352/366 – Difficulties With Timeline Stories
When a universe in games or in movies gets to be huge enough that you’re considering the impact of how to fill out its core timeline, that’s when you know that you’ve got yourself a good but challenging problem on your hands. On the one hand, you have a level of success that shows that people are interested in the cogs and gears as far as events making the universe turn, rather than just the main story. But on the other, you’re challenged with the goal of trying to make an additional story in the timeline work when so much has already happened that’s iconic.
Timeline or anthology stories all have this same challenge – be a unique and interesting tale in an appropriate time in a universe while at the same time eliciting at least some feeling of that universe’s iconic moments and elements. It’s not easy because you can end up with something wrong very easily when you swing the pendulum too far in one direction or another. Too much uniqueness and you depart from what got you there in the first place as far as the universe’s core builders are concerned. Too much universe and iconic element and you get nothing more than too much gratuitous fan service and something that can’t succeed on its own merits without having to lean on the tried and true that made the universe famous.
And the bigger the universe gets, the harder the challenge is. You look at an epic like Star Wars or a tried and true franchise like Halo and you start figuring out that the more lore and stuff you see in these movies and games, the harder it is to fit a side story into the mix. This is especially true when you’ve either ended out your franchise or had other elements in it that make timeline explorations challenging – your audience, if it’s a historical entry, already know what happens, and making sure to keep them entertained when they have a baseline sense of omniscience about the outcome is always a tough one. Putting things after your main action is almost as challenging – trying to come up with a story that happens after everything major has supposedly gone down, unless it’s a full blown sequel or new story start, is hard to keep people entertained for, as callbacks will only get you so far.
But all that being said, there have been entries that have succeeded fairly well at the entire endeavor, with Rogue One being the latest (and from impressions, the most recently successful) attempt at getting a timeline anthology story down pat. The fact of the matter is that context, story, the need and desire for the universe’s content, and frankly the time of release are all things that contribute to a good timeline story and whether or not it succeeds. By and large, there have been a variety of entries that haven’t cut the mustard, but I am honestly confident that recent entries have scratched the anthology/timeline itch in a way that makes future efforts a lot more likely to succeed.