Last week, Warner Bros. Studios released Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is nominally a movie but functionally an exercise in leveraging the financial firepower of fully armed and operational intellectual property. Naturally, we wondered: If Warners can cram together Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix, the DCU, Looney Tunes, the Hanna-Barbera-verse, and many more marketable brands (plus some unmarketable ones), then what’s to stop Disney from crossing the streams of its two flagship franchises, Star Wars and the MCU? To examine whether a convergence of the two most lucrative and inescapable entertainment juggernauts of our time could or should happen, how it might work, and what the implications for fans (and corporations) would be, we arranged a crossover conversation between The Ringer’s resident Star Wars and MCU scholars, Ben Lindbergh and Daniel Chin. Nerds assemble!
Ben Lindbergh: Daniel, Kevin Feige says that Patton Oswalt’s 2013 pitch on Parks and Recreation is “probably as close as we’ll ever get” to seeing a Star Wars–MCU crossover. In February, the Marvel mastermind dashed hopes (and assuaged fears) that he and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy would join forces and rule the galaxy together, telling Yahoo! Entertainment, “I really don’t think so … I don’t think there’s any reason for it.”
However, I can think of one reason: It would make a gazillion dollars. The new Space Jam may be bad, but it still bodied Black Widow at the box office last weekend, posting the strongest opening of any pandemic-era Warners or family film despite a simultaneous streaming release on HBO Max. A Star Wars–MCU crossover would be a much bigger deal than a team-up between Tweety and LeBron James. Granted, Star Wars and the MCU are already raking it in as separate entities, but with Disney’s non-streaming revenue depressed by the pandemic and its streaming subscriber growth slowing, the pressure to milk Marvel and Lucasfilm for all that they’re worth could become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Another Marvel mastermind, the late Stan Lee, anticipated that temptation in 2016. “Obviously the people who produce these [movies] are looking to be as successful as possible,” he said. “If they feel that incorporating Star Wars with the Marvel characters will be very successful, they’ll find a way to do it.” Even Feige—who, by the way, is producing a Star Wars movie—didn’t totally rule out the idea, noting that “If you’d ask me if anything we’re talking about right now was in the realm of possibility 20 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘I don’t think so.’” My take? Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And so will a Star Wars–MCU crossover, someday and in some way.
What say you? Will Disney bring together a group of remarkable characters to see whether they could become something more?
Daniel Chin: Yeah, as much as I hope that this never happens, I agree, Ben. No matter how you might feel about it, a Star Wars–MCU crossover is inevitable.
Despite Feige shooting down the idea, the fact that the architect of the MCU is himself crossing over to a galaxy far, far away shows how closely tied these two mega franchises are already becoming. Feige even handpicked Michael Waldron, head writer of Loki and cowriter of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to work on his secretive Star Wars project as well.
And speaking of Waldron, the finale of Loki just set up the MCU with limitless storytelling possibilities in the years to come. The era of the multiverse has officially arrived, and with Feige recently holding a meeting at Marvel Studios to establish the rules of the multiverse and discuss how they’ll deliver on all the excitement surrounding it, it’s clear that these interdimensional stories aren’t going anywhere any time soon. If the MCU is already rewriting its own history with the upcoming animated anthology series What If…? based on the notion of colliding realities (along with the rumors that we may soon see three Spider-Men in Spider-Man: No Way Home), then what’s to stop the House of Mouse from linking up Baby Yoda and Baby Groot in the near future?
Since we’re both in agreement here that this extremely lucrative crossover is sure to happen one way or another, what do you think it could look like and how do you think Disney could actually make it work?
BL: I imagine the Mouse’s attitude would be similar to the Avengers’ in Endgame: whatever it takes. On top of the creative connections we’ve already mentioned, Marvel is the primary publisher for Star Wars comics. It wouldn’t be a big leap for the crossover to start on the page, where the expectations and scrutiny would be a bit more muted than they would if this were built up as a blockbuster movie or major streaming series.
The urge to create crossovers is nothing new, and there’s precedent for a smaller-scale meeting of Marvel heroes and characters from a famous sci-fi franchise: In the 1990s, the X-Men crossed over with Star Trek via two one-shot comics and an accompanying novel. The comics were kind of a home-and-home series: In the first one, the X-Men traveled through a dimensional rift into the 23rd century of the Star Trek timeline while pursuing Proteus. In the follow-up, a rift in the space-time continuum caused by a malfunctioning time-displacement field sent the 24th-century crew of the Enterprise into the parallel reality of the 1990s X-Men. Those setups could serve as a template for a future Star Wars–MCU merger: Just dream up a temporal rift into an alternate dimension, insert some technobabble, and presto, you’ve got yourself a crossover episode.
