When I heard that George Lucas had sold his production company, Lucasfilm – and, more importantly, the entire Star Wars franchise along with it – to The Walt Disney Company back on October 30, 2012, my heart sank.
The amount of damage that a multi-national media conglomerate could do to, arguably, the most important series in cinematic history was immense, if not almost literally infinite. Yes, Lucas himself had been strip-mining the Star Wars brand for decades – ever since day one, really – slapping that most famous of names on everything from underwear to theme park rides to toasters, but Disney in the 21st century possesses a mass-production agility that makes the old Lucasfilm look positively quaint. Visions of a whole slew of cash-in movies instantly sprung to mind, followed by nightmares of hastily-conceived roller coaster rides or endless spinoff television series.
Most worrying of all, however, was the specter of future mainline Star Wars films, Episode VII and beyond – sequels that Lucas had dismissed 15 years earlier as being narratively redundant, once he began to chart out the course of the prequel trilogy. After all, when Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is the Chosen One and kills off the only bad guys the movies had ever seen once and for all, creating balance in the Force, there really is no conceivable way to continue the saga. And if corporate storytellers would have taken the easy way out and just introduced a new suite of baddies, then what’s so special about being the Chosen One – or about that much-heralded metaphysical balance? There was, in short, very little good that could have come out of the new Star Wars status quo.
Cut to four years later, and things are actually sitting fairly pretty right now, with those worries looking rather overblown in retrospect. Although Disney has, indeed, flung open the merchandising gates even further than Lucas himself had ever managed ($4,000 Millennium Falcon beds! 16-foot inflatable Darth Vader Christmas decorations! Force Fridays!), and even though it has turned what used to be a three-year turnaround on the films into an annualized release schedule, the company has, thus far, done a more-than-respectable job at handling the keys to the space-opera kingdom. (Want to see a list of everything that Disney’s done so far? You can find it here.)
Let’s look at its successes. For all of its occasional goofiness, the Rebels television series is just essentially a continuation of Lucas’s own The Clone Wars – resurrected Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) and all – and Episode VII: The Force Awakens proved to have at least a certain level of narrative craftiness, finding a way to believably explain how Anakin hasn’t, in fact, created balance in the Force just yet. Besides, Lucas himself went against his own narrative prohibitions, having written an outline for the entire sequel trilogy just to up the asking price of Lucasfilm by another billion dollars or so, and the ship is still being carefully steered by veteran Lucas collaborator Kathleen Kennedy.
But all of these were objective facts, sitting just below the emotional surface of my consciousness. The reality that all of these accomplishments had started to seep in and affect my perceptions of, and excitement levels for, the franchise’s new bent didn’t at all occur to me until earlier this year, when I was sitting in the living room with my three-year-old, completing the same Force Awakens puzzle for what must have been the millionth time. Watching him piece together Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and looking over at the box for the Sphero app-controlled BB-8 sitting on the shelf, it suddenly hit me with the power of a religious epiphany: I couldn’t wait for the next Force Friday.
It dawned on me that Friday, September 4, 2015 was the real star in the Disney-run show thus far (well, for me, at least). That mini-combination of Halloween, Black Friday, and Christmas – that marketing-spawned day that was simultaneously commercial and celebratory – was when the “Journey to The Force Awakens” publishing program began, offering a series of stories that I’ve actually found myself enjoying even more than Episode VII itself. That remote BB-8, along with Legendary Master Yoda (both of which saw release on that day), proved to be two of the best Christmas presents in recent memory – and, yes, for my son as well (though less so for our three cats, who didn’t particularly appreciate being chased around the house by the new toys). And the occasion to bring the family to our local Target, laughing at the Chewbacca door greeter and marveling at all of the picked-over aisles, made for a lovely afternoon.
I enjoyed that day immensely, and it provided months of family-centric entertainment afterwards. It was a profound realization, and it begat another, more shocking one: I was actually excited by the new corporate stewardship.
This is what makes today, Rogue Friday – Force Friday’s aptly-named successor – such an anticipated day for me. No, its lineup of offerings doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor’s, and the atmosphere and excitement may not fully match last year’s inaugural buzz, but for my little slice of the galaxy, it doesn’t matter. Another full year’s worth of content is now right at my fingertips – the next slew of puzzles, the next versions of the smart remote-controlled droids, and, of course, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story itself. More excuses to spend more time with my family, and to further my son’s indoctrination into the ways of Star Wars-dom – what more could one ask for?
Well, all right – there is more on my fanboy wish list. Although Disney has been rather adept at handling the franchise thus far, there’s still the very real possibility that yearly Star Wars content will wear its welcome out (even if it doesn’t happen until 2020, once all six of the currently-slated films have been released), or that the similarly annual Force Fridays will turn off consumers – and, therefore, licensors and vendors – instead of attracting them, or that the likes of Episode VIII or Star Wars Land won’t fully live up to the hype (particularly in regards to how the balance of the Force and the prophecies of the Chosen One will be handled). Hypothetically speaking, there’s still much that can ultimately go wrong, souring what is currently a very sweet experience.
Still, that’s the future, and only a possible one, at that. Today, I’ll be simultaneously geeking out and spending time with my family, which means that, at least for a little while, all will be right with the universe.
May the Force be with you. Always.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in US theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.