As Lucasfilm looks to keep Star Wars viable for the foreseeable future, they seem to be taking some cues from pop culture's other touchstone sci-fi franchise, Star Trek. Ever since George Lucas introduced the galaxy far, far away in 1977, the two properties have been intertwined, with fans constantly arguing about which one is best. Both have influenced countless people with their stories of final frontiers and space operas, though Star Wars has arguably always been the more popular if box office figures are anything to go by.
For a brief period in time, Trek reached commercial heights it never saw previously thanks to J.J. Abrams' energetic 2009 reboot. While the movie received positive reviews and earned $257.7 million domestically, it was criticized in some circles for aping the Star Wars style as opposed to sticking true to classic Trek material. Coincidentally, as Star Wars prepares to enter a new era post-Skywalker saga, it's borrowing some elements from the Trek playbook; namely in the sense it's expanding to multiple series that are separate, yet connected under one umbrella.
Star Wars Copies Star Trek's Approach
Lucasfilm's plans for Star Wars after Episode IX have become clearer in the past couple of months. In November 2017, the studio shocked everyone by announcing Last Jedi director Rian Johnson would be developing his own standalone trilogy disconnected from the main episodic saga. And it was only last week Lucasfilm revealed Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would write and produce their own Star Wars series, which would be independent of both the Skywalker saga and Johnson's trilogy. No release dates for these films have been set, but it looks like Star Wars is set for the next decade.
If this concept sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Star Trek perfected the method over the course of 50 years. Gene Roddenberry's creation began life in the 1960s as The Original Series, but later branched off into The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and more. While there were opportunities for crossovers between the iterations of Trek (such as the Generations film), each series centered on its own cast of characters and told a narrative that could stand on its own merits when viewed in a vacuum. It allowed the franchise to (ahem) live long and prosper by illustrating the immense potential for stories in its setting. If Trek was confined to just its original run, it would feel limited, but the universe is quite expansive and is still going strong with Star Trek: Discovery finding success on CBS All-Access.
This approach is in contrast to what Star Wars has done for the 40 years of its existence. It's true there's an original trilogy, prequel trilogy, sequel trilogy, and television shows that focus on different characters, but everything is in service of the Skywalker saga that started in A New Hope. Virtually every piece of canon ties back to the films in some way, filling in gaps and elaborating on aspects the saga films couldn't really touch on. Rogue One and Solo are billed as standalone films, but they're essentially part of Star Wars' own original series, fitting nicely between the prequels and classic films. The Force Awakens and Last Jedi place the spotlight on its younger cast, but those works are still continuing original trilogy stories by giving the likes of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia emotional sendoffs and telling the tragedy of Darth Vader's grandson. Even the books, comics, and TV programs haven't looked beyond what's presented in the films for inspiration, meaning Lucasfilm has basically milked 66 years of galactic history for all it's worth.
The critical and commercial success of the new Star Wars films certainly prove the benefit of capitalizing on fans' nostalgia for the traditional iconography, but there have been some concerns about Lucasfilm's perceived lack of vision. Last year, reports suggested the studio was in the process of putting together more spinoffs for Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Boba Fett, and even Jabba the Hutt. While each one of those hypothetical films could explore previously unseen corners of the Star Wars universe, they would still be boxed into what came before and fail to truly take advantage of the canvas of a galaxy far, far away. With the Johnson Trilogy and Benioff & Weiss' series, Star Wars will finally be fully liberated from its all too-familiar legacy elements.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019