The End. Such words are meant to indicate finality in its most concrete form in all media. You’ve seen an author’s completed work and hopefully it contains a satisfactory conclusion to the characters, both beloved and hated, who you journeyed along with. Or at least that’s how it used to be…
It seems like every media giant now is trying to grab onto beloved franchises of the 80’s and 90’s and market them to today’s generation of children. Franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, and even Jumanji are continually putting out new content in an effort to bleed them dry of any revenue generating potential that they have. A Star Wars movie every year with a new trilogy on the way? A Marvel Cinematic Universe 10 years in the making with the recent acquisition of the X-men? Cult hits of the 80’s like IT and Blade Runner being revamped for one last go round? I ask but a simple question. How much is too much? A true fan might answer with a boisterous cry of “NEVER, give me more”, however truly consider the question for a second. Have you ever had an entry to a franchise disappoint you? Have you ever feared that the author is getting stale and should quit while they’re ahead? How much *insert franchise here* is truly too much? When should it simply end and rest on its laurels for accomplishing what it originally set out to do?
Tell the original story
I am a huge fan of the saying “Begin with the end in mind”. Within the art of storytelling, this means you should know where your main character or group will end up before you begin your story. This helps to center your focus on what needs to be told and not stray too far from the the original objective. However, not all authors follow this, but it is generally a good rule of thumb. But does this apply to multi-million dollar franchises? When your story blows up in the way Pokemon and TMNT did, when do you sign off for good? How can you without disappointing millions of your fans? While there is no concrete answer for this, one answer I can give is make sure to tell the original story.
What is your story’s conflict? What is the main character’s goal? Did he/she accomplish it? These questions should always be answered before any story ends. In the case of Pokemon, the goal of every trainer is to become the greatest which usually means becoming Champion of a certain region. That’s the original story and where all of the games roll their credits. You, the character, have accomplished your goal and having done that, you feel satisfied, maybe even wanting more, but you’ve done it, you became the Champion! Contrast this with the Pokemon anime, while yes primarily made to market the games to kids, in which Ash has yet to become a Pokemon Master. He’s finished journeying in regions for sure, but the goal is never accomplished and what you get is essentially an aimless wandering of the world rather than a satisfactory conclusion. He always falls short by design which in the long run leaves you believing so little in him. Another animated show that does this so well is Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original story is that Aang is essentially trying to stop the 100-year war caused and perpetuated by the Fire Nation. When he does just that, his story ends! Again, that’s the original story! Ok but, what if you’re not willing to end even after the story’s main conflict has resolved?
Is There Really More To Do?
Why would we ask this? Let’s be honest. Eventually even media giants such as Naruto, DC, or Jurassic Park etc etc are not exempt from getting stale. Once the original story is told, you may want to continue the franchise, but you must ask yourself, am I forcing it or is there really something new and novel for the story’s world to bring the audience? Sometimes there isn’t and That’s OK! Contrary to Hollywood’s belief, you can end your story. I’d rather it end on a high note than have the whole legacy of your creation be mired by mediocre content way after the original tale was told. Let’s take some eastern stories to use as examples. BLEACH, created by Tite Kubo, was about a young man named Ichigo who becomes a Soul Reaper. The first half of the serialized story follows him first trying to rescue his comrade Rukia but then ultimately has him trying to save Soul Society and Earth from the mechanisms of Sosuke Aizen. This part of the story was enthralling, suspenseful, and engaging as we watched ichigo eventually overcome his foes. And then came the second part of the story...with the Quincies. While we got a bunch of new characters and more conflict, the end goal was the same ( kill the Soul King ), the powers were ridiculous and didn’t make sense within the context of the story, and the whole arc seemed to be going through the motions, a dull dragging on in an attempt to milk the franchise dry. Naruto, the story of a ninja who wished to be the head of his village, had a similar issue but after the original story ended. Naruto’s son Boruto now has the story starring him as the main character, but as of yet it doesn’t add any real sense of urgency to the world, especially since Boruto’s father and teacher, Sasuke, are the most powerful active ninjas alive and have already beaten what essentially amounted to the creator of all chakra, their power source. What can apprentice ninja Boruto solve that his father Naruto or the many other characters we followed during Naruto’s time can’t? Additionally, what threat can Boruto within reason face that we’ve not seen before? It is ok to feature Boruto in a standalone event of sorts, but with the world Naruto saved and is still active in, so far it is hard to believe Boruto will ever face a problem that his seniors wouldn’t catch onto and solve rather than leaving it to the minors to deal with.
