Star Wars has a problem with death, and that may be the biggest challenge Disney faces going forward. When, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren declares "let the past die, kill it if you have to", he's meant to be wrong; his extreme view is rejected by Rey and later Luke Skywalker, with the movie going on to argue that learning from the past is the only way to move forward. However, the history of Star Wars is dominated by an enacting of Ben Solo's warped message and a complete lack of repercussions.
That Star Wars under Disney has proven divisive was, to a point, inevitable; everybody has such immense ownership of the franchise that it's impossible to please all fans. However, some of the recent choices seem to invite controversy. Rian Johnson's expectation subverting The Last Jedi is the prime example, but Lucasfilm's conflicted relationship with creative directors or decision to engineer a sequel trilogy where Luke, Han and Leia don't share the screen were just as likely to create problems.
However, the real issues Disney Star Wars faces pre-date the Mouse House's $4.05 billion purchase of Lucasfilm. George Lucas' vision for Star Wars Episode VII and beyond isn't too different to Kathleen Kennedy's, and some roadblocks have been around since the very early days of the franchise. To whit, Star Wars has a very strange relationship with death, one that gets stretched and twisted the further forward in time we go.
- This Page: Why Death Means Nothing In Star Wars
- Page 2: Why Disney Needs To Address This Star Wars Problem
Star Wars Characters Are Resurrected All The Time
Star Wars is a world of advanced technology and magic. Anything is possible, from traveling at the speed of light to manipulating another person's thoughts (and both of those examples come from the opening act of the first movie), and it's only a matter of time until that sees resurrections become commonplace. Clones, Force ghosts and plain narrative desire have seen the most iconic (read: marketable) characters return in every era of the saga.
Darth Maul lost the high ground in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace but came back in The Clone Wars and finally returned to the big screen in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Captain Phasma was presumably killed offscreen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet was back to work in The Last Jedi (retroactively explained by a tie-in comic). Boba Fett was unceremoniously thrown into the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi but, after multiple teased attempts and the creation of an entire race just like him in the Mandalorians, the Expanded Universe got him out and gifted him a lengthy post-Jabba life. The Emperor's death closed out Return of the Jedi, but the EU used clone bodies to bring him back in Dark Empire. Most recently, Luke Skywalker died at the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi only for Mark Hamill to be confirmed for a Star Wars 9 return a few months later. And, going right back to the beginning, that concept of Force ghosts essentially exists to keep Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy.
It's all so rampant that death is a joke. Samuel L. Jackson has spent the past decade speculating about Mace Windu's survival from his electrocuted fall in Revenge of the Sith and, as narratively defunct as it may be, there's nothing in the storytelling approach to block it off.
The Star Wars Timeline Means All Characters Can Return From Death Anyway
But Star Wars isn't a linear timeline. If you step away from the internal continuity, then the death of a beloved character means even less. Prequel books, comics and eventually movies keep the adventures of dead characters alive, with everybody from Darth Vader to Bail Organa seeing their legend grow thanks to Lucasfilm readily jumping around the timeline from 4000 years in the past to hundred in the future.
This non-chronological release pattern for Star Wars was baked into George Lucas' original concept for his Flash Gordon throwback, and dominated its first 40 years in a very positive manner. Indeed, the original-then-prequel-then-sequel release pattern has done a lot to keep the franchise energized (a tactic used similarly by Star Trek).
However, this can also wear away any sense of meaningful loss. Han was killed in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which was followed up three years later by a prequel that attempted to kick-off a whole new trilogy (Solo was originally going to release in 2016, making the return even tighter). Episode VII also dealt with Vader's legacy before delving into his past in Rogue One, Rebels, Secrets of the Empire, Vader Immortal, and his own comic series.
Not only can Star Wars characters come back to life in the story, but audiences don't even have to say goodbye in the short term. Death is meaningless. Although, we're not really talking about death...
Page 2 of 2: Why Disney Needs To Address This Star Wars Problem
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019