In the realms of creatives such as we all fancy ourselves to be, there is nothing sadder than a work that is left unfinished. Dickens left one with the Mystery of Edwin Drood; we never did find out who the murderer was. Robert Louis Stevenson and F. Scott Fitzgerald both left novels incomplete when they croaked, though not so incomplete as to escape publication, of course!
But I’m seeing an increasingly vile trend, especially in moving pictures, that represents a completely different form of incompleteness: the incomplete original. That is to say, a movie deliberately left with more dangling threads than a bad tailor specifically because they will be picked up in a hoped-for franchise. It’s not a new thing, of course, but a lot of the old movies that seemed to be waiting for a sequel to resolve things were really just being coy and 1970s bleak with their audiences–The Italian Job comes to mind, the original one, not the glitzy remake.
No, the earliest movie I can think of is The Golden Compass, which has no ending at all, just a setup for two sequels that poor box office never saw materialize. You could argue that the book it was based on had no ending either, I suppose, but that’s immaterial. The Harry Potter people were able to conjure one out of whole cloth when they split their bloated seventh book into two beached-whale movies.
In fact, the young adult genre is littered with would-be franchises that didn’t give the audience the benefit of an ending. City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures…all based on series of books that confidently left people haning without even a perfuntory wrapping-up because the posers-that-be were so confident they’d be the next Hunger Games (which, not incidentally, actually had an ending on the first one, if not so much the following two). I’m sure there are a dozen more in production.
Unless your movies are being made back to back, there’s really only one way to do things: the Star Wars way. That is, the way the first movie handled things, before anyone knew it would be a multitrillion-dollar juggernaut: wrap up the story but leave a few hooks for a possible sequel. In Star Wars, there is exactly one such hook: Darth Vader survives. If the movie hadn’t been a hit, that would have been that, but the movie still tells a complete story and if nothing more were to be made, that would be fine (don’t talk to me about Splinter in the Mind’s Eye, I don’t even know if that’s canon anymore).
I guess what I’m saying is…the transition from book to screen gives all sorts of opportunities. You can make things better than the original or merely rearrange them so that they fit better. If Star Wars, the greatest media property of all time, was willing to put some sort of a bow on its first installment, you should be too. Even if it means changing things a little.