If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise – including recent projects such as The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian. There are also minor spoilers for the Star Trek franchise too.

Let’s step through the looking-glass, across the divide between universes, into a strange new world. This world is very much like our own, but with one major difference: Star Trek behaved like Star Wars. The Original Series ran from 1966 to 1969, just as it did in our reality, but then… things started to change.

Join me on a weird and wonderful journey through what Star Trek might have been… if it had acted like Star Wars. Don’t worry, I promise we’ll make it home safe and sound.

Are you ready to go through the looking-glass?

We begin our journey in the 1970s. Star Trek is being rebroadcast in syndication, and its fanbase is growing. Some of these fans begin to organise and ask for more Star Trek on their screens, and the company that owns Star Trek in this alternate reality – let’s call them CiacomVBS – thinks long and hard about what to do. They have a popular series on their hands… what should they do with it?

Eventually the people in charge of Star Trek hit upon a brilliant idea: a Star Trek prequel, looking at Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and other familiar characters in their Starfleet Academy days and before their five-year mission. The main roles were re-cast, and the first new Star Trek project in almost twenty years was finally greenlit in 1988. Called the “Kelvin films” for the involvement of a starship called the USS Kelvin, this prequel trilogy was popular with some Trekkies, but wildly disliked by others. When the third film finished its theatrical run, CiacomVBS decided to shelve Star Trek and proclaimed that the franchise was complete.

Fans were split on Star Trek by this point. Some proclaimed that The Original Series was the only good part, whereas other (primarily younger) fans were thrilled with the Kelvin films. As time passed, Star Trek appeared to be complete. Its stars moved on to other projects, or faded into obscurity. But the fanbase remained, and with the passage of time those younger fans grew up, leading to a minor resurgence in the popularity of the Kelvin films.

In the 1990s, a massive media empire called the Dalt Wisney Company approached CiacomVBS about a buyout. When the multi-billion dollar deal went through, Wisney announced a plan to bring Star Trek back – this time for a sequel. Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered a few years later, and starred a younger cast of characters – alongside the return of The Original Series’ crew. Their first adventure was to find Captain Kirk, who had gone missing.

Kirk eventually agreed to train the new crew of Starfleet officers, along with help from Spock, Dr McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. The returning characters took up a lot of the new show’s screen time, leaving many Trekkies to say that the new crew were undeveloped and underused. To make matters worse, a lack of overall direction by the Dalt Wisney Company meant that each of the three seasons of The Next Generation was helmed by a totally different team of writers. The consequence of this was a jarring change in tone between each of the three seasons.

The Next Generation’s third and final season was its worst by far, with a confused mess of a story that seemed to be trying to overwrite much of what happened in Season 2 – including the backstory of Captain Picard, the major character introduced in Season 1. By far its most egregious fault, though, was bringing back Khan as a villain – Khan had been killed off decades earlier, and his return was called “the worst kind of deus ex machina” by critics.

There were also two “standalone” projects produced during this time. The first saw a team of renegade Starfleet officers go on a secret mission to steal the plans to the Klingon D7 battle cruiser, and ended with them transmitting the plans to Kirk aboard the Enterprise. The second was titled Chekov: A Star Trek Story, and it told the tale of the young Pavel Chekov before he joined Starfleet.

Despite the lacklustre response to The Next Generation and Chekov, Wisney had invested a lot of money into Star Trek, and putting their expensive acquisition on hiatus was not possible. They announced another spin-off: Deep Space Nine. This promised to finally take a look at the Star Trek galaxy away from Captain Kirk and Starfleet for the first time, being set on a space station in a new region that had never been seen before.

Fans seemed to respond well to Deep Space Nine at first, but its short runtime, bland main character, and overreliance on the aesthetic of The Original Series were all points of criticism of the show. By Season 2 it seemed to be doing better and was beginning to stand on its own two feet – but for some inexplicable reason Season 2 of Deep Space Nine brought back the character of Sulu – who had been killed off in The Next Generation. Fans were confused as to how he had survived being eaten by an alien monster, but this was never addressed.

The Season 2 finale was perhaps the most egregious example of Wisney forcing fan-service into Deep Space Nine, though. As Sisko and his crew were cornered, staring down a seemingly-unstoppable villain, the shuttlecraft Galileo was spotted approaching DS9. The shuttle door opened, and there, in all his glory, stood Captain Kirk. Kirk dispatched the villain’s henchmen with ease, and gave Sisko – and the show’s stunned audience – a nod and a wink.

