A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, Star Wars was an event.
Star Wars was a property that always seemed to be much bigger than it actually was. Up until 1999 we only had three Star Wars movies to contend with and even after the prequel trilogy ended in 2006, Star Wars still felt small to me. It was a continuous story about the Skywalker family, the rise and fall of Darth Vader, and how a tiny little rebellion was able to change the fate of the galaxy. Sure, Star Wars had a few film and TV spin-offs from its inception until Revenge of the Sith like the Ewok movies and the Holiday Special, but those were always small, niche little offerings. Hell, some of the most hardcore Star Wars fans I know have never even seen the Ewok movies (and for good reason). Star Wars always felt contained. Commercialized, but it never felt malicious.
Fast forward now to 2018 and Star Wars is an entirely different beast. It’s still a massive, multi-billion dollar franchise, but now it’s backed by the House of Mouse. With Disney at the helm of the franchise, it’s pretty clear to see that they’re making Star Wars into THE mega franchise, more-so than before. Oh sure, Star Wars was no stranger to merchandise, video games, books, and parodies outside of the core movies, but those expanded universe entries always felt a bit more chaotic and fresh. Any creator could come in, create a story in the Star Wars universe, and see if the ideas could stick with the fans. It’s from the extended universe that we got Grand Admiral Thrawn, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dash Rendar; characters and stories that are beloved by hardcore fans. When Disney took control of the franchise, one of their first actions was to nullify all of the expanded universe elements that they didn’t like, stifling the history of one of the most influential series in geekdom.
Now before we go any further, I just want to make one thing perfectly clear; I don’t hate the sequel trilogy thus far. I can say that The Last Jedi was definitely underwhelming and has a lot of problems when you begin to examine it in detail, but it was still a decent experience. Personally, I really like The Force Awakens and I consider it one of the best films in the franchise. On television Star Wars Rebels has been some of the best Star Wars we’ve seen in recent memory as well.
With the backlash to The Last Jedi I think that people are all too eager to make the connection that criticism to modern Star Wars is a validation that Disney is doing a terrible job and they’re worse than George “Kids-Will-Totally-Love-Jar-Jar-Binks” Lucas ever was. Disney isn’t ruining the franchise. If Star Wars can survive midichlorians it can survive anything. Disney is making competent films, but they’re definitely cheapening the IP with all of their projects.
Disney has had a problem recently of not knowing when to stop with their franchises. They’ll find something that’s a success and milk it for all it’s worth. In the span of three years since the release of The Force Awakens we’ve had Rogue One and The Last Jedi premiere with Solo coming out in May, not to mention Star Wars Rebels concluding its four season run in March. So that’s four Star Wars movies and an animated series in three years, compared to the prequel trilogy’s three movies and a Cartoon Network animated series that tied in to the trilogy over the span of seven years. Not only that, but Disney has announced that Rian Johnson will be making his own trilogy, the creators of Game of Thrones will work on another trilogy, the spin offs will most likely continue with a rumored Boba Fett movie, and Disney has plans for several new Star Wars shows to most likely air on their upcoming streaming service.
So in total we have nine upcoming movies, at least two spin-offs, several TV shows, and that’s just of what we know. There may, and most likely will be, more projects announced in the coming months to capitalize on the franchise’s recent resurgence.
You may have noticed that I’ve neglected to talk about Star Wars video games and books, but that’s for a good reason. In the realm of video games, Star Wars never really went away. Gamers have had classic Star Wars games on most major consoles, whether it was piloting a snowspeeder on Hoth in Shadow of the Empire, platforming on the SNES trilogy, shooting your way to galactic conquest in Battlefront 2 (the good one), or being an action badass with OP force powers in The Force Unleashed. Star Wars found a home with gamers and has always had a home there, so more Star Wars video games don’t surprise me at all. I mean, it is surprising that they’ve morphed into whatever the hell Battlefront 2 was, but that’s a whole other topic.
As for the expanded universe books, they’ve just transitioned to another form of books; comic books. Marvel is now publishing a huge amount of comics under the Star Wars banner and while I personally haven’t read any of them, people that have told me that they were perfectly fine. They’ve expanded on previous established characters in an organic way that I’ve heard very little complaints.
But the movies? I can’t help but feel like the franchise is about to become over-saturated with installments that fans aren’t really asking for. It’s the difference between The Simpsons and Futurama. Both are beloved animated series from Matt Groening, but both have completely different public perceptions. The Simpsons is a massive franchise that is still going strong after nearly 30 years, but fans will tell you that the show reached it’s peak back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s and has no relevance anymore.
On the other hand, Futurama was never as big of a success, having only eight seasons and four straight to DVD movies, but I will argue that the fan base behind that show is much stronger than The Simpsons is now. Futurama reruns air constantly on Cartoon Network and each episode offered something fresh and different from what was airing at the time. Even when it went away for nearly a decade, you could argue that the show was even better once it came back, giving the creators time to work on new ideas, new concepts, and let a new generation of fans come in not only from a network shift, but from a new crowd of younger fans entering the picture. I can only speak from personal experience, but my first exposure to the franchise was picking up Bender’s Big Score from my local Best Buy back in 2008.
The point is that the franchise that took some time off is in a far better place than the franchise that just kept trucking along without a break. The Simpsons used to be such a beloved show that defined 90’s America, but now it just seems like a relic that has run out of ideas. Who can say that they actually cared about The Simpsons for the past decade with the exception of the Treehouse of Horror episodes? New writers are brought on, they rehash old plot points, try and make the series connect with a new audience, but it’s clear that the spark has gone. I fear that Disney’s doing the same thing to Star Wars that Fox did to The Simpsons.
Now maybe this is me just being paranoid. Maybe I’m worrying over a franchise that’s going through a new renaissance and is breathing new life into the sci-fi community. Maybe all of this worrying will be for nothing. I mean, if all of these new projects are great and at worst okay, we still have more good than bad, right?
But remember what I said at the beginning that Star Wars was an event? It was a defining moment for different generations. Gen Xers had the original trilogy to watch, they took their Millennial children to go see the prequel trilogy, and now their detergent eater kids are seeing the sequel trilogy. But what comes after that? There will never be a lull if Disney has their way. Star Wars will stay in the cultural discussion every single year with no break in the action, just more movies.
I can’t tell if Disney is being greedy by milking Star Wars for all it’s worth, or if they’re scared that if they don’t use their new crown jewel wisely it’ll lose value. It’s probably a little bit of both to be honest. Disney wants money and they want to strike while the iron is hot. Except the iron never cooled. Star Wars fans never went away. Children were still exposed to the original trilogy and the prequels while demanding new Storm Trooper action figures from their parents. Those same parents probably relish talking about Star Wars and buy all of the games, or the books, or the new Blu-Ray releases that Disney puts out.
Star Wars isn’t going to go away anytime soon. It’s going to become the space Simpsons. It’s going to keep making an obscene amount of money for Disney, but as time goes on it’s going to lose that spark that made it so special. Maybe in five years I’ll have to take it all back when I see a spin-off movie about the Bothans stealing the plans for the new Death Star and I’ll call it the greatest movie of all time. But I highly doubt it. I want to be proved wrong, but that’s pretty unlikely.
The Force will be with us always. Congrats to us…?