In the wake of the announcement of Solo: A Star Wars Story and potentially (in distant future) a Star Wars film series directed by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (aka the Game of Thrones team), I had to ask myself the question: what do we really want from Star Wars in the future? And do we really want, or need, what Lucasfilm/Disney is promising us?
The plan seems to be that we are not going to run out of stories set in the Star Wars universe in a long time. But what kind of stories do we want? Let’s tackle this topic with another question: why are stories created in the first place?
An Author Has Something To Say
There are several ways how film stories (and art in general) come into existence. One is when there is a writer who has something to say. That was George Lucas’s case. In the beginning, he was just like any other writer who has a story and wants to tell it. It was also the case of some notable Star Wars novel writers such as Timothy Zahn (the Thrawn trilogy), Drew Karpyshyn (the “father” of Darth Revan and the one who explored the Sith “rule of two”) or Karen Traviss (the author of Republic Commando novels and the “mother” of one of Star Wars’ most intricate cultures, the Mandalorians). These authors also had a clear vision and wanted to tell a tale set in the Star Wars universe, but having its own point to bring home.
Another possibility is being a creator who wants to say something specific. This is for example the case of Dave Filoni, the maker of Clone Wars and later, Rebels series. Filoni has filled in some gaps in-between the episodes (much like Rogue One), in characters’ pasts (we’ll see if the Solo movie is going to be like that), but his stories also possess clear themes – somewhat similar to those in the background of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for example the questionability of using power to accomplish the defeat of evil.
From Indulging Fans To Milking The Franchise
Yet different kind of approach is indulging the fans. This is more the kind of approach where stories come into existence in order to meet demand. That was also the case of especially later series of Rebels, when Filoni brought in the fan-favourite character of Thrawn and started showing more of the romance between main characters. I also believe Rogue One falls into this category – even though from slightly different perspective. Rogue One was partly a “counterattempt” to J. J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens, to give the fans who wanted an “original” story and viewed The Force Awakens as pure recycling the original Star Wars. Yet J. J. Abrams himself, too, attempted – in a different way – to “indulge fans” by offering callbacks to the original film. The Last Jedi did fan-service perhaps even more, in specific instances by showing moments between Finn and Poe or between Rey and Kylo Ren; even by having Kylo destroy his helmet and discard his wannabe-Vader image, which some fans thought ridiculous in the previous film.
This approach is already borderline questionable. Stories and their elements should not exist just in order to meet demand. If for no other reason, then because while part of the fans is going to be happy their wishes have come true, even larger part that isn’t interested is going to complain. Moreover, those whose wishes came true will probably complain as well, for example about the fact that the element they had been waiting for has been put into a mediocre story that was created for no other reason than to incorporate that element. I am slightly worried this is a trap Lucasfilm may be getting itself into with the future plans of many “…A Star Wars Story”-es.
But all the three films recently released still had their own plot and motivation beyond just indulging fans. The idea behind the newest trilogy still was (or was supposed to be) to “finish the Skywalker saga”, to tell what happened “after”. In this, it connects to the first category: it wants to tell a story. It relates also to the second one; it has something to say. That is apparent especially in the case of The Last Jedi, which stresses certain themes, challenges traditional structures of narration and the story archetype of triumphant (white, male) heroes.
Still a different case – to finish my list of reasons why stories may be born – is using up all of a franchise’s potential. That is what I believe Lucasfilm’s new creations aspire to in the first place. “Milking a franchise for all its worth” is a degraded version of this goal – especially if it was all done for money. Money-making was certainly a factor in Disney and Lucasfilm’s new endeavours, but nobody says films made for money can’t be good. The problem is when profit becomes the primary objective and everything else is secondary.
When The Makers Are Trapped
Can there be any worse reason for making a film, writing a story? You’ll be probably surprised to hear me say: there can be one. And that is making a story just because you have to. And that is currently my biggest fear about the direction Lucasfilm is taking. They may start making more and more films, but they won’t be able to stop. Not because they would want to make more money until they can’t make more money anymore, no. It may become a mixture of the desire to keep the wheel turning and the deluded conviction that we need to produce more to satisfy the demand of the fans. The demand would have been satisfied already long time ago, but the makers wouldn’t notice and they would try to convince the fans of the same – not because they would want to get more money out of them, but simply because they would think that’s what the fans want. Such an endeavour would ultimately destroy itself, becoming so mediocre that nobody would care about it anymore. The bad part of it is that, instead of departing in full strength, like a king surrendering his throne with a majestic gesture, it may be a slow deterioration of an old, mad king deprived of his strength years ago, surrounded by the last few wizened servants and rats in a ruined castle. And the fear is that Star Wars might become that castle.
Quo Vadis, Star Wars?
So let’s recapitulate: there are several approaches to making new Star Wars stories. One is to have something to say, purely letting the inspiration out. One is to want to say something, the desire to say something specific, be it filling in somebody’s history or emphasising some values or themes of the setting. Then there is indulging the fans, and there is also milking the franchise for all its potential. And the last case is pure spamming.
And now we can again ask the question: what do the fans want? How do we want our stories to be written? What do we want them to bring to us? Do we even want them on the film screen?
Let’s think about this, as fans, without future suggestive queries. Just one basic question. What do we want from the future of Star Wars?