In the aftermath of Deep Space Nine Season 2, the Dalt Wisney Company put together a presentation where they announced what’s coming next for Star Trek – and to no one’s surprise, it was more of the same. Nostalgia, throwbacks, and not much else.

The actor who played Scotty in the Kelvin series was given his own spin-off. Next was Star Trek: Nurse Chapel, which promised a look at the franchise’s second-most famous medical officer. Then there was The Harry Mudd Show, looking at lovable rogue Harry Mudd, and Star Trek: Balok, which promised a deep dive into the backstory of the character fans first met in The Corbomite Maneuver. There was a miniseries looking at Kor, the Klingon captain, and finally there was Star Trek: That Guy Who Flew The Shuttle In That One Episode – which was immediately given a three-season order. Some fans were thrilled with these offerings… but a lone voice spoke out.

On a website called Dennising with Trek, an independent critic wrote that it was time for Star Trek to move on. The Original Series had become a weight around the neck of the franchise, holding it back and stopping it from properly moving on to new adventures. The Star Trek galaxy offered such an interesting and exciting setting, they wrote, that it was positively criminal to only look at such a tiny sliver of it over and over and over again. Star Trek can be better than this.

Apparently this website is incredibly popular in the alternate reality.

So that, my friends, is where we end our journey through this strange mirror universe. We step back across the divide, and find ourselves firmly back in our own reality. I promised I’d get you home safe and sound!

What was the point of our little interdimensional sojurn? As I’ve said many times already, Star Wars is stuck. It has never been able to move beyond its original trilogy, and it’s gotten to a point where those films are now holding it back from making any meaningful progress.

You might look at some of the Star Trek projects that exist in the alternate reality we visited and say that they sound like fun – but they represent an incredibly narrow vision of what Star Trek could be. If Star Trek had behaved like Star Wars, with a total and unshakable reliance on The Original Series and its characters, we’d never have got to see some absolutely incredible characters and stories. We’d have missed out on Picard’s transformation into Locutus of Borg in The Best of Both Worlds, or on Sisko’s painful decision in In The Pale Moonlight. We’d never have met Captain Janeway and her crew at all, nor Captain Archer and his.

Avery Brooks put in one of his best performances as Sisko in the Season 6 episode In The Pale Moonlight.

There is a place for prequels, for looking back, and for nostalgia. The very reason franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars were revived is because the companies behind them see nostalgia as a way to attract audiences. But in my opinion – my subjective opinion – Star Wars goes too far and overplays the nostalgia card. The Star Wars galaxy is a sandbox of almost infinite proportions, with not only trillions of inhabitants, countless alien races, and millions of planets to explore, but also tens of thousands of years of history. We could look at events and characters that are entirely disconnected from Luke, Han, and Leia – but Star Wars has never even tried to do that.

The Mandalorian brought back Boba Fett and Luke Skywalker in what was pure fan-service. Fans lapped it up, and I’m happy for the people who enjoyed the way that story went. But for my money I think Star Wars can do better. I think it can be broader and deeper, and can step away from relying on those old characters. Star Wars is a fantastic franchise, and its setting is so vast and interesting that it doesn’t need the crutch of those old characters… but for some reason Disney can’t see it.

Luke Skywalker returned in The Mandalorian.

Star Trek moved away from its original incarnation decades ago, and in the years since we’ve had a heck of a lot of exciting, memorable shows and films that have become iconic parts of the franchise in their own right. And that innovation and willingness to try new things continues today, with Star Trek recently branching out into animated comedy and with a kids’ show on the horizon. Star Wars could do that too.

Star Trek realised a long time ago that the galaxy Gene Roddenberry and others had created was crying out to be explored. New characters and new ships came along and have had some incredible adventures. Star Wars hasn’t been brave enough to try anything genuinely different yet. I hope one day that will change.

Some names, titles, and properties above have been used in a satirical manner for the sake of parody and criticism. The Star Wars franchise and all related properties are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company and LucasFilm. The Star Trek franchise and all related properties are the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars doubles down HARD

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, and announcements for upcoming productions.

A few months ago I wrote an article titled “Star Wars needs to move on.” In that piece I looked at how the Star Wars franchise has only ever told one real story since it debuted in 1977. Prequels, sequels, and spin-offs all played into or expanded the only real story the franchise has ever told – that of Palpatine and minor characters like Anakin, Luke, and Rey who apparently don’t get to act of their own volition. I argued that, just like Star Trek had done with The Next Generation in 1987, Star Wars needed to put the Skywalker Saga behind it and genuinely move on, telling new stories with new characters.

