Star Wars has always been about legacies, or so it seems. The original trilogy gave us the father of all plot twists when it was revealed that Darth Vader was actually Luke Skywalker’s father. The prequels followed Anakin Skywalker on his descent towards the dark side, and showed the birth of twins Luke and Leia. Even The Force Awakens is in part about legacy, with Kylo Ren rejecting the light side in favor of following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Of course, this could only get more complicated in future films, since we do not know who Rey’s parents are yet. However, Star Wars might be moving away from legacies and parentage theories in future films.
“The next spin-off is ‘Han Solo,’ that’s another familiar character, but I think increasingly you’re going to see…One of the thing things we really want to do at Lucasfilm is create a universe and not keep relying on old legacy characters…Whatever kind of Star Wars films they’re making 10 or 20 years from now, I don’t think they’re going to be relying on the same legacy story elements as we have in the past.”
A majority of Lucasfilm’s stories center on the Rebellion, or the characters involved in the Rebellion. A look at the Del Rey Star Wars publishing timeline shows a clear Original Trilogy timeline bias. While The Clone Wars animated series ran for six seasons, that is the only canonical extra material that takes place prior to Revenge of the Sith (sorry, but James Luceno’s Rogue One prequel novel Catalyst doesn’t count as prequel era). Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy includes Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in major roles, and even the novel closest in timeline to The Force Awakens centers on Leia.
When it comes to films, Lucasfilm has also shown a distinct lack of desire to distance itself from the Original Trilogy era, with only a few prequel centric-throwbacks. Legacy characters such as Han, Leia, Luke (Mark Hamill), Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and Darth Vader himself play major roles in The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and the upcoming The Last Jedi and the untitled Han Solo anthology film. In these films, the use of legacy characters can be forgiven easily. Obviously, the Han film has to focus on legacy characters — you can’t tell a Han Solo story without the titular smuggler or his pal Lando Calrissian (first played by Billy Dee Williams, and now by Donald Glover). It would be hard to pass the torch on to the new generation in the sequel trilogy without the involvement of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill, and the timeline of Rogue One all but required the presence of Vader and Leia, as well as Governor Tarkin.
The characters of these new films are themselves obsessed with the legacy left behind by the original characters; in particular, the sequel trilogy is all about what the originals left behind. This is not just because of who Rey might be and who Kylo Ren is. The First Order, as seen in Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, is formed by former Imperials. The Resistance is helmed by an older Leia, and uses the same symbol as the Rebellion. It is impossible to not read the films as a younger generation picking up the pieces the previous one left behind, and trying to make something of them. Some fans interpret this as a destruction of the legacy of these original characters, while others argue that it is a natural continuation of the Skywalker saga.
Rogue One then emerges as a true test of whether or not the audience will respond well to truly new, original characters, without the benefit of fan favorite originals supporting the show. True, Vader’s appearance was well marketed, but they also made it clear that he would have a minimal role. The appearances of both Tarkin and Leia were kept under wraps, and as popular as Tarkin is, it is doubtful that knowing he was a secondary antagonist would be a huge draw for general audiences. Instead, the film had to rely on the charms of Jyn (Felicity Jones), Cassian (Diego Luna), Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut (Donnie Yen), and Baze (Jiang Wen) to capture audience attention. While criticisms of the film’s hit-or-miss characterization did arise, there was enough there to catapult the film to over a billion dollars at the box office, proving that audiences will go see a Star Wars film about characters not named Skywalker.
And films about non-Skywalker characters might be where the franchise is heading. It is doubtful that the Skywalker name and lineage might ever fully be abandoned – after all, the episodic films are called the Skywalker saga. But Lucasfilm may seek to step away from the Skywalker legacy for a few years, and in turn focus more on original anthology films more in the vein of Rogue One. There are plenty of options here for stories, as the galaxy is vast and still somewhat unexplored by the previous eight films. It might be time for the franchise to stop playing into fan nostalgia and branch out into new territory.
It also might be time for fans to embrace the next generation as the face of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker and co. will always be important, but it’s time for Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to shine as the protagonists of their story, not secondary support to the original cast. The packaging for upcoming The Last Jedi merchandise shows that Lucasfilm is prioritizing their new trio, but will the narrative do the same? Or will this be a fourth movie centered on Luke Skywalker, with the new characters only existing to further his story?
This is not to dismiss Luke, or to say that nostalgia goggles are bad. But if Lucasfilm wants to survive in the era of studio blockbusters and multi-picture franchises, they cannot simply rest on their laurels. Rogue One worked because it was fresh. This was a story we had never heard before, and it took risks that (for the most part) paid off. The Force Awakens tread familiar ground, but maybe The Last Jedi will find it’s own unique voice. And when the upcoming anthology films are announced, let us hope that they will also choose to pursue new stories, rather than cling to familiar ground.
Lucasfilm has done an excellent job of reviving the Star Wars brand. Now, all that remains to be seen is whether or not they can keep the love going, or whether the franchise will stagnate and not evolve. After all, Whitta’s words point to Star Wars films being made for a long, long time. Let’s hope he’s correct in assuming they will be branching out and finding a new path to tread.