When it comes to TV, Star Wars is sitting very pretty after the enormous success of Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian, a space opera tour de force that has completely re-routed Disney’s vision for its long running saga. All of a sudden, we are due to see multiple enticing spin-offs centred on characters including Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano and Cara Dune, which will eventually culminate in a grand crossover event involving the soft-hearted bounty hunter. Star Wars’ number one rule – that members of the Skywalker clan must be at the heart of all major events – has been Death Starred in less time than you can say: “Great shot kid, that’s one in a million!”
But how about the big screen, where Star Wars began, and where – until very recently – it was always imagined the saga’s most vital moments would play out? Here, we find ourselves in a very different place, with the once promising sequel trilogy having ultimately disappointed due to a lack of fresh thinking and an approach to macro-storytelling more chaotic than a box of angry Krykna.
This week we got the titbit of news that Marvel supremo Kevin Feige’s long-mooted Star Wars movie is still moving ahead, with Rick & Morty producer Michael Waldron now on board to write the screenplay. Waldron is also writing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and is head writer on the upcoming Disney+ series Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston’s prince of mischief. In short, he’s being trusted with a whole heap of Disney-owned properties.
Then there’s Rogue Squadron, the starfighter spin-off that Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins was recently tapped to direct, about which little is known other than it looks like another off-centre project. Finally, of the movies still thought to be on Lucasfilm’s current slate, there’s another untitled film from Jojo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi, about which very little is yet known.
We do have – back on TV – upcoming shows based on the early lives of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Lando Calrissian. So it is not as if the Skywalker clan and their pals have been completely scrubbed from galactic history. But it would be a shock to see any of these films continuing where the messy and disappointing Rise of Skywalker left off. There was a sense, watching that movie, that Disney-era directors of Star Wars had become trapped by the overwhelming legacy of 40-plus years of space opera shenanigans, to the point that it made more sense to wipe the slate clean and start again with fresh story arcs, free of the terrible pressure inspired by legions of fans watching one’s every move.
That’s precisely what Rian Johnson’s proposed new Star Wars trilogy was once intended to do, prior to The Mandalorian changing everything. The Last Jedi film-maker was announced in November 2017 as the director of a new triptych set in an as-yet-undiscovered corner of a galaxy far, far away. But very little has been heard about these movies since October 2019, when Johnson cryptically told Entertainment Tonight he would still be “thrilled if it happens”. That’s a pity, for divisive as The Last Jedi turned out to be, it was still the only film in the sequel trilogy to really try to shake up the saga.
The worry is that Johnson’s ideas might no longer sit in the sweet spot where Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy currently sees the saga going, which seems to be centred on either the Mandalorian-verse or fan-friendly nods to supporting characters from the original trilogy.
The basic plan seems to be a shift into what we can only refer to as a kind of Hollywood populism: taking anything that has worked in previous Star Wars ventures and expanding on it. This is why Donald Glover is returning as cocky smuggler Calrissian (as pretty much the only character in Solo: A Star Wars Story that fans really took to), and Rogue One’s Diego Luna is back as Cassian Andor for his own Disney+ spin-off. And yet, if the future of Star Wars is to match its glorious past, we need something more than this cosy, reactive creativity. We know nothing about the grand plan for the big screen – will all these new movies exist within the same timeline, so that their major players can be brought together Marvel-style for another grand space opera smackdown? Or will Star Wars remain content to play out in the margins for the time being?
For those of us who witnessed the mess Lucasfilm made of the over-ambitious sequel trilogy, such short-term thinking might seem a safer bet than the alternative. And yet at some point the Disney-owned studio will need to find a way to mirror the success of the original trilogy by telling a multiple-episode tale that transports us once again to the whirling, mesmeric cosmic playground of our dreams, to a galaxy that seemed creatively limitless. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask – just don’t bring back Emperor Palpatine yet again or we’ll have to feed you to the krayt dragon.