When Disney acquired Lucasfilm back in 2012, the studio immediately began developing the film that would become Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long-awaited seventh chapter in the legendary Skywalker family saga. Kickstarting a tale of the next generation of heroes and villains, The Force Awakens earned much critical acclaim upon its December 2015 release, breaking just about every box office record in the book. Its success showed that the galaxy far, far away remained one of the most popular properties in all of pop culture, and there were still stories left to be told.
Lucasfilm, of course, couldn’t have been pleased more with the performance of Star Wars 7, particularly since they made clear their intentions to produce a new Star Wars installment annually for the foreseeable future. Many fans have been wondering what the future of the franchise holds once Star Wars: Episode IX (the last confirmed movie on the slate currently) premieres in 2019. The studio’s plan so far has been to alternate between the numbered episodes of the saga and standalone anthology films such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the young Han Solo spinoff. This has caused some to think that eventually Episode X would be coming through the pipeline, but recent comments from Kathleen Kennedy suggest Lucasfilm is considering exclusively producing spinoffs and letting the main saga come to a formal end.
This is a somewhat surprising revelation in the wake of The Force Awakens‘ $2 billion worldwide gross, but the early box office tracking for Rogue One indicates that the Star Wars brand is viable enough to generate a blockbuster film that is not part of the core narrative audiences have been following since 1977. As blasphemous as it sounds for the tale of the Skywalkers to conclude and no longer be a part of the franchise’s extended future, an argument could be made that it would be for the best. We now present a case for why the Skywalker saga should end.
One of the key selling points of the upcoming Star Wars anthology films is that they have the ability to go off in different directions by toying with multiple genres. For instance, Rogue One clearly bears a resemblance to World War II films, while Han Solo is said to follow the template of a heist or Western movie. The saga installments, however, all essentially fall into the same space opera classification. There’s a certain tone and elements that audiences expect when sitting down for a Star Wars episode, and that presents a bit of a problem for filmmakers working in that sandbox. With seven entries released and two more on the way, what else can you do with that setup?
George Lucas became rather (in)famous for saying “It’s like poetry; it rhymes” when working on The Phantom Menace, and there are clear patterns that have emerged in the movies so far. It’s probably no coincidence that the first installment in each trilogy centers around a youngster living in isolation on a desert planet, dreaming of bigger and grander things before getting swept away on a universe-spanning adventure. J.J. Abrams even admitted that The Force Awakens‘ similarities to A New Hope were purposely included to ease viewers into the new era of Star Wars on film. The promise is that the sequels will mix things up and introduce new themes and concepts, but there will likely be some comparisons to be made. After all, Rey is going to train with Luke Skywalker on a remote world in Star Wars: Episode VIII, a situation that sounds like Yoda on Dagobah.
For all the fresh and exciting things The Force Awakens brought to the table, even its most die-hard fans had to realize that it was following a pre-established template. The middling reception of blockbusters like Spectre and X-Men: Apocalypse illustrate that franchise fatigue is real, and sticking too close to a formula for an extended amount of time can lead to diminishing returns. Fans were thrilled to simply be going back to the galaxy far, far away, which is one of the reasons why they were so forgiving of Episode VII‘s cover song aspects. But what would the reaction be if Episode X, XI, and XII covered an unassuming protagonist rising to power to battle ultimate evil? There might be only so many ways to go in these confines before becoming redundant.
Additionally, Kennedy has described the Skywalker saga as a generation tale, meaning that any subsequent trilogy would likely follow a new group of individuals connected to that family. The somewhat limited scope was fine when Star Wars was merely a series of fun space adventure films, but all the canon materials have exponentially expanded the universe to showcase just how large the galaxy is. It would now be considered limiting if a sole clan of mighty Force users was the main focus of the films. No doubt, the notion of the sequel trilogy was a central part of the Lucasfilm sale, but there’s no reason why it has to keep going on and on. The galaxy is a huge place. Lucasfilm would be smart to introduce moviegoers to new characters and stories down the line.
Will The Actors Want More?
