The Star Wars YouTube channel recently released a trailer for a new animated series called Star Wars: Detours. It features exaggerated, cartoonish-looking characters from all six movies, relentlessly making references and inside jokes about the Star Wars franchise itself. Imagine a G-rated Family Guy combined with Robot Chicken.
The show obviously plays it for laughs, but I’m not quite sure who’s supposed to be laughing.
After watching the nearly four-minute mash-up of various clips I was left scratching my head, asking myself the same questions about the Star Wars franchise that I’ve been asking since The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999: who could this possibly be made for?
Children? Adults? Die-hard fans? Casual viewers?
The most anticipated sequel in history, Episode 1, was a perfect example of trying to please everyone and ultimately pleasing no one. Children were supposed to be enamored with Jar Jar Binks and the young Anakin Skywalker, but they served only to irritate the grown-ups. The political storyline was designed to engage older viewers, but it bored everyone to tears. And the best character in the movie, Darth Maul (who retroactively became featured prominently in marketing materials despite his minor role) had so little screen time that he was not nearly enough to save the film.
It’s almost as if the marketing team knew what the fans wanted more than George Lucas did: for the 3D re-release poster they included all the elements that fans actually enjoyed; Maul, Yoda, R2-D2, the Pod Racers, and omitted what the movie was actually about…you know, the main characters? Qui-Gon, Padmé, Jar Jar and Anakin are all conspicuously absent.
While financially successful, The Phantom Menace proved to be a liability for the trilogy, and the box office totals for the second and third prequels declined significantly.
In sharp contrast, this summer’s smash hit The Avengers was the perfect blend of action, humor and science-fiction. The PG-13 rating gave enough leeway to allow for some intense action sequences, but was tame enough for those who are averse to excessive violence. The tone was just right for moviegoers coming in with limited knowledge of the franchise, yet it gelled elements from the previous Marvel films with such precision that it pleased even the most hardcore fans.
Marvel’s other properties remain laser-targeted at their various demographics. Marvel Kids is a sub-brand aimed squarely at pre-teens: The Super Hero Squad cartoon is undeniably for the 8-and-under crowd, while kids who are ready for a little more complexity can enjoy shows on Disney XD like Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The Marvel Kids website even features comic books for younger viewers with more basic artwork and dialogue, easing children into the reading experience. Of course the more mature fans can still enjoy a deeper look into the Marvel universe with their regular run of monthly titles, which feature more sophisticated themes and storylines that would be lost on a younger audience.
While Marvel meticulously isolates their fans with a scalpel, giving them what they want in easily identifiable packages, Star Wars continues to use an oversized lightsaber to hack away at their key demographics. Star Wars: Detours is a great example of that, but it doesn’t end there: the ongoing series Star Wars: The Clone Wars features slick 3D-animation, excellent voice work and some truly exciting storylines; it was designed (seemingly) to win back their disaffected fans. Although it’s a better attempt than the prequels, it features far too much political nonsense, and Jar Jar still remains a large part of the series. Why start fresh with a new show, and drag the obvious mistakes of the prequels into the equation – the parts that fans and critics universally despised? Again it’s a collage of elements that should please all viewers, but leaves many dissatisfied. Critical response has been lukewarm, and viewership has been declining in recent seasons.
George Lucas should take a cue from Marvel. Listen to your fans. Treat adults like adults and children like children. And don’t try to make everyone happy all the time – it’s a proven formula for disaster that Star Wars should have learned to avoid over a decade ago.
With a little care and consideration for the fans that got him where he is today, George could reenergize his base – but as it sits now, the Star Wars universe is running low on Force.
Blake Northcott is an author, Twitter-er, and occasional Slayer of Vampires (only the ones that sparkle).You can follow her on Twitter, or pick up her best-selling Sci-Fi/Superhero books Vs. Realityand Relapse over at Amazon.com.
Check out Blake’s interview with superstar artist Dave Johnson in Are Comic Book Artists the New Rock Stars? –>