Despite being a key part of the Disney and Lucasfilm main strategy for building and extending the Star Wars brand starting from the original announcement several years ago, the actual status of the Star Wars "spinoffs" (i.e. films set in the Star Wars Universe but not part of the main "Episode" series, currently slated to open in the years between the bi-annual main releases) remains something of a question mark in terms of direction and focus. Stories that expand and explore the outer reaches of the franchise are about as old as Star Wars itself, but thus far the actual scope of what the first wave of "official" spinoffs aim to be has been somewhat unclear from the perspective of many fans.
While the first spinoff out of the gate, Rogue One, aimed high in terms of originality - telling a darker-than-usual story about characters not directly connected to the better-known figures from the main series with a markedly different tone and style than other films in the franchise - thus far the slate as planned has looked much more familiar in terms of subject matter. It's mostly comprised of "prequels" acting as origin stories for some of the more popular and heavily-merchandised characters we already know: An origin movie for Han Solo is already in production (though not without eyebrow-raising difficulty behind the scenes), a "betweenquel" showing off what Obi-Wan Kenobi was up to between Revenge of The Sith and A New Hope has now been announced, and pretty much everyone assumes that perennial fan-favorite Boba Fett will get his star feature sooner or later.
Granted, this sort of "one foot in" step toward unfamiliarity makes a certain amount of sense for such a large and important property as Star Wars; using familiar characters as the gateway to (potentially) different types of stories - though, given the rumors that the original directors' more humorous approach is what caused rifts on the Han Solo movie also demonstrates the constraints of that same model. But even still, some have opined that Disney/Lucasfilm are playing it too safe; focusing on Star Wars characters who, whatever their individual backgrounds are in the series mythos, are not only all men (and, with the exception of Fett, all White men at that) but all "human" in terms of Star Wars' somewhat-murky definitions of humanoid ethnicity (given that nobody is technically from Earth). If the franchise isn't planning to revisit Rogue One's bold push for entirely new heroes, some fans have argued, it could at least shake things up by venturing outside those narrow parameters in terms of which familiar heroes to focus on.
Those fans would seems to have a point: One of the things that makes the Star Wars Universe stick out from similar cosmic adventures like Star Trek is its willingness to go beyond "human beings but with slightly-different facial features" in terms of what constitutes a featured character. Star Wars' "aliens" tower over humans and scurry beneath them. They come in all the colors of the rainbow. They have humanlike voices and they "speak" in what we'd traditionally call animal-sounds. They have wings, flippers, multiple limbs, exoskeletons and tentacles. They run the gamut from vaguely-aboriginal teddy bears to "big walking carpets" to whatever Watto is. Surely, a story told from the perspective of such fundamentally unusual characters would open up dynamic new possibilities just by virtue of not being able to default to a direct "normal" analog for every situation.
Lucasfilm, at least, seems to aware of the potential there: Amid a recent info-dump of news regarding upcoming and prospectively-upcoming projects were the first ever concrete indications that features based around Yoda and Jabba The Hutt were under consideration for the spinoff slate. It's easy to see why those characters would be tantalizing both the fans and Disney executives; they're among the most beloved supporting figures in the franchise, and they fit nicely into easily-imagined movie types: The Japanese "Jidaigeki" ("period drama") genre that Star Wars has always drawn heavily from (hence "Jedi") is filled with popular films about elderly, diminutive or otherwise "unexpectedly" skillful Samurai warriors - a role that Yoda was already deliberately designed to evoke. The world (or, rather, underworld) of The Hutts is potentially even more ripe for exploration: A Star Wars gangster movie? Scarface with blasters? Goodfellas with aliens? The Godfather, but with people being fed to Rancors?
But as popular as these characters are and as eager as many fans would be to see their solo/spinoff movies, the fact remains that Star Wars has never featured a non-human character in a leading role. Yes, characters like Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2D2, Jar-Jar Binks and Yoda have been long prominent; but they are all ultimately "supporting regulars." Yes, the only two Star Wars spinoffs made prior to the Disney acquisition, The Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle For Endor, were centered on the titular aliens from Return of The Jedi; but both featured human main characters driving the storylines. Would the powers behind the Star Wars movies ever fully commit to taking the next step and making one of their non-human characters the center of their own movie?
- 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