Last week, Guardians of the Galaxy was officially crowned the undisputed king of the 2014 summer movie season, if not the entire year. Its box office take currently sits at a staggering $294 million in domestic sales alone and is, by all estimates, poised to become the first, perhaps only, movie to break the $300 million mark this year.
It’s not really hard to see why. Guardians of the Galaxy, in addition to existing in the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (which has, in just six years, grown from a risky endeavor to a billion dollar a year worldwide enterprise) has it all — action, intrigue, comedy, and even a bit of romance. And unlike other movies that just throw a plethora of cross-demographic-pleasing devices into a blender to see what comes up (I’m looking at you, The Lego Movie), Guardians does all of this in a way that feels both natural and necessary to things such as character and plot.
It does seem as though GOTG will eventually become a lynchpin for the MCU as a whole. For the first time since Thanos was teased at the end of The Avengers, casual audiences have gotten a deeper look at the character, as well as a better explanation of the Infinity Stones. It seems clear that we’re going to see an all-out battle between the heroes of the MCU and the ultimate big bad sometime in the future, and we’ll probably even get to see a crossover featuring the Guardians and the Avengers at some point during the lead up to this war.
Everyone and their mother seems to be excited for this, and it’s easy to see why. Thanos, the Infinity Stones, the impending war…these are all things to get excited about, and they will have a vast and long-reaching effect on the whole of the MCU. Still, while everyone is talking about how the Guardians of the Galaxy are going to effect the Marvel Universe, I couldn’t help but wonder what this portends for an entirely different cinematic universe.
Namely, one that takes place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
In late 2012, Disney — the parent company to Marvel Studios — announced a multi-billion-dollar deal to acquire LucasFilm, the studio started by George Lucas and most famous for producing the Star Wars saga. Immediately upon their acquisition, it was also announced that LucasFilm, infused with boatloads of sweet, sweet, Mickey Mouse dollars, would begin producing a new trilogy of Star Wars films, set after the events that conclude 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
Many netizens were none too pleased with this announcement, decrying the apparent sullying of their beloved films by the House of Mickey. (“What if they become unrecognizable, Disneyfied versions of our beloved franchise?” they cried.) Their cynicism and derision can be felt all across the net, their snark and sass indicative of a collective raised eyebrow over the fact that a company such as Disney — best known for their animated family movies — will be behind the production of sequels to the greatest cinematic phenomenon of all time (or, at least, the modern era).
Personally, I never understood these fears. As stated above, Disney not only owns Marvel Studios, but they bought it back in 2009 — which means, among other things, that Disney produced some of the best superhero movies of all time, including The Avengers.
The kind of excitement that these movies inspire hasn’t been seen since, well, Star Wars. In the six years since the release of Iron Man, the opening movement to the suite that has become the MCU, Marvel has earned a collective $6.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales. Fans across the globe salivate at the very mention of the next chapter in the growing universe, and speculation is so high that it all but dominates other movie news. It creates the kind of furor that was rarely seen prior to the ramp up towards the (much maligned) prequel trilogy.
Difficult as it may be to believe, it’s been almost 40 years since the release of the first Star Wars movie. Though it was released with little fanfare and low expectations, it soon became the gold standard for what Hollywood wants in a movie. They are cultural touchstones; the Star Wars saga has grown to become movies parents can’t wait to show their kids, in much the same way that the parents and grandparents of my generation showed us The Wizard of Oz. It’s a timeless parable of good versus evil with an appeal that crosses all demographics.
This is essentially what we think of when we consider what a Star Wars movie should be. Take away the space, the light sabers, the awesomeness of the force; strip away all of the sci-fi elements from movies and what you have, at its absolute core, is a series of films exploring the concepts of justice and morality. The themes of good and evil are so at the core of everything representative of Star Wars and its universe that it’s an accepted fact. We like Star Wars because we like epic tales of good and evil, of falling and redemption, of temptation and punishment.
These are, in fact, all themes that have been dealt with beautifully by the MCU (even after the 2009 takeover by the supposedly pandering Disney Corporation), and are likely part of the reason Guardians of the Galaxy has so resonated with the movie-going public.
Beyond being just a property that the casual fan had never really heard of, the risk of Guardians of the Galaxy was that, for the first time, the MCU stepped away from the confines of Earth. While it’s true that the cosmic planes of existence have been hinted at in other Marvel movies, those were all handled in a way that looked at things through the prism of our home planet. Even Thor — whose problems and cataclysms, for the most part, originate in otherworldly realms — deals with the ramifications of these events here on Earth.
With Guardians, however, the MCU has lived up to the “universe” in its moniker. Yes, its primary hero, Peter “Star Lord” Quill, is an earthling, but by the time we get to know and love him, he doesn’t necessarily feel any different from the Nova Corps aliens he ends up protecting. His humanity is what connects us to this otherwise vast and alien segment of the universe and, through that, we are shown the best of what we can become. He’s a free-wheeling outcast rebelling against a society he doesn’t quite fit into, and, in part because of this, he ends up protecting an entire civilization from an awe-inspiring, nearly unbeatable evil that we can barely fathom. (In other words, he’s essentially everything we love about Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, rolled up into a nice, neat little package.)
This, of course, lends its hand towards a taut and fun loving narrative that harkens back to the glory days of the Space Opera, complete with stunning visuals that leave viewers captivated, eyes glued to the screen. In recent years, sci-fi has all but ignored the glory of the Space Opera. The sweeping drama of stories that take us from one edge of the galaxy to another have been replaced by more centralized stories about smaller groups of people. Even the re-imagined Star Trek series, despite dealing with far off enemies, has remained essentially grounded by Earth or the Enterprise herself. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel and Disney have shown the world that the appetite for grand space epics still exists — and it’s voracious.
More importantly, they’ve reminded us all that the entire concept of the space opera can be done and done well — and that a Disney backed company is capable of pulling it off without necessarily stooping to the lowest common denominator. Indeed, if Disney has proved anything with Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s that they are capable of backing a franchise without making it unnecessarily kid friendly (There was a joke about invisible semen stains, for God’s sake) but in a way that connects with audiences across demographics, all over the globe.
We’re still well over a year away from the J.J. Abrams helmed Star Wars: Episode 7. There are many legitimate fears about the potential quality of the latest chapter in the saga (Abrams didn’t exactly give fans what they wanted with the new Star Trek; then again, he also wasn’t a fan of the original), but that it’s being made by a Disney owned company shouldn’t be one of them.
Indeed, Disney has proved they can satisfy fan cravings while taking huge risks in the process. With the MCU and The Avengers-related movies, Disney has proved they’re capable of epic story-telling and world-building that tantalizes audiences’ hearts and imaginations. If anything, the Mouse House is most likely the best studio to bring Star Wars back from the dark side that was the prequel trilogies, redeeming the saga for (hopefully) generations to come.