When it was first released in 1977, Star Wars changed the game. Not only did A New Hope break ground in the development of special effects. It also presented a fresh and innovative blend of genres that combined Westerns and fantasy movies with elements of Japanese culture in order to tell deeply human stories set in a galaxy far, far away.
After 44 years and hundreds of stories across television, film, print, and video games, Star Wars remains a foundational block of our contemporary pop culture, in which large media franchises have become the norm. But with the ending of the new Star Wars trilogy in 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker, the narrative core of the franchise now lands in an interesting spot. After the retcon of the Expanded Universe and its re-labeling as “Star Wars Legends,” the Skywalker saga returned to continue George Lucas’s first narrative. So now that it’s over, where should Star Wars go next?
At the moment, it seems the current path forward is expanding upon the lesser known corners of the existing galaxy. The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, The Bad Batch, and multiple upcoming projects like Andor are introducing us to different compelling characters and stories within the margins of the grander, more familiar narrative, sometimes going far into the past, like with the highly promising and still unfolding High Republic era.
Nevertheless, this exploration of worn territory concerns me. By telling more and more stories inside of a convoluted, interconnected timeline, Star Wars will eventually run into the same problems the DC and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have run into. These franchises have a difficult time exploring new characters, tones, and genres because eventually, it all needs to fit into previous stories, therefore limiting the creative potential audiences crave.
Take WandaVision, for instance. The Disney+ series was an exceptional example of how the MCU can warp expectations in how it managed to parody different eras of sitcoms while telling an essential story for one of the most important Avengers in the films. Toward the end of the show, however, the series hit a stale note right when it began blending the rest of the MCU canon into its affairs. The risky, experimental show where you don’t know what might happen next turned into another Marvel property where we could all guess what would happen next quite easily.
Star Wars already receives a fair amount of criticism for its recent films lacking the gravitas of what’s come before. The inevitable constraints of connecting different stories within the same universe will keep driving the franchise away from what I think is one of its core values: innovation. Raising the bar in what a blockbuster film can be. Technological advancements that inspire and impact not just culture, but future filmmakers. Star Wars needs to return to this mode of thinking and embrace it. Because in a media landscape of increasingly connected cinematic universes with an overemphasis on continuity at the expense of creativity, how fittingly audacious would it be if Star Wars went hyperspeed in the opposite direction?
The good news is that Star Wars already has the blueprints for how this can work. Earlier this year, the release of Star Wars: Visions, a limited anime anthology series, demonstrated that totally new stories and characters within Star Wars can rival the best of the best without having some direct link to the past. Each of the different episodes, with their own varying art styles and visual quirks, felt like a unique and rich world worth exploring.
We were able to connect with a Sith who hunted Sith. A robot who wants to be a Jedi. Despite all of these shorts being so different and standalone, they were distinctly Star Wars. They all had the same high-end technological advancements and scope of imagination sorely missing from some of the movies. They introduced us to different versions of a galaxy feeling worn out by conflict and oppressed by an evil empire. They presented mystical and ancient orders of space wizards and, while doing all of this, they told stories that are, at their core, about humanity. They all, despite their obvious differences, felt like Star Wars.
I think that the future of Star Wars is brightest when recapturing that feeling. And really understanding what fuels it. So that the next generation of tales can once again be as unique and surprising as the universe these characters inhabit. It’s not hard to imagine the possibilities of such an approach. Comedies, musicals, police procedurals, dramas. All of these vastly different genres can subvert what we think we want from a Star Wars property and for the better. While still relying on the fundamentals that make the franchise so enduring and appealing.
That’s not to say shows like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett are entirely on the wrong track. Far from it. There’s plenty of room for those kinds of stories and I will gladly watch them. The problem is that they have diminishing returns, which is why for the time being, I’m much more interested in upcoming projects like Taika Waititi’s film and the mystery thriller, The Acolyte. So where in the galaxy should Star Wars go next? Anywhere the most creative storytellers want is just fine with me.