone who had the chance to answer it with a movie. When I settle into my seat for The Rise of Skywalker that will be the beginning of the end.

What comes next is where you go when The Rise of Skywalker really signals the end of the beginning.

Mark Behnke

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