Of course, there was no MCU in the 1990s. Nor were there streaming services. If and when Disney decides to bring together its two biggest moneymakers, it will probably want to do so in a way that would bolster its streaming catalog. One possibility is a noncanonical, just-for-fun spoof along the lines of last year’s LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, which featured crossovers between characters from multiple eras of Star Wars. This year, another Disney acquisition, The Simpsons, crossed over first with Star Wars and then with the MCU via short films on Disney+. By the transitive property, then, we’re due for a short film featuring Star Wars and the MCU (both of which were already represented in Disney’s 2018 animated movie Ralph Breaks the Internet). Video games are another medium where this would work: Both Star Wars and the MCU have made forays into Fortnite, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them overlap there, in DLC for Marvel’s Avengers, or even in a Super Smash Bros.–style brawler.
It seems to me that if Disney were going to go all in on a big-budget, on-screen, canonical crossover between Star Wars and the MCU, it would make more sense for Marvel’s representatives to be the visiting team traveling to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Although Lucasfilm has started to emulate the MCU’s shared-universe approach to on-screen storytelling, it hasn’t yet borrowed much of the malleability that characterizes comic-book narratives (or even the stories of Star Trek). Time travel sort of exists in Star Wars—see the “World Between Worlds” in Rebels Season 4—but it’s used very sparingly and limited in scope. Nor is there any Star Wars multiverse to speak of, save for some experiments such as the noncanonical Star Wars Infinities comics. I think it’s up to Marvel to be the bridge between worlds.
So who would be the best emissaries from Marvel’s Earth to the Star Wars galaxy? The X-Men again? The Avengers? The Guardians of the Galaxy? Captain Marvel? Doctor Strange? The Eternals? Someone more obscure?
DC: Wow, forget Infinity War being the most ambitious crossover event in history. They really brought the X-Men and the Star Trek crew together ... in a novel? I have so many questions, but let me just stick with yours here.
With a bunch of characters who have already crossed into other realities or visited other worlds, Marvel could go with any combination of the ones you’re proposing and make it work somehow. (How well it would work, I don’t know.) My guess is that the X-Men and the Fantastic Four would be most likely to do some sightseeing in the Star Wars galaxy. Save for the WandaVision troll Ralph Bohner, neither franchise has been reintroduced into the MCU following Disney’s acquisition of Fox in 2019. But given that we’re still years away from any Star Wars–MCU crossover potentially happening, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four could become big players in the MCU by then. (That is, if anyone can ever figure out how to make the Fantastic Four work on screen.)
Along with that X-Men–Star Trek crossover, Fox’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past, and decidedly less excellent Dark Phoenix, the X-Men have had plenty of stories across all mediums that deal with space or time travel. Similarly, so much of the Fantastic Four’s stories in the comics involve the team exploring space and alternate dimensions. The mutants and Marvel’s first family could even travel together: Reed Richards could surely engineer some passage between the MCU and Star Wars universes, and before you’d know it, Wolverine would be out here trying to stab a Jedi on sight.
Since Feige won’t tell us how he’s definitely going to attempt this crossover one day, are there any specific stories that you’d want to see happen, Ben?
BL: I’d prefer some lighthearted, low-stakes, Holiday Special–style silliness to the “Luke Skywalker is an Avenger” scenario Stan Lee laid out. For one thing, it would sidestep the small matter of Star Wars already existing as a fictional story inside the MCU. Lee said, “Can you imagine Spider-Man saying, ‘May the Force be with you’? It may come to that!” It hasn’t quite come to that yet, but Peter Parker has referenced The Empire Strikes Back in Captain America: Civil War and expressed interest in building a LEGO Death Star in Spider-Man: Homecoming, two of the many Star Wars references in the films that Star Wars fan Feige has overseen.
It’s already eyebrow-raising that Samuel L. Jackson, who played Mace Windu in the prequels, mentions Star Wars while playing Nick Fury in Spider-Man: Far From Home. The Russo brothers have joked about the coincidental resemblances between Star Wars characters and the MCU actors who previously played them (such as Jackson, Donald Glover, and Natalie Portman), but those overlaps would be a bit tougher to explain if Star Wars characters also existed in MCU canon. (Not that conflicts with canon have stopped either of these franchises before.) I pity the Marvel Database and Wookieepedia editors who would have to make sense of this situation.
If Disney does opt for a more substantial crossover, there are several ways it could merge Marvel with preexisting Star Wars properties. Maybe the Bad Batch could fight side by side with the Thunderbolts, or Rogue Squadron could cover the Nova Corps’ six. Maybe Grand Admiral Thrawn and Ezra Bridger, who disappeared at the end of Rebels and seem certain to resurface in the upcoming Ahsoka, could come across some similarly far-flung Marvel travelers on their journey through the Unknown Regions. After all, “Unknown” is in the name. Even Thrawn’s species is a mystery to most of the galaxy, so who’s to say what else is out there?