The talented young cast of the sequel trilogy includes several names destined for great things. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley used their Force Awakens roles to jumpstart their careers, and they’ve picked up several offers in the short time since. The former is a lead in Pacific Rim: Maelstrom, which has the potential to be another franchise gig for Boyega; Ridley has diversified her résumé rather nicely, scoring parts in films like Murder on the Orient Express, Peter Rabbit, and Chaos Walking. The dynamic duo are going to be in high demand after winning praise for their Star Wars performances, and veteran character actors like Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver will always be high up on directors’ wish lists.
This is all a long way of saying, when the contracts expire after Star Wars 9, there’s no guarantee that the whole gang (or, at least, the ones whose characters survived) will be coming back. Part of the appeal of being an actor is the ability to adapt new identities with each project and showcase a great range. Tentpoles provide steady job security and paychecks, but they can get repetitive, especially when the narrative arc has run its due course. Harrison Ford couldn’t wait to be done with Han Solo while filming Return of the Jedi and only had his change of heart decades later. Thespians enjoy challenging themselves, and when this new group is done “Star Warring” when 2020 rolls around, they may want to see what else is available to them. The studio would be smart to develop a contingency plan instead of placing all their eggs in a “fourth trilogy” basket – regardless of how much money they’re offering.
Luckily, Disney and Lucasfilm seem to be on the right track. New Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich is supposedly locked in for a three-picture deal, which will begin with Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s movie. The belief is, then, that a trilogy covering the pre-A New Hope exploits of the fan-favorite smuggler is in order, and there’s a great cast lining up to headline the first feature. Ehrenreich will be joined by the likes of Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke for Han Solo, and the caliber of names Lucasfilm is attracting suggests that this won’t simply be a one-and-done thing for Glover and Clarke. The trio could definitely become the faces of the franchise once Episode IX debuts, taking the torch from Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac. When you consider Ewan McGregor could get an Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff soon, the series as a whole would be in great shape talent-wise.
Because of all this, the best thing for Colin Trevorrow to do is make sure Star Wars 9 has what amounts to a definitive conclusion that doesn’t leave any narrative threads dangling. The identity of Rey’s parents, the truth behind Supreme Leader Snoke, and other mysteries presented in The Force Awakens should all be resolved by the time the calendar flips to the next decade. That way, an Episode X isn’t a necessity, it’s simply something that can be revisited many years down the road, similar to The Force Awakens. For a while, it looked like Return of the Jedi was the end of the story, but of course there was more. Still, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher did many more things before returning to their iconic roles. Their successors should be granted the same opportunity instead of playing the same characters again and again.
There’s a nice symmetry to the idea of the Skywalker saga being a trilogy of trilogies, beginning with the discovery of Anakin Skywalker and ending… well, however the Lucasfilm story group sees fit. The temptation to keep it going for years on end will be there, but the powers that be should resist the urge. It’s encouraging that Kennedy is at the very least open to the Skywalker saga coming to a definitive close, though right now it’s simply one option that she’s considering.
Lucasfilm will have a better idea of the course they should take once Rogue One lands and the executives see how viewers respond to a spinoff Star Wars film. The box office tracking of $130+ million domestically in the opening weekend should be enough of an illustration that the zeitgeist’s appetite for the brand is substantial no matter which characters are featured. The possibilities of other anthologies are virtually limitless, so it could be seen as a wasted opportunity if the studio insisted on making the Skywalker saga (and dedicating a multitude of resources) part of the bargain. Plus, the story of Rey and her friends could continue in the novels and comic books, which have fleshed the canon out in intriguing ways already.
Additionally, in the age of increasingly complex shared movie universes, there could be some value in solely producing standalone spinoffs, as they could be more welcoming to auteurs looking to spread their wings in the big-budget world. Someone like Joss Whedon or Ava DuVernay may not want to work on a saga film that has to fit a certain mold and strongly connect to several previous movies, but the notion of putting their own stamp on it with a radical approach could be enough. If Star Wars is to last as long as Disney wants, it will be important to entrust these films to directors with the skill to craft quality movies, so spinoffs may be the way to go.