Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on the future of Star Wars

     A few years back when it was announced that Star Wars was going to return in Disney's hands, I promptly wrote about all the pitfalls that I hoped the new saga would avoid, in a post titled "Star Wars: What Not to Do." I'm glad to say that they mostly followed my advice (because Disney follows my blog and cares about my opinion), but now I look to the future of movies bearing the name Star Wars and feel a strange sense of cautious foreboding at the future of the franchise.

     After the beautiful success of The Force Awakens, it was somewhat inevitable that an opportunistic company like Disney wouldn't limit themselves to the saga. In fact, true fans have been calling for spin-offs for years to explore the expanded universe and its fascinating characters like Darth Bane, Grand Admiral Thrawn, or the Knights of the Old Republic. Disney (wisely, but regrettably) cast the expanded universe of books and material aside to reinvent as they see fit, counting only Lucasfilm properties as binding. Basically, only the movies (even the bad ones, sadly), Clone Wars cartoon series, and Rebels cartoon series are considered true canon now. But the excitement has been reignited, and Disney is excitedly lining up future movies within the galaxy far, far away.

     Personally, my excitement about all of this is cautiously contained. I loved The Force Awakens and eagerly anticipate the finale of the Skywalker saga and the ripple effects of it. Meanwhile, there's a Han Solo origin story in the works, a Boba Fett origin story in the rumor mill, and a Death Star origin story (Rogue One) already on DVD and Blu-Ray after a successful run at the box office. Yet somewhere within, I can't help but start to wonder if Star Wars as a franchise is treading towards the direction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and will eventually run the risk of doing too much, and wearing out. In a recent post, I predicted that the comic book movie genre may be hitting its twilight years, due simply to an overage of movies in the genre, and a shortage of original stories remaining. Star Wars needs to approach its coming years with caution and control to avoid a similar overdose.

     I will admit that Star Wars has a ways to go before it will seem too overdone, but Rogue One, after a tumultuous time in filming, was received with mixed reviews, and the Han Solo origin story has already been met with grievous amounts of trouble in production. Where Marvel introduced the main players in individual movies and then gave us Avengers as the ensemble movie, Star Wars is almost doing the same thing, but backwards. We already had episodes IV-VI to introduce us to the ensemble that included Han Solo, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, and the Death Star, and now they're going back to show us where these entities came from (though in the case of Darth Vader, we already got that story... cringe). Essentially, Star Wars seems to be tampering with the idea of following the trend that is currently dominating nerd-dom entertainment, namely, pursuing origin stories for just about everyone.

     Here's part of the problem though: when Marvel decided to explore Wolverine's backstory, Hugh Jackman was there to reprise his role as the iconic character he created and see it through to the end. Star Wars doesn't have that option, which means that particularly as regards the Han Solo movie, a young unknown actor is now tasked with filling impossibly large shoes that have only ever been filled by the man who made the character iconic. No one but Harrison Ford has ever done Han Solo, and to ask someone else to try severely limits the next actor, and automatically puts a certain unforgiving rigidity on the audience's expectations.

     If the Han Solo movie does even moderately well, I can guarantee that there will be an instant surge in production plans for more spin-offs, and really that wouldn't be the worst thing, provided it's done right. And in order for it to be done right, I strongly believe that Star Wars needs to get away from the core story of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, etc. Rogue One had the right idea at its core to use completely new and hitherto unknown characters, even if the execution played out in polarizing ways. But in order for Star Wars to not become the next MCU, I would argue that Star Wars needs to get further away from its origins, rather than continuing to exploit them.

     If I'm being honest, which I always am, we don't need to know Han's backstory; we've never needed to know. He's always been fine as is, fortuitously dropped into the Mos Eisley Cantina with murky motives and a certain moral ambiguity. Where he came from and how he came to be the Han we know is just as good a story untold. That's not to say I've never wondered, but from a purely cinematic perspective, while it might be fun to see how Han came to be the smuggler we meet in A New Hope, over-exposition can absolutely rob a story and character of its gravitas. This very point is what birthed proposing watching the saga movies in "Machete Order."

     Perhaps the best stories yet to be told don't stem from stories that have already been told. What kinds of evils did the Jedi battle before the Empire began its rise? Circa episode 1, the Jedi confidently state the Sith have been extinct for over a millennium; well what happened there? Who were the Sith of a millennium ago? Who were the warriors on the Dark Side before Palpatine, Dooku, and Vader? Who were the Jedi of the Old Republic? The clones-- what are the psychological effects of the accelerated growth and having an entire army of identical faces, each as expendable as the next, with no expectation of surviving the war? These are stories that Star Wars can explore without damage to the parent stories, characters, or actors, while breathing actual new life into the galaxy. Let's hear no more of Death Stars and super-weapons; let the current Rey story-line finish its run, and then let Luke, Han, Leia, and their friends rest in peace.

There's a whole galaxy far, far away to explore.

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