News dropped a few months ago via an article on Wired about the possibility that those of us now walking the earth will not live to see the final Star Wars movie. This should be a surprise to nobody really; once Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars from Lucasfilm back in 2012, the writing was all over the wall. If there’s one thing that Disney loves besides mice, it’s money.
Disney is franchising the hell out of the Star Wars universe; besides new saga films every other year, they’re alternatively peppering in standalone films to expand the universe and explore key moments in Star Wars mythology. You’ll finally be able to see versions of characters from the classic Legends book where if you squint hard enough, and take off your 3D glasses, you’ll be able to recognize Woody Harrelson as Garris Shrike or even Kylo Ren as Anakin Solo.
Honestly, when I heard the news of “Rogue One” and a young Han Solo movie, I was mortified.
The idea of Star Wars movies is great. I love the films. I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve seen any of them, even the prequels. I read the vast majority of the (now non-canon) Legacy books at a formative age. All soundtracks are on constant rotation in my home, and my Star-Wars-T-shirt game is on point. As a grown man, I go to work every day in my fancy corporate shirt and tie while carrying my Empire Strikes Back lunch box (thermos not included, unfortunately).
See, the thing for me is, I love being immersed in all things Star Wars. Before the Disney buyout, there were dozens of books to read. If you haven’t read the Shadows of the Empire or the Thrawn Trilogy, get your life in order. Dark Horse Comics has run of all sorts of great series. The toys were pumped out nonstop: action figures, Lego sets, Funko dolls, lightsabers, statues, you name it. But back in those days if you wanted to WATCH Star Wars you only had three options. To me, that’s what made the movies so special. The rarity. It made watching the movies an event.
Then in 1999, we got “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” The Star Wars fan in me rejoiced for a new adventure back on the screen, while the neurotic worrier in the back of my mind realized that with each new movie Lucasfilm put out that exclusivity factor would wane a little bit. We went from a near-perfect trilogy (damn Ewoks) to a six-film franchise that has good movies and weak movies. In my mind, they were tainting the legacy with each successive film. Imagine how I felt when the Disney announcement came. The era of watching a Star Wars movie as a big event was over.
Man, was I wrong.
I didn’t realize just how I wrong I was until I talked with my eight-year-old son about “Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” His entire body lit up with joy when he mentioned BB-8, seeing the lightsabers, and laser fights. For years I have said that Guardians of the Galaxy was “the Star Wars for this generation of kids,” but in that moment my son showed me that I was wrong.
Star Wars is the Star Wars for this generation of kids.
The same will be true for my grandkids as Disney continues to explore new corners of the universe and weave new narratives in with cannon. Sure, my son has seen previous films but thanks to the franchising of the universe, we now have an event we share. What is life but a series of events? Watching “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” with him has set the stage for something we can bond over, look forward to, and talk about over milkshakes afterward.
About two years ago, I sat my daughter down on a snow day and put on Star Wars. At first, she couldn’t have cared less about the movies. She eventually wandered off to do her own thing, occasionally checking in. Somewhere in the middle of “Empire Strikes Back,” she was just standing in the middle of the living room, mesmerized. By “Return of the Jedi,” she was hooked. When it was all over, her first question was “are there any more?” Like a good father I told her no, honey, there aren’t any more Star Wars movies until The Force Awakens. These are the moments that make franchising the universe worthwhile.
Disney also owns the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is a stark contrast for what they plan to do with Star Wars. While the MCU is a constantly interweaving tale, relying on the knowledge of previous films to completely enjoy the current ones, the experiment that was “Rogue One” has shown that you do not have to know how Star Wars begins to fully enjoy each Star Wars story. It worked exactly how it was billed: a standalone story. You can enjoy it from beginning to end with no prior knowledge without becoming lost or confused. A franchise of films jumping throughout time is a relatively untouched idea; Underworld attempted it (unsuccessfully, if you ask me) in Underworld 3. The Fast & The Furious also has films out of order, but it’s mostly with the same characters only spanning a few years. This has the potential to expand a millennium. That’s ambitious.
The beauty of Disney franchising this out and making movies until we’re 90 is that we’ll have the freedom and ability to choose. There will be something for everyone. My children might adhere closest to Episode VII-IX. Some people will love “Rogue One” the most. Don’t like the Skywalker Saga? Cool, check out the Old Republic. Not a fan of that, here’s some Clone Wars. Is Leia your main girl? Peep the 5-issue miniseries Marvel published. By doing all this, the entire universe will feel more comfortable, more lived in. It will bring a familiarity to the public consciousness, the same thing that Tolkien brought with Lord of the Rings.
There will be good ones. There will be bad ones. Maybe even a few great ones. Part of the fun is ranking them in lists and in polls and arguing over those lists until we’re blue in the face.
Who am I to discourage that?