The Mandalorian should have done this, but hasn’t. The inclusion of Baby Yoda, the Force, Boba Fett, and so many elements copied from the Original Trilogy overwhelmed that series and left me disappointed. I was desperately hoping that, after the reaction to The Rise of Skywalker, the team at Disney and Lucasfilm would think hard about what to do next.

The inclusion of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker.

Instead they’ve once again retreated back to the Original Trilogy, its spin-offs, and familiar characters. I would have hoped that the failure of Palpatine’s ham-fisted insertion into The Rise of Skywalker would have served as a warning, and that with the only story the franchise has ever told now at a seemingly-final end, the franchise could genuinely move on.

The Star Wars galaxy is up there with Tolkien’s Middle-earth as one of the finest fantasy worlds ever brought to life, yet the creative team at Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on never exploring the wonderful sandbox they paid $4 billion for. They’re instead going to show us the same tiny sliver over and over again, bringing to life ever more ridiculous spin-offs looking at characters of decreasing importance. What a disappointment.

Star Wars: Andor is a spin-off from a spin-off and a prequel to a prequel.

Let’s look at these disappointing announcements. A Droid Story will focus on R2-D2 and C-3PO. The Bad Batch is a spin-off to The Clone Wars, which was itself a spin-off to Attack of the Clones. Andor is the previously-announced series based around Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. Lando is bringing back Donald Glover, who took on the role of the smuggler in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Rangers of the New Republic is a spin-off from The Mandalorian. Ahsoka is another spin-off from The Mandalorian. And in the previously-announced Obi-Wan Kenobi series, we have the return of Darth Vader.

The only announcements which seem to have any potential to tell new stories are 2023’s Rogue Squadron, a project called Acolyte about which no information was revealed, and an as-yet-untitled film helmed by Taika Waititi. Everything else falls into the same trap that the franchise has fallen into repeatedly since the prequel era: overtreading the same ground, forcing fans to look back, and overplaying the nostalgia card. There’s nothing bold or innovative in any of these announcements. They represent a backwards-looking cowardly corporation, desperate to rekindle the magic of the Original Trilogy but without any clue of how to do so.

Do we really need a Star Wars film about these two droids?

Spin-offs to spin-offs and the increasingly minor characters given starring roles is indicative of a franchise out of ideas. There’s absolutely no creativity in any of these projects that I can see. At a fundamental level they’re all trying to do the same thing – use nostalgia as a hook to bring fans back. If the Star Wars galaxy looked bland and uninteresting, perhaps that would be a necessity. But it’s always been presented as such a vast, interesting setting that it’s positively criminal to only ever look at a tiny portion of it. There are tens of thousands of years of galactic history to dive into, as well as an uncertain future in the years after the war against the First Order. Could we see some of that, maybe?

And how about new characters? The idea of a show based on the two droids is patently ridiculous, as are those focusing on minor characters from spin-off projects. Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando was certainly one of the better elements of Solo, but does that mean he needs an entire project of his own? What will Disney and Lucasfilm do when these projects run their course? Are we going to see Star Wars: Snowtrooper #7 and Star Wars: That Two-Headed Podrace Announcer? At this rate that’s what’ll happen.

Is this guy getting his own spin-off too?

The sequel trilogy got two things wrong when considering the fundamentals of its storytelling. Firstly was the inexplicable decision to split up the writing, leaving it with no direction and no overarching story. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, was the decision to re-tell the Original Trilogy, drag Star Wars full-circle back to where it started, and spend too much time looking backwards. The sequel trilogy was an opportunity for Star Wars to lay the groundwork for future success, but instead it’s dragged the franchise backwards.

The Original Trilogy is a weight around Star Wars’ neck. The popularity of those three films compared to any others means that cowards in a corporate boardroom can’t see beyond it. Instead of looking at ways to take Star Wars forward to new adventures, all they know how to do is look backwards at the only successful films the entire franchise has ever produced.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom that clearly has no idea what to do with the franchise.

The end of the Skywalker Saga saw Luke, Han, and Leia killed off. It saw the final demise of Palpatine. And despite the story of Star Wars having been dragged through the mud, there was an opportunity that hasn’t really existed before – an opportunity to move on to greener pastures. With the only story Star Wars has ever told brought to a conclusion, it was hardly an unrealistic expectation to think we might get something new.

