The series of eight episodes (making around 20 minutes of screentime in total) of Forces of Destiny, Disney’s animated series focusing on Star Wars’ heroines, is over. In the first “season”, aired on Disney’s official youtube channel, we saw Rey, Leia, Padmé, Ahsoka Tano, Jyn Erso and Sabine Wren as protagonists. We were told to expect more episodes in the future, but now is the time to evaluate what we have seen so far. Was it worth it?
Highlighting the Heroines
Forces of Destiny episodes are exactly the right length that parents can let their little daughters (or sons) watch it as part of their Star Wars education. The appeal at young audience as the target group is obvious, starting with the style, through the fairly straightforward plots, the “right” mixture of characters being “cool” and some cute elements. That all said, I think it’s really well done and there is no reason an adult could not watch this either. Quite the opposite, actually – certain straightforwardness and “innocence” might prove to be a welcome disruption in the field of grim, dark “adult” stories. (And that all said, I think many kids, on the other hand, prefer their tales to be darker than what sweet Disney often serves them.)
Force of Destiny‘s first and foremost objective was to highlight the female characters of Star Wars, which it has undoubtedly succeeded in. The heroines can be seen as role models, but the stories are also made so the audience can see themselves in them. For example in “The Stranger”, the story almost begs for the audience to identify with the little girl Jyn helps – and which little girl (or boy) would not like her pet to be saved by Jyn Erso?
The series’ existence is justified even if it were just an exhibit of female characters, making sure they don’t stay overshadowed by their male counterparts. But it was such a clear objective to do just this that I am going to review the series also from other perspectives. Were Forces of Destiny relevant in any other ways?
Anything New For The Story?
Did the Forces of Destiny bring us any new content story-wise? Sure, however they are just bits and pieces. In some way, these “fill in the blanks” – moments that could have been in the movies, but were cut out. That is especially the case of “Beasts of Echo Base”, which builds on the ideas cut from The Empire Strikes Back. Originally, the script included a subplot with Wampas inside the Rebel base on Hoth, and the scenes actually were filmed. If you watch “Beasts of Echo Base” and then follow with the deleted scenes, you could put together a coherent story.
Another good example of something that happens off-screen in the movies but now can be seen is “Ewok Escape”, which shows how Leia reached the Ewok village and under which circumstances did she receive the dress we see her wearing in the film when Luke, Han and the rest find her.
Objectively, did we need such scenes? No. But they are not entirely without value, either. Think of them as of a DVD bonus.
I percieve the chief value of these scenes in that they establish or expand existing relationships. Rey and BB-8, Leia and Ahsoka, even Leia and Sabine (these two have practically zero interaction just on their own apart from this). We, as the audience, can get better sense of what do these characters mean to each other (for instance in the case of Rey, if you watch only TFA, it is not communicated very clearly why exactly should Rey care about BB-8 apart from his strategic value, or aside from the fact that he may be cute).
Likewise, these small events helped define the characters and their personalities: especially in the case of Jyn Erso (who, unlike others, doesn’t really have a partner there), where Forces of Destiny offered a rare glimpse into what her life was like before the events of Rogue One.
Is It Star Wars?
The last question I would like to answer is actually one of paramount importance. That is: do Forces of Destiny actually qualify as Star Wars? Does it feel like Star Wars? Isn’t it just (as I am sure some voices would object) a sweet attempt to “import” the notion of Disney princesses into Star Wars?
All right, if I put it like this, I could actually see Forces of Destiny being a vanguard to some actual Disney Star Wars Princess movie. Marketing motives of Disney high-ups aside, the motives of the creative team are certainly genuine: Dave Filoni has repeatedly stated that female heroines of Star Wars deserve some highlight (and I agree).
But back to the question: is this Star Wars? I daresay mostly yes. The cartoon style does not move Forces of Destiny further from Star Wars than the Clone Wars or Rebels animated series are. More importantly, the themes – compassion, care for “all living things”, lessons in humility, bravery in the face of overwhelming odds – are pretty much in the core of Star Wars. The atmosphere mostly corresponds, I would say more with the prequel trilogy than the classic one (probably often thanks to the setting).
Of course, in three minutes, you don’t have enough time to explore deep, intellectually rich themes of the SW universe. The connection to the lore is enough, however – we see shapeshifter assassins on Coruscant, we see the bounty hunter droid IG-88 (who appears in The Empire Strikes Back and has even much richer record of extra-canon appearances), we see Wampas or denizens of Jakku.
Sometime later during the year, we are going to see more episodes of Forces of Destiny. If I were to be a perfectionist, demanding that it offered content more relevant for all types of fans, I would suggest picking the plot of the episodes among small, self-contained events which actually have major impact on the overall story. These could be picked exactly from the moments that are important, but not worthy of featuring in stand-alone films. For example: how did Hera Syndulla acquire her droid. How Leia spoke up in the Senate for the first time. I believe this would give Forces of Destiny the overall relevance which would make them more than just a nice, but fringe detail that might soon be forgotten.