Now for stories that did have more to tell, look no further than Star Wars and the infamous MCU. With A New Hope, Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star succinctly wrapped up his hero’s journey in one movie. However, the Empire was not all destroyed thus paving the way for Episodes V and VI to complete the Original Trilogy saga. What started as a tale of a farmboy realizing his destiny and joining the Rebel Alliance ended with him redeeming his fallen father and ending an era of tyranny in the galaxy. In Marvel, what began as Tony Stark’s reveal as Iron Man is now about to culminate in a epic showdown with the Mad Titan himself, Thanos. All of the movies in it of themselves explored each of the heroes individually but had a hand in preparing us for this latest Avengers movie.
Build, not destroy
Finally, if you’ve told the original story and decided there is more to tell past the original ending, there’s one pointer I’d like to give: build on past characters’ legacies and don’t destroy them for the sake of the new. What I mean by this is whatever your characters have accomplished in the original story, don’t destroy or dismantle them for the sake of continuation. Doing so will sour the original run of your story since ultimately your characters’ blood, sweat, and tears account for nothing in the end plus it will leave a bad taste in your audience’s mouth in regards to how you handled the continuation of your story. Instead, build on past mistakes and accomplishments to offer something new and novel to your fictional world. Yes, this will take some creative laboring, but it is well worth it in the end because you are not recycling your own material for obvious gain nor are you spitting in the face of your audience in terms of continuity, established rules, and character motives.
For example, Jurassic Park had three movies that told and showed us why playing god, especially with prehistoric titans such as dinosaurs, is a pretty bad idea. Yet here we are with the premises of the latest movies being such that a park has opened and surprise, it all went to pieces, to a plot to save said dinosaurs from a volcano on the aforementioned park’s island. Not only is this plot tired, but you can see how unimaginative the franchise has gotten since all this ever amounts to is haughty people who think they can control nature getting eaten by dinosaurs. The audience knew Jurassic Park was a bad idea from the first movie. In Star Wars, the original trilogy told of the ongoing fight between the Empire and the Rebellion. Fast forward to Episode VII, and we still have that conflict just with different names ( Resistance, First Order ) and different heroes ( Rey, Kylo ). In it of themselves, this paints the original trilogy in a less than ideal light since basically the exploits of Luke, Han, and Leia all amount to very little since the Empire is never really destroyed, merely banished into space unpoliced so that they lick their wounds, build up armaments, and once again wage war against the Republic.
For examples in building upon legacies successfully, Young Justice, a story telling the adventures of famous DC superhero sidekicks, initially has them forming a covert team under the leadership of their superiors and figuring out how all that is going to work while gaining the respect of their handlers. In season 2, we see that respect earned as the main heroes of earth leave to account for some false accusations while leaving the sidekicks to safeguard Earth single handedly from an intricate and deeply embedded invasion force. You see our main characters grow and take charge when they used to simply follow orders. Likewise, Avatar: The Last Airbender’s successor Korra builds on Aang’s legacy as the next Avatar. While he dealt with bringing peace to the world at war, she upholds his legacy by stopping a coup by a violent political party and cements her own legacy by opening the previously closed connection with the Spirit World. None of this undoes anything Aang or the other Avatars have done, but instead builds on it so that Korra isn’t portrayed as just another Avatar, she has her own struggles, her own legend, and her own feats to be proud of.
I hope this article was informative for those who wish to write and tell their stories to the world. It truly is not about quantity, but about quality, And quality is preserved when one knows when to say: The End.