From Picard to Mandalorian, How Streaming Shows Became the “Fix Fics” of Corporate IP

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From Picard to Mandalorian, How Streaming Shows Became the “Fix Fics” of Corporate IP

“Somehow, Palpatine returned.”

And, with those three weary words from Oscar Isaac, Star Wars broke.

Officially, anyway. The real break had happened earlier, sometime during the two-hour-thirty-three-minute runtime of The Last Jedi, which is either the high-water mark of the franchise as a whole, or the movie where Disney took our collective childhoods out back and pulled an Old Yeller on them. Did it give us a meaty new angle on Luke Skywalker, or did it erase a beloved character’s legacy and replace it with a grumpy old hermit? Did Finn’s journey to Canto Bight provide a rich thematic commentary on how the rich stay rich no matter who’s in charge, or was it a pointless digression from the main plot?

Some Star Wars fans were thrilled, but others were angry—and the angry fans, as always, were louder. With millions of dollars at stake, Disney made the logical move: they retreated to the familiar, the safe. If they give fans what they’re clamoring for, the reasoning goes, they’ll buy it. And they’ll buy action figures, and T-shirts, and trips to the Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disney World, and that horrifying underground bunker of a themed Star Wars hotel that somehow costs thousands of dollars to stay at.

So, somehow, Palpatine returned. Bring back the Big Bad of the other two trilogies, provide a familiar framework for people to latch onto, and put this thing to bed. But that word, somehow: you can almost feel the Post-It Note next to it on a white board somewhere in Hollywood that says “Fill this in later,” and then nobody ever did. So while the fans who left the theater after The Last Jedi furious about a laundry list of perceived slights and plot holes, the group of fans who’d loved The Last Jedi walked out of The Rise of Skywalker feeling similarly betrayed, as a lot of the teases and promises and revelations of Last Jedi were abandoned in favor of, in effect, “somehow.”

The cracks in the fandom expanded and splintered. Rogue One had been largely well-received, but Solo: A Star Wars Story crashed and burned at the box office. Rian Johnson’s planned trilogy of Star Wars movies has been back-burnered, seemingly forever. Patty Jenkins’ planned Rogue Squadron movie has been canned. And with all three installments of their latest sequel trilogy angering somebody, it was starting to feel like nobody knew how to make a Star Wars project everybody liked.

Enter Baby Yoda.

The Mandalorian Season 3

In the world of fanfiction, there’s a term called a “fix fic,” where the fan, having determined that the writers have screwed something up, writes a fic specifically to undo that change. They undo character deaths, pair up couples who never got together canonically, come up with a behind-the-scenes explanation that makes plot holes make sense, and anything else that needs fixing while they’re under the hood addressing their grievances.

What seems to have happened, with the advent of streaming services, is that companies trying to shepherd long-running IPs into perpetual profitability have realized they can use those streaming services to make official fix fics of their own, updating and patching the franchises that are starting to sag under years of mistakes.

When The Mandalorian first debuted, it was a breath of fresh air—a Star Wars property that seemed to be telling a new story, with previously unseen characters, fleshing out a part of the universe we’d never been shown before. And at first, when characters from other corners of the Star Wars universe made little cameos, it was a thrill, a little Easter egg for the diehard fans. But as the show became a hit, it was only a matter of time before the show joined up with the larger universe. They started off by introducing live-action versions of various characters previously only seen in the Star Wars cartoons, and now, with the current season coming towards an end, they’ve taken on an even bigger responsibility: filling in Oscar Isaac’s weary “somehow” with a years-long conspiracy that will, when viewed chronologically, make that moment in Rise of Skywalker seem less like the colossal ass-pull it clearly was. A recent installment featured our beloved Mando getting beaten down by the throne room guards from The Last Jedi, which seems like a metaphor for the show: a fresh and original character getting crushed by the need to repair the canon so Disney can make more movies.

Those aren’t the only mistakes they’re trying to fix, however: they’re also trying to repair the damage Star Wars did to the actors who appeared in them. Ahmed Best, infamous for playing Jar-Jar Binks in the prequels, was driven to a deep depression by the amount of hatred he received for the character. Now, on The Mandalorian, he’s played the Jedi personally responsible for saving Baby Yoda’s life years before the story began. And Hayden Christensen, long the butt of jokes for things he had no control over (dude didn’t write the “I don’t like sand” lines, you guys) got to triumphantly return to the roles of Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader for the Obi-Wan Kenobi show, a clear sign from both Disney and the fandom that all is forgiven.

Star Wars isn’t the only property undergoing a quick patch job through streaming series, though. Take Dexter. The show endured a steady decline over multiple seasons, before bottoming out with a finale that most fans would rather forget. So we get Dexter: New Blood, a show that attempts to course-correct on that mistake by essentially calling a mulligan on the old ending. It worked, sort of, in that New Blood enjoys a solid C in both audience and critic scores, which compared to the old ending’s grade of “This Is A War Crime” counts for something.

And House of the Dragon, originally planned to capitalize off the runaway success of Game of Thrones, now seems to primarily exist to help wash the bitter taste of “who has a better story than Bran?” out of everyone’s mouths.

One of the biggest repeat retconners in the game right now, however, has to be Star Trek: Picard. The last movie featuring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Nemesis, was a miserable failure—one that not only killed off fan-favorite character Commander Data in an unworthy outing, but also killed Trek itself for years, until Chris Pine and friends helped resurrect the franchise nearly 7 years later.

Paramount’s first forays back into televised Trek avoided the elephant in the room by going the prequel route with Star Trek: Discovery and Strange New Worlds, but they were going to have to address it eventually. With Star Trek: Picard, they finally did, giving Data a more respectful sendoff than he’d previously gotten. But, with Picard’s reception proving to be something of a mixed bag, they ended up trying again, bringing back the ever-game Brent Spiner to play roles in Season 2, and ultimately resurrecting Data yet again in Season 3. Each season has also brought back Picard’s perpetual foe, the Borg, but each time with a different twist, as the show dials in on providing exactly what they think the audience wants.

There’ve been some good corrections, of course—some of the new characters are fantastic, and the show managed to undo Star Trek: Voyager’s late-game decision to pair up Seven and Chakotay (ugh), which is probably worth the price of admission all by itself.

Ultimately, Season 3 of Picard has been a rampant nostalgia-fest, and while it’s impossible not to feel moved by some of it as a longtime fan, it also feels a little bit like we’re all that science-experiment rat who keeps pressing the pleasure button instead of the one that would give us food.

There are more examples, of course. Marvel’s streaming efforts are an ongoing project to iron out the bumps and contradictions in continuity while teeing up their next cinematic outing. And Just Like That has made an effort to keep the Sex & The City money rolling in, course-correcting on some earlier moves while also having to deal with cast members who either didn’t want to participate (Kim Cattrall) or are embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations (Chris Noth).

The end goal, of all of these different shows, seems to be to get these franchises to some sort of platonic ideal, an equilibrium where nobody’s upset, everything makes sense, and the platform is solid to launch as many new reboots, sequels, and spinoffs as possible. It’s the end result of viewing things as “intellectual property” and “content” instead of “stories.”

The problem is, if these franchises get totally bogged down trying to correct every mistake of the past, they never really get to have a future. Somehow, they’ll have to move on.

Sean Kelly is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. For more nerdery, find him on Twitter @StorySlug

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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