Let me ask you a question: Are you genuinely excited to see Solo: A Star Wars Story? Is Rogue One your favorite Star Wars movie? Do you really need to see exactly how many Bothans died to bring us this information?
If you search your feelings, I’m betting the answer to all of these questions is “no.” In order for the franchise to live, Star Wars needs to let the past die. Since 2015’s The Force Awakens, there has been a brand new Star Wars movie every year, something that will continue until the inevitable heat death of the universe. And that’s fine. Paying a visit to the galaxy far, far away is one of my favorite cinematic pastimes. But Lucasfilm’s inability to let go of familiar faces, places, and settings is slowly suffocating Star Wars with a Force choke of nostalgia. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about on today’s episode of The Dan Cave.
Though Kylo Ren's words were a bit more nihilistic in the context of The Last Jedi, he makes an interesting point. Accepting the past and understanding it are essential to informing the present and the future. Feeling beholden to the past in a way that hinders good storytelling, though, is a disservice to the narrative and the fans. Look at the much-maligned prequel trilogy. Were they good movies? Well, it depends on who you ask. On paper, the prequels are a great story, a chronicle of how the Chosen One, he who was supposed to bring balance to the Force, was tempted by dark powers and helped a Machiavellian madman plunge a galaxy into war and install an autocratic nightmare regime. The way they were told? Well, let’s just say that George Lucas probably should have worked things out with Marcia Lucas. It wasn’t until shows like The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels that this time period was meaningfully explored in a way that George Lucas perhaps originally intended: thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with an eye towards creating compelling stories within an existing framework.
In the case of Star Wars anthology films, though, Lucasfilm doesn’t just accept the past; they have an unhealthy dependency on it. Case in point: Solo: A Star Wars Story, a.k.a. the standalone movie that nobody asked for. Mainly because it doesn’t stand alone. Rather, it stands adjacent to the canon, connected by unbreakable bonds of corporate fear and misguided fan service, existing to fill in a gap nobody was asking about. Were you wondering how Han met Chewie? Did you crave answers to how Han Solo made the infamous Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs? Do you give a womp rat’s ass if that Wookiee we see nearly die on a space-train is actually Chewbacca’s wife from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special? Okay, maybe yes to that last one, but otherwise no.
Rogue One fares slightly better by giving us a mostly brand-new cast of characters who have a connection to the larger narrative we’ve come to know and love, but the stakes feel nonexistent because we already know their mission is successful. You can say that it’s about the journey, not the destination, but it’s hard to feel truly invested in the journey when you know that everyone on it is going to die after giving the world’s most important USB drive to Princess Leia. Connecting A to C can be an interesting exercise, but Rogue One's insistence on dredging up familiar faces in technologically horrifying ways at the expense of character development, among other things, hindered the story from achieving its true potential.
The Last Jedi, on the other hand, is an excellent example of a Star Wars film that embraces the past while simultaneously building something new, rather than treading water like so many Admiral Ackbars at so many Mon Calamari pool parties. It is by no means a perfect movie, but it takes risks with the existing canon, subverting expectations and blowing up traditions in order to build something new and pass the torch to a new generation of characters. Saying that it killed your childhood or ruined Star Wars is an infantile and frankly insane thing to say. The only person ruining your childhood is you and your inability to accept that constantly revisiting familiar ground is a creatively bankrupt endeavor that will drain the franchise of what made it so special in the first place.
It’s easy to understand why Lucasfilm has yet to travel into the proverbial Unknown Regions of Star Wars filmmaking. We are addicted to nostalgia, to feeling a rush of endorphins from recognizing a winking nod to something you know and love. It’s like comfort food. When you try something new, people get scared because it makes them uncomfortable by altering the deal. You can pray they don’t alter the deal any further, but that is a fool’s errand. Change is inevitable because the alternative is stasis, and stasis is death. Filling in increasingly granular gaps in existing canon is a recipe for disaster. It is the slow death of sinking into creative quicksand that will lead to Han Solo: The Tuesday Before A New Hope being the last thing we see before we die.
So where do we go from here? Nerdist’s managing editor/our resident porg whisperer Amy Ratcliffe penned an excellent essay explaining that for Star Wars’ next trilogy--which purports to “introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never explored before”--Rian Johnson and his collaborators should look to the distant past or the distant future. Take us to the early days of the universe for a primordial battle of good and evil between Jedi and Sith; show us the Old Republic, a sprawling space opera set thousands of years in the past; or take us well beyond the events of Episode IX and let us see how the effects of the Skywalker Saga have rippled throughout the ages. Give us experiments in genre like the ones Eric Diaz suggested in his essay on Nerdist. Can you imagine if we got a movie version of what Star Wars 1313 was going to be--a gritty crime drama set in an underworld full of hired assassins, bounty hunters, and saboteurs? Or a straight-up horror movie set in the Outer Rim? The mind reels at the possibility and that is the true spirit of what Star Wars is all about: elemental, mythic storytelling set in a faraway land of infinite hope and possibility. To ignore that is a shortsighted mistake. It’s worse than Jar Jar Binks delivering 50 pounds of extremely coarse sand to your door.
But what do you think? Do you agree that Star Wars needs to let go of its past? Where do you want to see Star Wars go from here? Let me know in the comments below.
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