With more Star Wars television than ever–and the future of Star Wars film projects murky at best–fans have their attention firmly focused on Disney+. Thus far, most of the series are exploring new perspectives in a very familiar timeline.
The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett built out the world between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens with characters old and new. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor revived cinematic characters in the period of time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
While these series have provided some element of surprise with form and story, they mostly served to painstakingly fill in gaps of the larger Star Wars mythology.
The most promising series yet for the future of Star Wars television is a show that has received little attention or fanfare, Star Wars: Visions. A collaboration with seven different Japanese animation studios, Visions provides a fresh and distinct visual style and new characters and stories.
Star Wars tends to take more risks with its animated series, but it’s far past time for the live-action series to break the mold, too.
Film critic Thomas Schatz defined genre as “a system of conventions” that audiences can easily recognize and categorize like the musical or the western. At this point, Star Wars itself can be considered a genre, with expected archetypes, tropes, and characters that audiences expect.
This is made all the more concrete by the fact that George Lucas was inspired by the genres he loved like Spaghetti westerns, Japanese action dramas, and science fiction serials. In short, Lucas melded elements of established genres to create one of his own.
However, the franchise is now 45 years, eleven films, and dozens of television series in with little deviation from its original formula.
Compare Star Wars to Star Trek. While the latter is more strictly science fiction, its creator, Gene Roddenberry, also drew inspiration from multiple genres like the western and historical war dramas.
Unlike Star Wars, though, Star Trek has capitalized on the serialized nature of television to explore multiple homages and pastiches throughout the history of its franchise. Episodes like Deep Space Nine’s “Our Man Bashir,” The Next Generation’s “A Fistful of Datas,” and the current series Lower Decks all subvert viewer expectations by placing characters into new settings.
Many of the things that fans are clamoring for–diversity, romance, exploration of stories away from the Skywalkers–would also be solved by breaking outside of the Star Wars genre. (Once again, Star Wars: Visions is proof of concept.)
There are countless possibilities for Star Wars to explore with live-action series: workplace comedy, mockumentary, romantic comedy, police procedural, etc. Investing in diverse creative voices like Leslye Headland and Taika Waititi is a good first step.
Of course, the Star Wars fandom is the biggest thing holding back Disney and Lucasfilm. At the end of the day, Star Wars is a business, one that Disney clearly fears compromising, especially due to the franchise’s track record with risks. (See: the still-divided reception to The Last Jedi and the mixed reactions to The Book of Boba Fett for starters.)
Yet while the unhappiest fans are typically the loudest, Star Wars has never had any massive financial bombs, largely due to Lucas’s guiding principle of narrative integrity in his original films. It’s time for Disney and Lucasfilm to remember that Star Wars was built on innovation, not doing more of the same.
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