Although Star Wars: The Force Awakens was heralded as the return of the franchise after a ten-year hiatus following Revenge of the Sith, it wasn't as if the Star Wars brand was dormant for all that time. Just as things had been before the prequel films, there were countless books, comics, video games and more that expanded the galaxy far, far away in all manner of directions. Biggest of all was Clone Wars, the CGI animated TV series; starting in 2008 with a feature pilot released in theaters (so beating Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to the punch by the better part of a decade), it ran for an impressive six seasons and for a while was the key focus of Star Wars fandom.
Despite starting out as a only-for-kids series, the show eventually evolved into a surprisingly mature pocket of the Star Wars universe; exploring the Clone Wars, Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi's relationship, the philosophy of the Jedi and the nature of the Force in more details than the Star Wars movies often have. Despite being set in the controversial prequel era, it felt like a real successor to the original film trilogy, in many fans eyes making up for Episodes I-III. It was swiftly wrapped up when George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, but the show's team moved onto a spiritual (and in some ways narrative) successor, the original trilogy era-set Star Wars Rebels. However, things almost went very differently.
In a Twitter thread, Lucasfilm's Story Development Executive and font of all Star Wars knowledge Pablo Hidalgo discussed the complicated release structure of the series, and in doing so revealed that at one point George Lucas considered taking the younglings episodes from Season 5 and editing them into a movie of their own that would double as a pilot for a new series aimed at a younger audience. This film was reportedly produced and almost screened at a Star Wars Celebration event, most likely 2011's Celebration VI (it's unclear if the idea ever developed enough to address the possibility of a theatrical run) - but Lucas eventually changed his mind and kept the younglings as simply part of the parent show.
Jokes about the younglings and the handling of Anakin Skywalker's massacre of them in Episode III aside, but this is a pretty major reveal about the post-prequel development of Star Wars. Specifically, it shows that Lucas was still actively exploring new ways to expand the brand even while presumably planning the deal with Disney.
The four episodes in question - "The Gathering", "A Test of Strength", "Bound for Rescue" and "A Necessary Bond" - followed Ahsoka and a group of Jedi Initiates on their journey to Ilum to build their lightsabers, which saw them falling afoul of pirates and Separatists. They slotted well into the tone of the series, which told all manner of stories from across the Clone Wars, but there's definitely a youthful slant given its protagonists; something that was getting rare in the series. Star Wars had grown increasingly mature across the prequels, to the point where Revenge of the Sith earned a franchise-first PG-13 rating, and Clone Wars wasn't as bright and fun as it had been initially, leading to a shift in audience demographic.
You can understand Lucas' fear of alienating new fans, although it's unlikely this move would have pleased as many as The Force Awakens did. Of course, in the end, this concern was dealt with organically; Lucas may not be the biggest advocate of the direction Disney and J.J. Abrams took Episode VII in (read: not using his original story treatments), but hopefully all the photos of kids dressed as Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren will show him that the saga did eventually re-broaden.
Source: Pablo Hidalgo
- Star Wars: Rogue One / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) release date: Dec 16, 2016
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019