Should we worry about the future of Lucasfilm’s animation department?

"Tatooine Rhapsody." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of
"Tatooine Rhapsody." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of /
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The possible future of Lucasfilm animation

The stigma against animation even within Star Wars is an ongoing battle. As a fan who got into the fandom because of seeing the Clone Wars movie on the big screen, it’s hard for me to see the ongoing stigma against the medium. Even recently, tweets were going around on Twitter about how the Kenobi series should redo the final battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Maul because Rebels was animated.

Even among animation fans, there is a stigma against change. One point that Skytalkers discussed at length was how toxic #SaveCloneWars was. Yes, it did keep up interest and help us get a season seven. But it was also used as an attack against fans of Rebels and Resistance. Those fans wanted more Clone Wars and would lash out at new animation styles as an ongoing fight against the Disney era of storytelling.

There is also the recent introduction of Star Wars television on Disney+. We have live-action Star Wars tv which does make that stigma against animation come up again. Remember, for decades, the only Star Wars on tv was animation. But live action does provide a new challenge for the medium. Star Wars Explained’s Alex Damon has referenced many times in his videos what he calls the Star Wars funnel. It is a chart of the popularity of content from general audience fans to the most die-hard ones. For the longest time, the order was the movies, then animated series, video games, and under that were the books and comics. But now with the development of live-action Star Wars, that has taken a firm place above the animated series and dethroned it. His video about Yoda’s lightsaber in The Book of Boba Fett is one of the best explanations of the Star Wars funnel and how it works. The stigma against Star Wars animation is going stronger than ever before.

After the events of Netflix and HBO Max gutting their animation departments, if those companies’ gambits succeed, it sets a precedence. We already know that both Disney and Lucasfilm won’t hesitate to throw their shows and workers under the bus to save money. Animation workers still haven’t gotten equality with their live-action counterparts after the #NewDeal4Animation negotiations. These companies are still putting themselves first over the well-being of their creators.

At D23 Expo 2019, Dave Filoni gave an interview discussing how he didn’t think there should be any more Clone Wars. He explains that Clone Wars characters can go on to tell new stories. At Celebration 2022, he said on stage that he considers live-action and animation to be equal. I agree and love both of these points. Animation is a very important part of Star Wars history as well as Clone Wars.

But Dave also doesn’t get to make all the choices as he still has executives to answer to.

We are also seeing many animated characters coming into live action with the first being Saw Gerrera followed by other powerhouse characters like Bo-Katan, Ahsoka, and of course the recent casting of Sabine and Ezra. With all of this casting news, there have always been discussions around Twitter about why not continue these stories in animation. Is it the funnel? Is it because live-action does appease a wider audience because of the stigma against animation in the U.S.?

What does this all mean for the future of Lucasfilm animation?

Looking at the upcoming projects, I can see some scenarios playing out based on the animated projects we have on the horizon. It’s time to take all of this information thus far and speculate.

First of all, we haven’t had an animated Star Wars movie on the big screen since Clone Wars which was a financial flop. Granted, it was the first three episodes of the series edited together to make sure it had a feature-length film run time. It was never supposed to be a movie and was Frankenstein’ed into one. While it was under Cartoon Network’s brand at the time, this kind of financial failure is exactly the kind of thing that Disney execs could point to and argue why there shouldn’t be another animated movie on the big screen.

There is the upcoming A Droid Story. It was announced as an animated film. Still, it’s supposedly going to air on Disney+ and not in theaters. Disney+ is the safer bet than a theatrical release. And ever since its announcement, they’ve been pretty quiet on details ever since.

I’m on the fence about counting Star Wars: Visions in all of this. They are very much the outlier in this argument because it’s made to be a focus on anime in season one. Season two is showcasing Star Wars made by studios all over the world. In my opinion, Visions reminds me a lot of how Netflix seems to be moving forward. Instead of producing content in-house, it’s relying on other places to produce it. Though, to be fair, I have no idea how the financial side of making Visions works. It could be an in-house Lucasfilm production with the other studios. I couldn’t find that breakdown so I want to be absolutely transparent as I wildly speculate.

But also, Visions isn’t canon which means they don’t have to fit in with the Lucasfilm brand and mythology. It allows for different and innovative storytelling because they don’t have to be in the canon box. It makes me wonder why this kind of creativity was given to a non-canon project instead of a canon one.

The Bad Batch and the upcoming Tales of the Jedi are both created in a Clone Wars style. Clone Wars pushed a lot of technology forward for Lucasfilm and is still a huge money maker. It is a safe bet that anything with these characters will make a profit for Disney, which doesn’t like to take a lot of risks and loves its formulas. This style also keeps the #SaveCloneWars fans happy because it’s their wheelhouse. Both of these shows make sense in the Clone Wars style as The Bad Batch is essentially a sequel to the series. Tales of the Jedi is continuing stories of Clone Wars characters. This makes sense in the current context.

