Stranger Things has been a simple TV show to follow – and I don't mean that in a condescending way.
There are many reasons behind the Netflix series' worldwide success, but a large part of what has made it so appealing is its self-contained story. Until recently, Stranger Things has consisted of a single TV show with one compelling, overarching narrative. Viewers who have turned up late to the proverbial party, then, haven't had lots of content – outside of Stranger Things season 4 and the three installments preceding it, anyway – to catch up on.
However, that's set to change before the year ends. We already knew that the Stranger Things franchise was set to expand beyond the scope of its mainline series, with a live-action spin-off and a stage play in the works at Upside Down Pictures, the production company founded by Stranger Things' creators Matt and Ross Duffer.
Now, Netflix has announced when its stage play spin-off – titled Stranger Things: The First Shadow – will debut. It's coming to London's West End in late 2023, and is based on an original story from the Duffer brothers, fellow Stranger Things scribe Kate Trefry, and His Dark Materials' Jack Thorne. Set in 1959, the theater play is a prequel that'll explore the backstory of Henry Creel, aka Vecna, in greater detail. It'll also star younger versions of fan-favorite characters Jim Hopper and Bob Newby, as well as an original character called Joyce Maldonado.
Welcome to Hawkins, 1959. Before the world turned upside down…Stranger Things: The First Shadow. A new story live on stage.London | Late 2023 | https://t.co/6dx4JppFhw pic.twitter.com/DTcWn21wXEMarch 1, 2023
So we're getting brand-new Stranger Things content before 2023 is over, which will tide us over until Stranger Things season 5 arrives. Great, so what's the problem? It's an issue that Marvel and Star Wars fans know all too well: having to consume content outside of a film or TV series' main story to stay in the loop.
You see, until Marvel Phase 4 arrived, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was, like Stranger Things, easy to follow. However, the MCU's expansion into television with shows such as Loki season 1 means fans have to watch Marvel's TV shows to understand what's going on in future MCU films.
For instance, you need to know what happens in WandaVision to know why Scarlet Witch is the antagonist in Doctor Strange 2. Streaming Loki's first season before seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, too, will help you fully appreciate Kang the Conqueror's arrival and Quantumania's post-credits scenes.
It's an issue that extends to Star Wars' TV line-up. The Mandalorian season 3, which debuted on Disney Plus on March 1 2023, follows on from The Book of Boba Fett. Audiences, then, need to stream Boba Fett's standalone series first to recognize what's going on in the premiere of The Mandalorian's third season. Okay, its opening episode recaps elements from The Book of Boba Fett for those who didn't tune into the Temuera Morrison-starring TV show. Even so, it's not enough to catch those viewers up on everything, including why Din Djarin and Grogu are back together in The Mandalorian season 3 episode 1.
Some MCU and Star Wars fans simply don't have the time to watch every film or TV show in these franchises. There's a risk, then, that they'll be confused when they watch the latest film or show in Marvel or Lucasfilm's series.
And that's a major problem Stranger Things could find itself running into, especially as its first spin-off is going to be a stage play. There will be UK fans who won't catch The First Shadow before it departs the West End. Similarly, international audiences might not have the chance to watch it live, depending on what US city or country they live in.
Subsequently, those fans won't be clued up on every aspect of Henry Creel's backstory heading into Stranger Things 5. The Netflix show's final season could follow Star Wars' lead in briefly recapping what those fans missed from the stage play, but it won't be thorough enough for said viewers to get the full picture. Diehards who have followed Stranger Things from day one deserve answers to the franchise's biggest mysteries. If Netflix reveals all behind some of the series' biggest secrets in the stage play, some fans won't be pleased – and rightfully so.
I'm glad that the Stranger Things franchise is evolving. I'm equally pleased that it'll continue after its fifth season launches on the world's best streaming service. However, if Stranger Things: The First Shadow contains important information regarding this universe's lore that every fan needs to know about, it'll be hugely disappointing. The only chance some fans will have to catch up on what they've missed will be to read about these reveals online.
And that would be a crying shame. Fandoms are a big part of what makes movie series or TV shows so successful these days, yet there's the possibility that some Stranger Things will feel left out of the conversation if a) they can't see The First Shadow and b) the stage play contains vital details about the franchise's lore.
Even worse, they won't be able to fully appreciate Stranger Things season 5 when it's eventually released – Netflix saying in a press release: "This gripping new adventure will take you right back to the beginning of the Stranger Things story – and may hold the key to the end". If that's the case, Stranger Things is in danger of following Marvel and Star Wars' mistake of excluding – inadvertently or not – some of its fanbase, and that doesn't sit right with me.
For more entertainment-based coverage, read up on the best Netflix shows around. Alternatively find out how to watch the Marvel movies in order or how to stream the Star Wars films in order.