Yesterday, Lucasfilm dropped a real bombshell; Star Wars Stories, the movies released between numbered Star Wars films, will be put on hold for the foreseeable future. The angry, racist, manbaby Star Wars “fans” have no doubt pounded their chests and claimed a victory against the tyranny of Kathleen Kennedy and her Disney overlords but nothing could be further from the truth. As an evil, SJW, Commie bastard who loved The Last Jedi, I think this is the best thing that could have happened. Now Lucasfilm can step back and ask itself a very important question: what the hell are Star Wars Stories even supposed to be?
Despite being one of the biggest franchises since the dawn of cinema, Star Wars is in an unenviable position. In many ways, it’s become too big to fail; an institution able to coast on its name but beholdened to the expectations of its own legacy. Nowhere was this more evident than the Star Wars Stories. When they were first announced, I was actually more excited for them than I was the “mainline” Star Wars films. The side stories had the flexibility to explore the Star Wars universe and approach it from new perspectives and even new genres. How weird would a Star Wars neo-noir be? Imagine something akin to an archeology treasure hunt across the galaxy (i.e. Indiana Jones in space). The Star Wars Stories had infinite potential just waiting to be realized… such a shame.
The first sign of trouble came about at the beginning with Rogue One, a “war movie” set in the galaxy far far away. Lucasfilm made a lot of noise about hiring hot young director Gareth Edwards fresh off the successes of his indie monster movie Monsters and his not so indie Godzilla movie. Edwards was to bring a fresh new perspective to the franchise…. until he wasn’t. It all started to go sideways when executives watched a rough cut of the film and deemed it not “Star Wars” enough (whatever that’s supposed to mean). Reshoots/rewrites were ordered immediately and Edwards was swapped out with workman director Tony Gilroy. In the end, Rogue One was an entertaining movie that had a more tactile feel than the franchise had ever seen, but the cracks were showing. Fan-bait moments like the C-3PO/R2-D2 cameo, Darth Vader hallway massacre and creepy CGI Leia sought to undermine what was otherwise a great standalone story. The film was a critical and box office success, but it was also a troubling sign of things to come.
And then came Solo… Every issue that Rogue One had was amplified during the making of this film. Lucasfilm made a lot of noise about hiring visionary comedy directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller who were to add their energetic style to the origin story… until they weren’t. These two didn’t even make it to reshoots before being kicked off the project and replaced by workman director Ron Howard; their non-traditional style of directing didn’t sit well with the powers that be and for that crime they were cast into the Sarlacc pit. The distracting fan-bait moments of Rogue One became central story elements of Solo; did we really need to hear Solo speak Wookie or see the Kessel run? It’s been said that Han Solo already has an origin story, it’s called Star Wars: A New Hope! In that film, he went from being a sleazy smuggler to a person who cares about more than himself and ultimately saves the day. Solo was a movie that nobody really asked for and it stands as the only Star Wars movie to be a box office failure.
Strangely, in the fallout of Solo, Lucasfilm and Disney started to double down on the fan-bait. They announced (hinted at?) future Star Wars Stories focusing on established fan favorites such as Boba Fett, Obi Wan Kenobi, Lando Calrissian and Admiral Ackbar (ok, that last one is fake but nowhere near as implausible as it should be). What started as a bold new venture quickly became an excuse to trot out old characters and play directly to fan nostalgia and potential merchandising. The Star Wars Stories were supposed to breath new life into the franchise, not hasten its demise.
The real irony in all this is that while it was the Star Wars Stories that were supposed to break the traditional mold, it turned out to be Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that would return Star Wars to its bold, pre-Ewok heyday. Rian Johnson was fearless in his portrayal of beloved classic characters and created a film that was both surprising and genuinely moving. That the film was so divisive is a testament to its bold take on the old story and, personally, it renewed my love of the franchise. We live in dark times and many viewed a new Star Wars movie as cinematic comfort food, something to make them forget their troubles; TLJ gave them no quarter and violently ripped the rose tinted glasses off, forcing us to see our heroes as flawed people. These fans didn’t want Star Wars to be anything more than a comfort blanket and they reacted violently when it dared to be more. But for it to live on, it HAS to be more.
It’s a relief that Lucasfilm hit the brakes the way they did. Star Wars is a fantastic property with infinite possibilities, but first the institution of Star Wars needs to be knocked down. It’s heartening Kathleen Kennedy put her faith in a bold future by greenlighting an entire trilogy by Last Jedi director Rian Johnson (slayer of manbabies, first of his name). The Star Wars Stories were veering way off course and the fact that the stewards of the franchise have the confidence to NOT blindly stay the course shows that Star Wars is in fact in good hands. Once upon a time, Star Wars was a bold, daring new property… It can be that again.