The apparent demise of the Star Wars anthology series of movies is the result of corporate bad planning and looks to be a creative lost opportunity.
Here’s the thing: I enjoyed and still like very much all four of the “new era” Star Wars movies but, easily, the two I consider genuine favorites in the broadest sense are the anthology movies, Rogue One and, particularly, Solo.
Recently, Disney chief Bob Iger, and Lucasfilm president, and actively participating Star Wars producer, Kathleen Kennedy, made public remarks clarifying their intentions moving forward with the ever-expanding cinematic galaxy. Though light on details, these statements specified that previously announced iterations will next go into production following this December’s Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the finale of the Skywalker Saga.
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Their remarks did include mention of, first, a series of three films which may (or may not) form a
trilogy, produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (Game of Thrones), the first of which will come in December 2022 and, upon their completion, be followed some time later by another trilogy to be written and produced (with the opener also directed) by Episode VIII The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson.
Kennedy went on to speak more broadly of their evolving approach to Star Wars and their handling of it as a unique motion picture / entertainment phenomenon — and she was quite correct in her observations.
Absent was any mention of any further movies with the label, “A Star Wars Story.” Without either Kennedy or Iger saying so, it seems Rogue One and Solo, will stand together, and alone, as the beginning and end of a very short line.
This is a bad decision, in terms of both business savvy and creative artistry.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..L to R: K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) and Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones)..Ph: Film Frame ILM/Lucasfilm..© 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Consider the “A Star Wars Story” facts as I understand them:
While both Rogue One and Solo were less financially successful than the episodic films, they each followed the simple bottom line is that both movies nonetheless drew grosses that defy normal comprehension.
Rogue One earned just over a billion worldwide (that’s billion with a “B”) at the box office and, while Solo made somewhat less than half of Rogue One’s take, those numbers are a disappointment only in terms of the money made by its immediate three predecessors (and Star Wars movies in general); but unlike the overwhelming majority of studio product, it still made, hundreds of millions of dollars.
Of course, both anthology films underwent costly — but commonplace when it comes to big-budget studio pictures — re-shoots that upped what were already large budgets. Those re-conceptualizations on both films were disruptive, certainly, but that’s inherent to filmmaking — and as such, contingencies are prepared, planned for and dealt with appropriately.
And, quite frankly, you don’t find a more skilled and quick-thinking movie producer than Kathleen Kennedy — she more than anyone knows that the generally unremarked upon element that has made the Star Wars pictures so consistently successful is maintaining a high level of quality control in every aspect of their creation.
But aside from the fact that Disney and the various mammoth corporations that own other studios simply do not invest in movies that won’t make money, the two movies were made under both the corporate and the filmmakers’ expectations. They would make less than the new episodes of the Skywalker Saga that featured the return of the principal trio of original trilogy cast members. It’s hardly a worthwhile comparison.
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm /Disney Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa in STAR WARS episode VII The Force Awakens (I’d have gladly watched Han Leia a STAR WARS story c. 2015
Also, film-goers and mass audiences don’t, and shouldn’t, think of the movies in terms of budgets and money made. The audience wants to be engaged, involved, entertained and satisfied as they have been in the past, and maybe even challenged little.
This is why canceling the “A Star Wars Story” line is as much a creative mistake as a business one.
Rogue One and Solo are both exceptionally good films that genuinely capture the spirit of Episodes IV through VI. They both have an energy and an inventiveness, akin to A New Hope and its two remarkable successors, that The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi strive for and generally do, in fact, reach though not quite as consistently — the effort it takes shows through more, here and there.
Additionally, Rogue One and Solo being “one-shots” of a sort, have a greater sense of freedom about their narratives. Like Episodes I-III, it’s how they reach their endings that provide the thrills. This differs somewhat from the idea of an intentional trilogy in which you’re settled within the parameters of a specific vision that has to perform in ways defined from the start for it to satisfy in the end (the bizarre choice of not figuring out beforehand the full plot of the sequel trilogy — Episodes VII-IX notwithstanding).
photo credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in SOLO a STAR WARS story c.2018
In her broad strokes identifying the uniqueness of the Star Wars movies — the fact
that they represent a singular kind of experience — Kennedy compared them as
being very different from the Marvel franchise (also owned, and largely organized, by
She rightly made it clear she saw Star Wars as requiring a more carefully measured attention paid to it by its new handlers than that of the Avengers.
Star Wars is obviously — as well as subtly — different.
For one thing, the intertwined plots of the Marvel movies make them work for mass audiences because they’ve been released within shouting distance of each other. You see one and you’re likely to see the next because they’re all wrapped around one another and before you know it, that next one’s just there!
The Marvel franchise is just that — a franchise, whose product is generally dependable, quickly satisfying, instantly disposable, ultimately forgettable. Will Endgame have any impact or meaning forty years from now the way that, say, The Empire Strikes Back (turning forty next year) certainly still does today?
The first six Star Wars movies were released three years apart (with nineteen years between the Lucas trilogies and ten between the prequel trilogy and present one). This made them adrenalinized, can’t-wait-for-it experiences — genuine “event” movies.
And so thus it was that Solo was considered most un-Star-Wars-ish — a nonevent, considered most strangely as an “unnecessary” film — a “bomb,” almost before it was released and in this light, the primary single reason for its “failure” is clear.
It had little to do with a change in directors (in fact, Ron Howard’s work here seems more
genuinely alive than in most of his other films — I just don’t think the ousted Phil Lord and Chris Miller could have made something better), and even less to do with that sliver of very vocal Star Wars fans that (for reasons that still confound me) carried their resentment over to The Last Jedi not conforming to their narrow expectations forward and onto a largely unrelated movie.
No, the clearest reason for the perception of it and a potential ongoing series of Star Wars stories as losers (including two vaguely planned Solo sequels — Alden Ehrenreich revealed he had been contracted for three films, and I suspect likewise of Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover and Joonas Suotamo.
The story points and plot twists in act III pretty much leave you expecting, to read after the end credits: “Han Solo and Chewbacca will return in….” ), it is the simple fact that Solo: A Star Wars Story came out only five months after Episode VIII, which had actually barely left a few lingering theaters before the new movie opened May 25, 2018.
The once every Christmas season game plan, however, definitely worked for the first three Star Wars films, just as it had for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, so why mess with an assured thing that becomes a kind of holiday tradition?
I realize that the “too-much-Star Wars, too-soon” reasoning has been regularly raised in regard to Solo’s “failure” but … to cancel the possible series of once-every-other-year of anthology film, if they’re as well imagined and designed, as technically assured and emotionally energized as the first two, would be an extremely short-sighted and very poor decision all around — a poor decision ludicrously based on the simple mis-scheduled release of one really good movie seven months too early.
Besides, I’m nearly done a good second draft of the screenplay for “Kenobi of Tatooine“– A Star Wars story — no, really. Ms. Kennedy, call me. We need to talk.
Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker will be coming to your galaxy December 20.