The only thing more generic than Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens was the Death Star II in Return of the Jedi. So the notion that Star Wars: Episode IX will rely on that same old giant superweapon trope is disturbing, but would it really be so terrible? Here are three ways a massive superweapon could actually be great in Episode IX — and one way it could make all fans cry out in disappointment.
Reason 1: It Could Be Something Funky Like the World Devastators from Dark Empire
In the 1991 Star Wars comic book series Dark Empire, not only did the Emperor come back to life thanks to some handy clones, his new Empire employed a fleet of planet-suckers called World Devastators. These things were pretty much a combination of Mega-Maid from Spaceballs and the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation. They rolled-up on a planet, started sucking everything up, and used all the stuff it ate to make robotic automated weapons. Basically, the Empire in this series had TIE Fighters that were like terrifying, self-driving Teslas.
While a little goofy, this kind of superweapon was at least new, bringing a fresh sci-fi angle to the trope. If Episode IX had superweapons like this, it would rock.
Reason 2: What if It was Actually Terrifying Like the Sun Crusher in The Jedi Academy Trilogy?
Before The Force Awakens came out, a lot of fans (including yours truly) assumed that Starkiller Base would be a device which destroyed stars. This would be similar to a ship called The Sun Crusher, which appeared in Kevin J. Anderson’s three-book-cycle, The Jedi Academy Trilogy. In the second book, Dark Apprentice, one of Luke Skywalker’s students who turned to evil (sound familiar?) steals the Sun Crusher and starts blowing up entire star systems.
That might sound similar to Episode VII’s Starkiller Base, but that superweapon was too abstract to be really scary. The Starkiller Base destroyed a bunch of planets at once from a great distance. Big whoop.
In contrast, the Sun Crusher was scary in those books because it was both small and indiscriminate. Blowing up planets you’ve targeted specifically is one thing, just blowing up everything in a given star system is way more hardcore. In A New Hope, Darth Vader said, “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” Okay, but would he have said that if we were talking about destroying entire stars?
Reason 3: 70% of Star Wars Movies Have Superweapons (And We Love Them!)
Speaking of Vader, we could easily paraphrase him by saying this: The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the narrative reliance on superweapons in Star Wars movies. In a sense, Vader was kind of trolling Star Wars movies ahead of time with this crack. Need proof? Of the ten existing Star Wars movies, only three films don’t have plots which feature or rely on some kind of superweapon. Really!
The Empire Strikes Back, The Phantom Menace and Solo, all manage to tell space adventure stories without threatening the heroes with a giant superweapon. However, the rest of the Star Wars movies have superweapons either front-and-center or use their existence to motivate the plot. This is obvious in A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, Rogue One, and The Force Awakens because three of those movies have a Death Star in them — and one of has a Death Star knock-off called Starkiller Base.
But what about Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith and The Last Jedi? Well, arguably, the entire plot of Attack of the Clones is a smokescreen for the rise of the Empire, and in the last act of the movie, Count Dooku actually makes off with an early version of the Death Star plans. Ditto for Revenge of the Sith; the final scenes actually depict Vader and the Emperor watching as the Death Star is constructed.
Most shockingly though, the most innovative, progressive, and risky Star Wars movie of them all — The Last Jedi — actually features not one but TWO superweapons which motivate nearly every single plot action. The massive Dreadnaughts which Poe Dameron is so worried about are called “fleet killers,” and half the plot of the movie is connected to this fear. But then, when the Resistance is hiding on Crait, Finn reveals the First Order has miniaturized “Death Star tech” in the form of giant canons. So, even when Star Wars tries to be different, superweapons still create a nice, neat way to define what it is the good guys are up against.
The point is, there’s no question that Star Wars has an addiction to structuring its plots around superweapons. The more important point: no one seems to notice or care.
Why a Superweapon Could Be Terrible: J.J. Abrams
Look, I love J.J. Abrams, but have you seen Star Trek Into Darkness? You know, the movie he directed right before he did The Force Awakens? Everyone complains that The Force Awakens cribs from A New Hope, but in Star Trek Into Darkness J.J. Abrams rips-off himself from like five years prior. Into Darkness is such an unoriginal sci-fi action movie, that it actually features Benedict Cumberbatch crashing a hijacked starship into a skyline in an attempt to create a kind of 9-11 allegory…in space. Not only was it heavy-handed. It was also boring.
The fact that everyone forgot about Into Darkness and was surprised by some of the wonkiness of The Force Awakens is hilarious and heartwarming. We nerds really are optimistic about our movies!
With that in mind, why would a superweapon in Star Wars: Episode IX be bad? Easy answer: J.J. Abrams doesn’t have a good track record with this kind of thing. So, what are the odds that a new superweapon will be really corny, or worse — shaped like a sphere?
Han Solo would say “never tell me the odds.” Then again, Han Solo is dead.
Star Wars: Episode IX is out everywhere on December 19, 2019.