I absolutely love animation. It was sitting in the theaters watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars on the big screen that made me a fan in 2008. The first time I truly connected with the franchise was seeing Ahsoka Tano for the first time. It’s my favorite medium and I want so desperately for it to succeed.
This is why I think it’s time for Lucasfilm to give another animated movie a crack in a theatrical release.
Their first venture of animated Star Wars on the big screen didn’t work out so well. Though, it’s so important to note that Clone Wars was never supposed to be a theatrical release. It was the first three episodes of the series edited together in a Frankenstein of a film. It probably would have worked fine in this day and age as a Disney+ release, but Clone Wars didn’t have the luxury of a streaming service back then. With very little promotion or fanfare, Clone Wars was a financial flop for the company. My tin foil hat theory is that it was this failure that has kept Lucasfilm away from trying again.
It doesn’t mean that we haven’t seen an attempt. The final arc of the Clone Wars series is essentially a mini-movie, breaking away from the structure and format of the series. The Siege of Mandalore is cinema, and I desperately hope that Lucasfilm edits it together for one of those special Fathom events. Unlike the film that opened the series, it’s clear that the creators learned from their mistakes to open the door for these four episodes to work as a film. Fan edits have proven that so well. I would be right there in the front row if they ever put the Siege of Mandalore on the big screen.
There was also the announcement of A Droid Story, an animated film to premiere on Disney+. That said, we haven’t heard anything else about it other than it’s about C-3PO and R2-D2. Being on Disney+ with legacy characters tells me that it’s probably going to be a smaller and safer project. And I don’t mean that as a bad thing. I think A Droid Story could be the company testing the waters for bigger animation ventures in the future.
I hope this is setting the stage for a theatrical release of a Star Wars animated movie. With Lucasfilm under Disney, a company known for its animated feature films, it’s time for Lucasfilm to try again. I want an original story with new characters to be produced for the big screen. No Clone Wars gimmick of using the film to promote a tv show. An actual animated feature film.
And Lord and Miller need to do it.
If those names sound familiar, you might recognize them from Solo: A Star Wars Story. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were the original directors of Solo before they were fired from the project. The entire thing was a mess as the duo, known for comedy, apparently took the script too far off course by letting the actors play and improvise. They’re understanding was to make a comedy movie; Kathleen Kennedy just wanted them to make some of the film funny. Also, veteran Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasden and his son Jonathan were allegedly very upset that Lord and Miller didn’t follow their script word for word and went to the boss about it. It sounds to me that the Old Guard got their pants in a twist and pulled rank with Kathleen Kennedy, but that’s just my take on the mess. It obviously didn’t work out for them as Solo was a financial failure too despite a very vocal fanbase who loves the movie and wants a sequel (me included).
To this day, I still want a Lord and Miller Star Wars. Looking back on Solo and the duo’s recent work, perhaps a live-action Star Wars wasn’t their calling. But they should absolutely be the first people Lucasfilm go to for a theatrical animated film that they can make on their terms. The reason I say this is based on three films you might have heard of: The LEGO Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and The Mitchells vs the Machines.
Lucasfilm has always been at the forefront of pushing technological boundaries. Lord and Miller have massively succeeded in their own way in the medium of animation.
While they did have some success with their first film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it was The LEGO Movie that launched Lord and Miller to new heights. The pair pulled from their love of LEGO to drive the film, even bringing in their own toys from their childhood to base characters on. There was immense attention to detail to make sure the characters had fingerprints and smudges on them to sell the idea these are real toys that were played with by a child.
But it was the new technology they developed that really helped the production of The LEGO Movie to succeed. They led their animators to create not only a brick program so everything in the film could be actually made in real life, but they also made a new system to essentially make stop-motion animation without the arduous process of actual stop-motion. It was groundbreaking for the time. It makes the film look like it came from Laika Studios (Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings) known for their Claymation work, and not Warner Animation Group.
This wouldn’t be the last time Lord and Miller would break new grounds either. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a critically acclaimed film for a reason. All of the groundbreaking and historic work of Into the Spider-Verse could be an article of its own, so I just want to focus on one aspect of the film. But check out the video below for a bigger list. One of the biggest reasons was for its blending of 2D and 3D animation which broke animation out of the quickly dating hyper-realistic styles defining the 2000s to 2010s.
This technique was actually first used in the 2015 film The Peanuts Movie, but it was Lord and Miller’s project that perfected it. This unique take allows for more variation and creativity for a project to function in, something that hyper-realism doesn’t lend itself so easily to. Already, so many films have taken on the style. In fact, the director of the 2022 movie The Bad Guys, Pierre Perifel, specifically cited Into the Spider-Verse as the reason they were able to pitch his movie. He loved the style of Into the Spider-Verse so much that he wanted to try their hand at it. Thanks to Lord and Miller’s success, the 2D and 3D animation blend has been used in other movies too such as Luca and Turning Red. It truly deserved to win the Academy Awards that year, a rare win outside of Disney movies. Into the Spider-Verse became a cultural touchstone with it being praised as one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made. While it’s still too early to say for sure, Into the Spider-Verse seems like it will be the movie that will define animation for the 2020s.
Lord and Miller could have just coasted on their success and used their new system for years. But that’s not who they are and they wanted to continue to strive for new heights in the medium. This brings us to The Mitchells vs the Machines.
Taking what they learned from Into the Spider-Verse, they innovated even further. While they would use some of the 2D and 3D techniques they helped create, they wanted to take Mitchells even further. The pair teamed up with Gravity Falls writers Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe with input from Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsh and decided they would make a manifesto. Together, they made sure that every person working on the film understood that it would be something new. They set rules for the film like making sure they only pulled from influences that had never been used in animation, being “boldy inventive,” and pushing the medium forward by creating a story that could never function in live-action and only work in animation. They wanted Mitchells to feel as human as possible, and if you’ve ever seen the movie, you know they succeeded in every way possible.
They created brand new technology never used before to turn hand paintings into 3D CGI, new lightning techniques, a new animation style, and also new software to create a watercolor look for the film. They would go against the studio’s wishes to light certain scenes a particular way because it was best for the story, not best for the studio’s thoughts on the matter. They blended real-life puppetry into the movie too to help sell Katie’s, the protagonist’s, point of view. The Mitchells vs the Machines was also historic being one of the first animated films with an LGBTQIA+ protagonist to be nominated for an Academy Award and to win at the Annie Awards (the most important award in animation circles). After the recent events with Tales of the Jedi, I’m all for Lord and Miller injecting some much-needed queer content into Star Wars animation.
Just as George Lucas wanted to push Star Wars forward both as a cultural touchstone and in the realms of technology, Lord and Miller have done this repeatedly on the animation front. I don’t think a live-action Star Wars was their calling. It’s a theatrical release of an animated Star Wars movie that should be in their hands. They’ve proved time and again they’re more than capable of doing it.
It’s time for that Old Guard to get out of their way and let the masters do their work.