Star Wars movies may be killing it at the box office, but the big screen isn’t Lucasfilm’s only storytelling initiative. Star Wars storytelling has also been popularized in books and comics for several decades now, but one of the company’s newer initiatives is in animation, starting as recently as 2008 (which is recent for a 40 year-old franchise), with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The Clone Wars saw Cartoon Network’s biggest series premier in the network's history, and it would go on to win multiple Daytime Emmy Awards. The show was cancelled shortly after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, but many of the show’s themes and characters live on through Star Wars Rebels, which is currently one of the most watched shows on Disney XD.
Animation is clearly a priority for Lucasfilm. Many of the franchise’s most popular characters originated (or live solely) in animated stories, and both The Clone Wars and Rebels serve as clear influences on big screen events in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which made full use of characters, ships, and events from both series.
Up through the end of the second season of Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars animation had been produced under Dave Filoni. George Lucas originally brought him onto The Clone Wars as a supervising director and executive producer, and Filoni would continue in that same role for the first two seasons of Star Wars Rebels after the end of The Clone Wars and Lucas’s departure; however, as initially reported by Big Shiny Robot, as of the start of season 3 Filoni is no longer the supervising director for Rebels. According to a statement from Lucasfilm, he’s still involved with Rebels, but he’s also stepped into a larger position in which he is “creatively overseeing future animation development.”
It’s also important to note that Rebels hasn’t been renewed for a fourth season yet. News of the third season renewal came in November of 2015, yet to this date there's no news from Lucasfilm or Disney on additional seasons. The premise of the show has always had a fixed endgame as it gets closer and closer to the events of Rogue One, but it’s also important to note a report by Cinelinx from last year that claims Lucasfilm is planning on ending Rebels after season 3. With no fourth season officially confirmed, could the newly revealed synopsis for the end of season 3 mean the show will end its run with showdown with Grand Admiral Thrawn? If there is no season 4, what does Star Wars animation have in store for fall 2017?
Corroborating the news from Cinelinx, also citing a SlashFilm rumor from 2014, Star Wars Underworld reported that a new Star Wars animated series is in the works for after Rebels is off the air. During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Disney-ABC TV president, Ben Sherwood said “We are deep into a very productive relationship with Lucasfilm making [Disney XD's] Star Wars Rebels. And we are in ongoing conversations with them on what is the next Star Wars animated show.”
At this point, it’s clear Lucasfilm is cooking up something new in their animation department, possibly for release as soon as Fall 2017, which means an official announcement should be just around the corner, likely during Star Wars Celebration 2017 in Orlando, Florida.
The SlashFilm article from 2014 claims a new series is already in the works, and it’s set closer to the events of the sequel trilogy. Since The Last Jedi picks up immediately after The Force Awakens, and they’re unlikely to spoil any of Episode VIII or IX by telling a story set after the events of the sequel trilogy, that means the odds are this new series will occur sometime during the 30 year gap between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
There have been several stories told in that time-span already, but the Aftermath novels and Shattered Empire comics are set almost immediately after Return of the Jedi, while the Leia novel, Bloodline, and the Poe Dameron comics are set shortly before The Force Awakens, so there’s several decades of story that have yet to be touched by Lucasfilm.
While it wouldn’t be surprising to see this new animated show take Rebels’ place on Disney XD, the plans for future animation in a galaxy far, far away might extend beyond that. According to the Star Wars Underwold article above, there are plans to tell “one off adventures with the crew of The Ghost from time to time,” indicating Lucasfilm isn’t just thinking about tackling only one project at a time, which means this rumored sequel trilogy era animated series and additional one-off Rebels stories might only be a couple examples of what Lucasfilm Animation has in store.
As fans of The Clone Wars animated series are aware, this wouldn’t be the first time Lucasfilm released additional stories for a show that’s no longer airing. The Clone Wars was slated for eight seasons, with many episodes left in a partially completed state of production at the time of cancellation. The Lost Missions was released direct to Netflix as a sort of partial season 6 to give some sense of closure and some additional episodes with incomplete animation were posted to starwars.com, but many more have yet to see the light of day.
Going back to 2015, there was some buzz about the potential of Lucasfilm developing multiple live-action shows for release on Netflix. Obviously that doesn’t explicitly apply to animation, but if Lucasfilm already has an established relationship with Netflix, then it only makes sense that these additional stories about the crew of The Ghost get released there as mini-seasons, hopefully alongside the remaining Clone Wars stories in the same fashion.
Lucasfilm isn’t limited exclusively to Netflix, though. When The Clone Wars was originally in development, George Lucas decided to take several episodes intended to be a part of the first season and combine them for a theatrical release. The resulting movie didn’t wow critics, but it almost hit $20 million in its opening weekend box office haul, and would come to almost $70 million by the end of its run. While those numbers are a far cry from those seen by The Force Awakens or Rogue One (or any other Star Wars movie), it’s still impressive considering it didn’t see much of a marketing push and the production cost was mostly absorbed by the work on the rest of the series.
Shortly after the Disney acquisition, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said she had hopes that the franchise could put out two or three films a year. So far, the Star Wars movies appear to be sticking to a once a year release cycle, but adding in animated features based on unfinished Clone Wars arcs, stories about the Rebels crew, or literally anything else in this massive galaxy doesn’t seem like a bad strategy.
As always, there are near infinite storytelling opportunities in the Star Wars galaxy, all of which many fans would eat up without a second thought, but if these particular rumors align, coming together in a Star Wars Celebration announcement for any of the ideas mentioned above, Star Wars fans will truly be in for a treat.