Star Wars Has Written Itself into a Corner, But There’s a Way Out

If you had told me back in 2015 that a Star Wars film centered on Han Solo, one of the most popular and iconic characters in film history, would fail at the box office, then I would have laughed in your face. But this past May, that’s exactly what happened. Solo’s failure is the result of many things—poor marketing, production difficulties, and a baffling release date—but it helps to highlight a phenomenon that has swept across millions of moviegoers: Star Wars fatigue.

We hear about “Marvel fatigue” and “superhero movie fatigue” pretty often nowadays. After all, Marvel has released 20 movies in the last 10 years, and many of them fail to rise above mediocrity. But after only four movies in four years, Star Wars, perhaps the most popular and beloved film franchise of all time, is already declining in quality and appeal. There is a multitude of reasons why Star Wars seems to be inching closer and closer to the Sarlacc pit, but that won’t be my focus here. Instead, I want to answer the question: where does Star Wars go from here?

Solo seems to set up the possibility of future Han Solo-centered films, but I sincerely doubt that Disney would pursue this option after Solo bombed at the box office. There is, of course, the Darth Maul tease at the end of Solo, and it’s possible that we’ll see Qi’ra pop up in another movie, but with not a single solo film confirmed to be in development at the time of writing this article, neither of these characters are guaranteed to show up again.

Let’s start with the obvious option, then: there has been an enormous demand for an Obi-Wan Kenobi solo movie by Star Wars fans, but I don’t think that this is the best route for Star Wars to take. What story could Disney possibly tell about Obi-Wan that further develops his character without shattering the established continuity into tiny, midi-chlorian-sized pieces? Many fans have suggested setting this film in between episodes three and four, as Obi-Wan is largely unaccounted for during this period (presumably living on Tatooine and watching over Luke). It would feel pretty weird, though, if we learned in this hypothetical film that Obi-Wan left Tatooine for a few years to go on an epic space adventure, or even if he helped prevent some nefarious plot on Tatooine itself, because anything significant that Obi-Wan would do has never have been mentioned before in Star Wars canon. This same principle holds true for other massively popular and iconic characters such as Darth Vader.

Don’t get me wrong: characters like Obi-Wan and Darth Vader certainly have the brand recognition to sell tickets. But there are severe disadvantages to creating movies that are so heavily restricted by pre-existing continuity. The immense lack of creative freedom in Rogue One, for example, causes it not to be a bad movie, necessarily, but to be a completely unsurprising one. We know that the heroes give their lives retrieving the Death Star plans before we even sit down to watch. Any tension involving the success of the team’s mission is objectively obliterated by this fact, and the movie suffers because of this. While this isn’t a deal breaker, the quality of any film will inevitably decrease if placed under heavy creative restrictions.

If Disney did greenlight an Obi-Wan or Darth Vader solo movie, it would be admittedly exciting to see these characters take center stage on the silver screen again, but their stories have already been told across both the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. Frankly, there isn’t much room to further explore these characters more than they have already been explored and developed, and attempting to do so in a new or interesting way would be near impossible due to the ever-present manacles of Star Wars continuity. It’s not that an Obi-Wan solo movie couldn’t work, but it’s that making an Obi-Wan solo movie work is a steep uphill battle.

In fact, pretty much any movies set between episodes three and four that feature popular, pre-existing characters are going to inevitably raise issues. Seeing as how both Rogue One and Solo are set during this time period, Disney has yet to release a spin-off outside of this era—and that’s not only problematic, it’s odd. Wouldn’t you think that Disney would want to expand on the lore of the sequel trilogy? You know, the 30 or so years between episodes six and seven that we know virtually nothing about? I can’t be the only one wondering what life was like in the galaxy after the defeat of the Empire and the installation of the new Republic, and how the First Order rose to power. Who are the First Order, and what do they want? What’s their vision for the galaxy, and how does it differ ideologically from that of the Republic? Who is Snoke, and how did he come into power? Who are the Knights of Ren, and why do they matter? There are so many interesting and entirely unanswered questions left in the wake of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and episode nine couldn’t answer all of them if it tried. Heck, future spin-off movies don’t have to answer all or even any of these questions, but there is so much potential for surprising, original storytelling here that it’s a wonder that Disney has yet to capitalize on it, especially given that it can expand upon their specific brand of Star Wars.

As I type this, I can hear some more fanatic Star Wars buffs thumping the covers of their expanded universe novels. “But in the books, characters like Captain Phasma and General Hux are much better developed,” they cry. And while this is true, and while it’s great that these Star Wars novels exist to supplement the stories of the movies, Disney’s greatest obstacle right now isn’t winning over the hearts and minds of their hardcore followers. It’s regaining the trust of the mainstream audience, and the mainstream audience doesn’t even know that canon books about these characters exist.

So, let’s foolishly assume for a moment that Disney takes these spin-off movies in the entirely opposite direction that they’ve been taking them. Maybe they create a new, entirely original character with little to no connections to preexisting canonical events, or maybe they pluck a minor character like Captain Phasma from the sequel trilogy and give her a solo outing. This would allow them to tell a story without having to awkwardly jam it into the rigid jigsaw puzzle that is Star Wars continuity, particularly the continuity of the prequels and the original trilogy. The writers of these films would be able to craft a good story without prioritizing tie-ins to other films, settings, and characters. The main drawback of this approach, obviously, is that a film centered on an original, lesser known, or less popular character is unlikely to sell as many movie tickets as a Kenobi, Darth Vader, or even a Lando Calrissian film. That’s the predicament that these movies are in right now, the corner that Disney has backed itself into it. Go with the movie about the iconic, already developed characters and pull in a mass audience, but risk failing on the creative level, or go with a more original movie with more creative freedom, but risk losing the interest of the audience and the rewards at the box office.

Disney’s Star Wars is in its awkward adolescent phase. It isn’t quite sure who or what it wants to be, but after The Last Jedi’s (arguable) critical failure, and after Solo’s undeniable commercial one, it seems that Disney knows that change in their approach will be necessary. Along those lines, then, another path illuminates itself: despite the fact that Disney scrapped much of the extended universe content when they took over the Star Wars helm, that mountain of content is still out there. Why not adapt some of these stories directly, or at the very least, draw inspiration from them? As wary as I am of Star Wars films continuing to ride on the coattails of their predecessors, there are dozens of interesting Star Wars stories that can be told in the coming years across all periods of Star Wars history. Setting a movie between episodes six and seven is not a magic bullet, and it is far from the only weapon in Disney’s arsenal.

Regardless of where Disney decides to go next, one thing is clear: the Star Wars train isn’t stopping anytime soon. Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi, has been confirmed to be directing his own Star Wars trilogy, and Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are also helming a trilogy of their own. That’s six more Star Wars movies that we know of, and there are likely many more spin-offs and solo films on the way (this isn’t even to mention the two confirmed television series to be released on Disney’s streaming service).

Mark my words: it won’t be long before we’re getting two Star Wars movies a year instead of one. When that time comes, I only hope that Disney has found a way to rekindle the love for our most beloved franchise.

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