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PLEASE NOTE: The following article contains major spoilers for "Iron Man 2."
If you would be so kind as to indulge me an imaginary scenario: The year is 1974. You've been sitting in a movie theater. The Godfather: Part II is concluding. It was good - perhaps not as iconic as the first film, but with a more sprawling sense of narrative and a more fully-realized world. You're in no rush to leave, since the movie was pretty long to begin with and the score is, of course, lovely. So you sit through the credits. As the last bit of text scrolls up, you stand at last to leave ... only to see that the screen has suddenly brightened back to life.
The film, it seems, isn't quite over ...
Up on the screen is the familiar sight of the rolling Italian countryside - surely some "old country" real-estate holding of the Corleone Family, you're mind tells you. You can even faintly recall Hyman Roth alluding to something like this in the Miami scene (maybe). A small farm vehicle pulls to a stop near the edge of what we gather is a vineyard, and out steps the grave, familiar figure of actor Robert Duvall - or, rather, Tom Hagen; Don Corleone's consiglieri. A-ha! So this is still the movie. An extra scene: A treat for the true fans who stuck all the way through. Neato!
As you and a handful of other stragglers sit back down to watch, Hagen looks gravely out over a horizon. We can't see what he sees yet, but whatever it is is cause for concern. He calls one of his lieutenants over and issues terse instructions: "Tell Michael we've found it."
As the lieutenant hurries off, we now cut to a wide shot. Hagen and his men are standing on the rim of a massive, freshly-blasted crater in the center of what used to be a quaint Sicilian field. An explosion? A bomb? Some sort of plane crash? An act of vengeance from the Pentangeli Family? We don't know. In a final closeup of the offending impact-site we see what has apparently piqued so much concern: A small metallic cylinder, roughly the size and shape of a futuristic flashlight. A swell of ominous music ... and a hard cut to black. The end.
... What the hell was that supposed to be?
Most of the remaining patrons are entirely puzzled, but among the chatter it soon becomes apparent that at least one attendee recognizes it, and is explaining its significance to his companions with an excitability that borders on the absurd: "It's called a lightsaber."
Light-what? What's this kid on about?
"Yeah! I saw a picture of it in Famous Monsters last month; it's a movie called Star Wars!"
"It looks awesome! It's about wizards, only it's in space! With aliens and rockets and stuff!"
Wizards in space? What does The Godfather have to do with wizards in space? Weird ...
Three years later, that "Wizards in Space" movie would be the biggest thing that had ever happened, and looking back you'd realize that that curious "extra scene" at the end of Godfather II had been a defining moment in time: The moment when The Godfather ceased to be a nominally "real world" story of mobsters and became joined to a larger world of magical fantasy ... the moment when everything anyone had thought they'd known about those films was changed irrevocably by a fleeting glimpse of a futuristic-flashlight.
Imagine how that would've felt.
Now, of course, here in reality, that never occurred. The Godfather and Star Wars have nothing to do with one another. But if that had happened, well... what would that have been like?
We're about to find out.