I think it will be telling if we get a season two of Tales of the Jedi. Say they want to focus on the original trilogy or sequel trilogy stories. Those animated shows were Rebels and Resistance. If the styles don’t match those respective shows, choose a new animation style, or they choose to stay in the Clone Wars style, it makes me wonder why. Why not try new things in an anthology series? Would they choose the Clone Wars style to save money with technology they already have? Because it’s a safe bet with a loud part of the fandom? Because they know the Clone Wars style sells? Will they choose a cheaper route over trying something new?

I love the LEGO Star Wars specials. I’d give anything for more Freemakers Adventures content. But they are promoting a brand. LEGO is a powerhouse in its own right. These truly have that Saturday Morning Cartoon feeling of creating these shorts to help sell games and toys.

A lot of the animated content on YouTube has mixed reception among fans. A good chunk of it is tailored to a younger audience, which is fantastic. The youngest viewers deserve Star Wars content made for them. There was a wide range of styles. But even that has its issues. Content made for young fans is missing a big audience. A lot of the styles are creative and beautiful, but it’s missing a majority of the fandom and the general audience. There is still a stigma against animation and many adults don’t want to watch shows made for kids. Galaxy of Adventures is gorgeous and some of Titmouse’s best work. But there’s really no new content in there as it’s retelling the movies.

This is the same issue with the upcoming Young Jedi Academy. I am ridiculously excited about this show. I’m a huge fan of the High Republic era. Depending on how filming for The Acolyte goes, Young Jedi Adventures might be our first on-screen look at the High Republic era.

The issue is it’s made for preschoolers. That is the target demographic. Again, there is no problem with making content for young fans. But being the possible first outing for the High Republic era is questionable. The High Republic is some of the more progressive, queer, and diverse Star Wars ever made. Most of the books and comics of the initiative are rated YA and up except for the few Middle-Grade novels, picture books, and the Adventures line. Why showcase this era’s first outing in a show for preschoolers when the majority of the fans reading this era are mostly teenagers and adults? I mean I’m going to watch the heck out of it hoping that Regald Coll, Kantam Sy, Torban Buck, and other characters show up. But the majority of the fandom will not watch the show. It’s a missed chance to share this era with a wider audience. It feels like Disney and Lucasfilm are wanting to hide this progressive storytelling behind an age wall.

Looking at all of these titles and the details around them, as an animation fan, it feels way too safe to me. Where is the next big thing in Star Wars animation? Where are the innovation and progression? Trying new styles? Pushing the limits of the medium? I love the Clone Wars style, but when are we going to see something new like Rebels and Resistance outside of Visions?

I have a real fear for Lucasfilm animation in the wake of David Zaslav’s gambit. If he and Netflix’s game of gutting animation actually makes them money, I could see Disney and, to be more specific, Lucasfilm trying something similar.

I don’t think Lucasfilm would ever fully gut their animation department. It means too much to the history of the brand. But I can absolutely see them take on a path that saves them money, take fewer chances, and play safely with Star Wars because of the stigma against animation. We know Disney won’t support their shows if it doesn’t make them money. It’s not like The Bad Batch has the same amount of merchandise rolling out like Clone Wars did. The cable wasteland that Resistance got caught in probably didn’t help their merchandise sales. And we know that Lucasfilm hasn’t shied away from hurting their animators to save money. As comedian Adam Conover pointed out, this leads to lower quality content which could be a possibility for anything outside of the Clone Wars style. All of this together makes me very nervous about the future of Lucasfilm animation.

I hope I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. I want nothing more than to see an adult animated Star Wars series in the same vein as The Legend of Vox Machina. I want to see new styles brought into a galaxy far, far away. I want to see the recent 2D and 3D blending of artwork in Star Wars like in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Bad Guys. Heck, I want to see a CalArts style Star Wars just to watch the chaotic discourse rage online while I cackle in delight.

We have to wait and see. History is still being written in Hollywood about this chapter. We don’t know what the next step will look like. We probably won’t know for a few years, if not until the next decade. It’s a very scary time for animation in general.

I can only hope that Lucasfilm takes up the charge to create the next wave of new content and styles. I hope they take chances. I hope they try new things without worrying about losing money since, you know, they’re one of the richest companies in the world. I hope they treat their employees fairly. Give those creators what they deserve. I hope they pay their animation department the same as their live action counterpart.

I want more than anything for Star Wars animation to succeed.

And while it’s not animation, bring back Jedi Temple Challenge too. Put it on Disney+. That show was a delight, and Ahmed Best deserves the world.

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