The end (of our current pop culture era) is nigh.
The new year has just begun, meaning that for the past week or so you have been bombarded with 2017 recaps and 2018 previews and predictions, and will continue to be for the next week or so, because that’s just the way it goes. While pop culture previews tend to be overwhelmingly positive in tone every year, much like everything else the tides of film and TV ebb and flow. There are some banner years that go down in the history books, other years that will be remembered for being especially forgettable, and a number of years that fall somewhere between these two extremes.
While there are plenty of things to look forward to in 2018 (and also Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which I suppose we can at least look forward to making fun of), this year will also, for better or worse, be the relative calm before 2019’s era-ending storm. Next year will mark the end of several franchises that have defined mainstream popular culture for the last decade. Yeah okay, maybe that is somewhat misrepresentative—the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars franchise are hardly going to close up shop after the second part of Infinity War and the conclusion of the sequel trilogy because Disney is still Disney and there is still money to be made, but in both cases it will still be the conclusion of an era. Not the end of the world, so to say, but the end of the world as we know it (and I feeeel fiiinee—sorry, sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 is slated for the post-Infinity War release date of 2020, suggesting that at least one of Marvel’s trifecta of Chrises survives, and Lucasfilm announced back in November that Rian Johnson will be helming a new Star Wars trilogy centered around new characters. But the MCU has been building up to Infinity War since Phase I, and as I wrote recently it looks highly possible that Episode IX will mark the definitive end of the Skywalker family that has been the heart of the franchise since 1977. After 2019 both of these franchises will be taking first steps in new directions after reaching the end of trajectories they followed for years.
Game of Thrones is more or less the same story. Sure, at least one of those five spinoffs being developed is bound to make it to the small screen eventually, and theoretically King George (R. R. Martin, that is) will eventually get around to finishing The Winds of Winter and supposedly A Dream of Spring, but it’s inevitable that once the epic tale of Jon and Daenerys and the Night king and Cersei et al. gets a conclusion of some kind, the hype surrounding Westeros will at the very least dial back a little from its current fever pitch.
As someone who spends a lot of time writing about popular culture, the current state of anticipation is like being in the middle of reading an incredibly engrossing and suspenseful book; as much as I want to speed towards the end to find out what happens, there’s a sizable part of me that never wants to get there, because then the book will be finished, and what will I do with myself then? (Besides, what if the ending is bad? Just ask a gymnast, it’s hard to stick the landing). Looking ahead to the next two years of film and television milestones inspires a similar mix of contradictory feelings. Going to see Iron Man in theaters with my dad was more or less exactly half my lifetime ago, and I don’t even remember the first time I saw Luke Skywalker whining his way across the sands of Tatooine because I was so little.
Though 2018 will play out in full before we get to 2019, at the present moment it is ironically this year that presents the greater mystery in a certain sense. While 2019 will, for better or worse, be a banner year for both film and television, 2018 could do anything. New heirs apparent might make themselves known, ready and waiting to fill a post-2019 pop culture power vacuum, or 2018 in terms of entertainment might really go down as the year where we waited for 2019. Only time will tell.