When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, it changed the franchise forever. Suddenly, younger Star Wars fans like J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson were making new adventures in a galaxy far, far away. But after several new projects, another shakeup is needed.
But it’s not a question of talent. Even if you love every single piece of Star Wars media post-Force Awakens, this whole Rebellion still needs a makeover. Here’s why, and how Lucasfilm can save Star Wars from itself.
Lucasfilm should de-emphasize Star Wars
The Hollywood Reporter recently revealed that after a failure to agree on a script, Lucasfilm let its purchase of the Tomi Adeyemi YA series Children of Blood and Bone lapse, which means it’s now being adapted by Paramount instead. Adeyemi will get creative control, and Paramount will get a new and potentially lucrative fantasy franchise.
There’s a clear pattern here: Anytime Lucasfilm attempts a non-Star Wars project it seems to fall through, which leads the studio to double down on lightsabers. Sure, we’ve got a Willow series and a new Indiana Jones coming, but those are existing franchises. Lucasfilm hasn’t produced a new non-Star Wars film since the 2012 historical drama Red Tails.
This is the opposite of the 1980s. We tend to think that Lucasfilm just went dark after 1983’s Return of the Jedi, but that was arguably the riskiest period in the studio’s history thanks to films like Labyrinth, Willow, Howard the Duck, Tucker, and The Land Before Time. Whether those movies succeeded isn’t the point. They were all big swings that showed a willingness to take risks.
When Lucasfilm bought the rights to Children of Blood and Bone, it seemed to indicate the return of a more innovative studio. Instead, it’s back to betting on more Star Wars.
Star Wars needs a Star Trek reboot
Something strange about Star Wars is the fact that every single live-action sequel is designed to adhere to the aesthetic of films that were released in 1977, 1980, and 1983. It’s impossible to imagine this kind of devotion to a single style in any other franchise.
James Bond movies wouldn’t work if the directors were still trying to make them look like they were set in the 1960s. And what if there was an obsession with Batman movies having to look like the 1960s show? Can you imagine?
And then there’s Star Trek. At no point in its growth did the Star Trek franchise try to emulate the exact style of its previous incarnations. Yes, Trek has fan service the same way Star Wars (and Bond and Batman) do. But as a franchise, it’s taken huge aesthetic and tonal risks over and over again. In 1987, The Next Generation writers were banned from even mentioning characters from The Original Series. That was extreme, but it allowed TNG to stand on its own.
Can you imagine Star Wars taking the same approach? It’s almost impossible to picture a Next Generation of Star Wars because whenever the franchise seems to attempt something new it’s only a ruse before fleeing back to nostalgia. Imagine The Force Awakens with Rey but no Han Solo or Luke Skywalker. That’s what Star Trek: The Next Generation was, and that’s the bravery Star Wars needs.
Even when Trek does bring back old characters, it takes risks. Star Trek has recast Spock. Twice! Star Wars can’t even think about putting Luke Skywalker in a scene without resorting to digital ghosts of living people. The Mandalorian relied on ersatz Yoda and Boba Fett to bring in viewers. Star Wars is an ouroboros.
When J.J. Abrams made the fan-friendly 2009 Star Trek reboot, the ships looked different and the cast was brand new. There was some nostalgia with Leonard Nimoy as “Old Spock,” but Abrams — along with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman — constructed a new canon in an alternate timeline. It allowed those films to feel fresh, and the Trek universe to feel open again. Star Wars needs that.
Hardcore fans always say that Star Wars is rich with ideas, but so far we haven’t seen that. In 2019 Palpatine somehow returned, and in 2022 we’ve got Boba Fett hovering over the Sarlaac pit. Obi-Wan is going back to Tatooine too. The Star Wars galaxy has never felt smaller.
Star Wars: The Acolyte is our only hope
The most radical departure for Star Wars was the prequels. They added a ton of new visual material, and the mythology was forever changed by their stories. But while I’m on the nostalgia train for Obi-Wan Kenobi, it seems likely that its retreading of familiar places and people is more of the same. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but I’m betting Kenobi will play it safe. Good, perhaps, but safe.
So what’s the next Star Wars project that’s really “out there”? For all their merits, all the new shows — from The Bad Batch to Ahsoka to The Book of Boba Fett — are stuck in a kind of Marvel Studios cycle. Everything is connected, which begins to feel like homework. The refreshing Star Wars: Visions didn’t fall into this trap, but until we get an ongoing series based on The Ninth Jedi, Lucasfilm was just experimenting with a new format rather than committing to one.
This is why Star Wars: The Acolyte could be great. Showrunner Leslye Headland has made it clear The Acolyte will be set 200 years before The Phantom Menace. So, the narrative freedom the series will have feels huge.
Books and comics have gone back in time before, and they’re doing so now because of The High Republic, a series of books and comics set in this early Star Wars era. But it takes a live-action project to move the franchise forward. As much as ‘90s kids like me want to claim that Timothy Zahn and Dark Horse Comics saved Star Wars, the truth is The Phantom Menace was the true comeback.
And what made The Phantom Menace important is that it was different. It wasn’t fan service, it didn’t look like the other movies, and it wasn’t what everyone expected. In The Acolyte, anything can happen and the show can look and feel however it wants. That’s the jolt Star Wars needs. If the franchise keeps trying to recapture the magic of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Force won’t just be thrown out of balance. The lack of originality and risks can lead Star Wars to a much grimmer fate. Without something new, we’ll eventually just stop caring.
Star Wars: The Acolyte is expected in Summer 2023.