The fast-approaching Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens marks the beginning of a new Star Wars movie trilogy, set more than thirty years after the events of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has in the past affirmed that The Force Awakens will “focus on the Skywalker family saga,” like the six previous installments in the franchise before it – and much like Star Wars: Episodes VIII and IX will too, when those films are released in 2017 and 2019, respectively.
Upcoming Star Wars standalone/spinoff films are another matter, though. The 2016 release, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will tell the previously-untold tale of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans to the original Death Star, while the 2018 young Han Solo movie (the official title TBA) will focus on Han Solo’s experiences prior to his fateful meeting with Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope. What standalone film will come after that, well, that remains to be revealed (rumors of a Boba Fett spinoff aside).
Kennedy, when she spoke to /Film during the press junket day for The Force Awakens, explained that the standalone/spinoff Star Wars films “can be a wide variety of genres inside the Star Wars universe” – echoing previous comments made by people like screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who co-penned The Force Awakens, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), with regard to the Star Wars series and its ability to encompass multiple genres (beyond space opera, that is). Marvel Studios has often been held up as the example for how to do this, with respect to how their superhero films integrate different genre elements into the mix (ex. Ant-Man is a superhero heist movie).
That being said, Kennedy noted during her talk with /Film that while there will be similarities between them, the Star Wars Shared Cinematic Universe will differ from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in terms of how various genres are incorporated into the mix:
It is definitely in the genre thinking but Star Wars is very different than Marvel in that they basically build their stories around characters, and then they seed those characters in different stories. Star Wars, you know, is a place, it’s a universe, so those stories are constructed a little differently than Marvel…They are really being designed as standalone movies which is fantastic for the filmmakers we bring in, and the actors we hire, because it’s a different sensibility.
It’s already apparent how the first two Star Wars standalone films could each have unique sensibilities, based on the filmmakers who’ve ben recruited to work on them. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, for example, is known for crafting fairly serious sci-fi genre fare (Monsters, Godzilla (2014)), and has likewise indicated that his Star Wars movie is going to be more of a proper war/militaristic action movie (with elements of a heist thriller, too) than previous installments in the franchise. Similarly, Han Solo directors Phil Lord and Chris Miler are known for blending action and comedy in films like the The LEGO Movie and the Jump Street features, and Kennedy has said before that the pair’s sense of humor will very much be carried over into their respective Star Wars project.
Kennedy also emphasized during her interview with /Film that while everything in the Star Wars franchise moving forward will be interconnected to some degree, the non-saga live-action films will be fully “standalone” in terms of their narratives. Moreover, she clarified that despite the prequel-like nature of the first two spinoffs, not all of the upcoming non-saga Star Wars movies will use that same blueprint:
No, no. It just so happens to be Rogue One is the precursor to New Hope and yes, this Han Solo idea but I would not argue that we are setting up any kind of prequel notion with these standalone movies. I think that’s so far just coincidence. And to be perfectly honest, we have changed the order of those at the last minute, so that’s not the intention at all.
Some fans have fairly expressed related concern that the Star Wars standalone films will play things too safe and not stray too far from the well-established characters and/or time periods in the history of the Star Wars galaxy, based on the fact that the first two such films are, in many ways, prequels to Episode IV: A New Hope.
It is to be expected that Disney/Lucasfilm would want to test the waters at first when it comes to the Star Wars standalone films, by focusing on popular events and/or scenarios in the series canon at first – and then, expanding their gaze thereafter, assuming the first standalone installments are successful enough to warrant continuation. Kennedy’s comment indicates this is the plan anyway, so hopefully the studios follow through and in time explore more “risky” story territory in the future, starting with the 2020 Star Wars standalone film.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens releases in theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Standalone film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Standalone film in 2020.