The pre–Disney Star Wars Expanded Universe—relics of which keep popping up in Disney-era stories—had a history of invaders from the Unknown Regions and encounters with extragalactic beings (some of whom either came from Marvel comics or sounded like they did). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one of those arcs, The New Jedi Order, a now-noncanonical 19-novel series that ran from 1999 to 2003. The NJO, which was set 20-plus years after Return of the Jedi, avoided some of the sequel trilogy’s mistakes by crafting an ambitious, original, preplanned narrative built around an alien adversary from outside the galaxy, the threat of which united the New Republic and the remnant of the Empire. Another common enemy could help Lucasfilm push past the derivative and divisive Rise of Skywalker in the Star Wars timeline. Yes, we’re entering Oswalt filibuster territory, but that foe could be one that the MCU’s heroes have battled too, like Alioth, the Celestials, or the Skrulls. As Carl Sagan and I have complained before, Star Wars is speciesist, so it would be nice for the franchise to get some more prominent nonhumans in the mix.
Let me leave you with one last question. Earlier you said you hope a Star Wars–MCU crossover never happens. How come? Don’t you feel for those top Disney execs who just had to forgo their big bonuses? Won’t somebody please think of the shareholders?
DC: Excluding the slowdown in content over the pandemic, both Star Wars and the MCU have been releasing new films and TV shows at an exponential rate in recent years. As you’re well aware, there’s been a growing concern of oversaturation and superhero fatigue, all of which I understand and share as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love both franchises and still keep the faith even after witnessing every Rise of Skywalker or Thor: The Dark World, but joining the two universes together for one big crossover does not seem to be the best way to ease these worries.
Like we’ve both agreed upon, a crossover like this would likely come down to a desire for making boatloads of cash—and we both know those Disney execs want their bonuses back. As you’ve proposed, Disney could certainly make such a crossover work narratively, but to echo Feige, I don’t think there’s any (good) reason for it beyond money. Star Wars and Marvel have both built vast, intricate universes with decades of content beyond the big screen, and neither should sacrifice their abilities to create compelling stories for a project that would surely be built largely on fan service. Lucasfilm is already building off the success of The Mandalorian with exciting spin-offs like Ahsoka and The Book of Boba Fett, while in the MCU, the addition of the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises alone present the opportunities to reintroduce two of Marvel’s greatest villains: Magneto and Doctor Doom. Both universes already have so much to work with on their own; why go search for new stories in strange galaxies, with different rules and mythology, and further risk diluting their products along the way?
But maybe I’ve become a curmudgeonly employee at the Time Variance Authority and just want these realities to neatly fit within their natural timelines. Am I alone here? Do you want this crossover to happen?
BL: I don’t blame you for having a bad feeling about this. When we started this exchange, I was staunchly anti-crossover. After talking to you about what it could look like—well, I’m still not really rooting for it to happen, but I’m more open to the possibility that there’s a worthwhile way to do it. It all depends on whether the impetus is a genuine wish to blend the best of both universes, or a desire for soulless, Space Jam–esque synergy.
We’re cynical, so the latter seems more likely. Feige is right: Pure profit potential aside, there’s no pressing reason to do this. Maybe a mind meld of Star Wars and the MCU is destined to be a transparent cash grab that turns off fans of both properties, subjects us to a cycle of copycat crossovers, and dooms Disney to choke on its aspirations. As you noted, it’s not as if there’s any shortage of Star Wars or MCU content; Disney is keeping us both busy as it is. But so many people care about these characters, and it could be cool to see them interact. I mean, Jedi are basically superheroes, right? What would clobberin’ time look like with lightsabers and spandex? I wouldn’t mind finding out, especially if it were a one-time offshoot from the franchise proper.
In addition to the crossover writers and directors we’ve already discussed, so many exciting creators have made, are making, or are hoping to make movies or TV shows about both Star Wars and comic-book characters, including Jon Favreau, Taika Waititi, Peyton Reed, Deborah Chow, Patty Jenkins, Matt Owens, and Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. But the more talented storytellers work in and care about both worlds, the better the chances that someone could make a crossover that would do justice to Star Wars and the MCU alike.
Plus: As much as Marvel and Lucasfilm are big businesses whose products are adored, despised, and endlessly analyzed by readers and viewers whose identities can become intertwined with the worlds they love, it’s OK for this stuff to be silly. The MCU has improved as it’s grown funnier and weirder, and a crossover could double down on both. (As Feige said recently, “Weird is good.”) And although there’s plenty of overlap between Star Wars fans and MCU fans, it might be fun for followers of only one to be exposed to the other—a kind of cultural exchange program for fans of different flavors of speculative fiction. In practice, the worst subsets of each audience would probably get territorial, take to the internet, and flame on, but we’d have to hope that there are more of us.
Anyway, we’ll find out. Or maybe we won’t! (But probably we will.) In the meantime, may the Force be with you, Excelsior, and so forth.