I’m disappointed, as you can tell. The lack of vision and the lack of boldness on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm means that we’re once again looking at the same miniscule fraction of the Star Wars galaxy that we’ve always been shown. There’s nothing interesting about that, and even though I have no doubt that, on an individual level, many of these projects will be at least decent and watchable, I just feel Star Wars could do better. These shows and films are a franchise aiming for a grade C. They’re middle-of-the-road attempts to scrape by, coasting on past success.

If the franchise ever wants to do more than get a basic pass, they’ll have to be bold and aim higher. Do something genuinely different. Step out of the ever-growing shadow of the Original Trilogy and do what Star Trek has been doing for thirty years – tell new stories.

The Star Wars franchise, including all films, series, and upcoming projects listed above, is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars needs to move on

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including casting information for The Mandalorian Season 2,The Rise of Skywalker, and other recent projects.

One of my favourite parts of the Star Wars franchise isn’t a film, it’s the two Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003-04. While I generally found the Expanded Universe – now re-branded as Star Wars Legends and no longer in production – to be unenjoyable, Knights of the Old Republic was an exception. It took a setting and a story that was thousands of years distant from the Original Trilogy, and while it’s certainly true that some elements were derivative, especially in the first game, as a whole it was something different that took Star Wars fans to different places and a different era. It expanded on the overall lore of Star Wars without overwriting anything, and it was a great look at the Star Wars galaxy away from Luke, Anakin, and Palpatine.

When it was announced in 2012 that Disney would be acquiring Lucasfilm I was excited. Ever since 1999, when Star Wars expanded to be more than just a trilogy of films, the vague prospect of a sequel to Return of the Jedi had been appealing to me. Learning what came next for Luke, Han, Leia, and others was something I was interested in, as I also was interested to learn what came next for the galaxy as a whole following the Emperor’s death. It’s easy to forget, but Return of the Jedi didn’t end with a full-scale victory for the Rebel Alliance. The Death Star was gone and the Emperor was dead, but practically the whole galaxy was still under Imperial control. I was fascinated to see how the Rebels turned victory in a battle into victory in the overall war.

The destruction of the Second Death Star. The sequel trilogy was supposed to tell us what became of the galaxy after this moment.

The Expanded Universe attempted to tell this story, but it was a convoluted, poor-quality tale hampered by having different writers with different ideas – seemingly Lucasfilm’s policy when it came to the Expanded Universe was that anyone could write anything. Many of these stories came across as fan-fiction, pitting a seemingly invincible Luke, Han, and Leia against all manner of obstacles. Over the years, the Expanded Universe grew to such an extent that it was convoluted and incredibly offputting for newcomers – several hundred books, several hundred more comics and graphic novels, over a hundred video and board games, two kids’ television shows, and myriad others, all of which required roadmaps, suggested reading lists, and of course a number of encyclopaedias and reference works to keep up with it all. All of this meant that the Expanded Universe was impossible to get to grips with without making it a full-time commitment. I was pleased when it was announced that Disney would be overwriting it.

By wiping the slate clean, not only would Disney not be constrained by some of the Expanded Universe’s poor storytelling, but the canon of Star Wars post-Return of the Jedi could be restarted, hopefully in a more concise way that would be easier to follow. That seemed to succeed at first, but now – a mere six years on from the cancellation of the old Expanded Universe – Star Wars is once again pretty convoluted with books, games, comics, and even a theme park attraction all officially canon. While I don’t want to spend too much time making a comparison with Star Trek, in that case the issue of canon has always been incredibly simple: television episodes and films are canon, everything else is not.

With so many books, comics, games, and other media, the old Expanded Universe was convoluted and offputting.

But we’re drifting off-topic. The Expanded Universe being dumped was a good thing, because I hoped what would replace it would be superior. And for the most part that’s been the case, though The Rise of Skywalker certainly dragged the overall story of the sequels down a long way.

Star Wars has a truly interesting setting: there’s a whole galaxy with countless worlds, trillions of inhabitants, and thousands of different species. But for the most part, the franchise has spent decades focusing on an absolutely minuscule fraction of this vast, potentially interesting setting it’s created.

The Expanded Universe spent a lot of time with Luke, Han, and Leia, as well as later with characters like Anakin, and by far the majority of its stories are set between The Phantom Menace and the couple of decades after Return of the Jedi. Where Knights of the Old Republic succeeded was in taking its audience away from that overtrodden ground and showing us a glimpse of the Star Wars galaxy without those familiar characters.

Knights of the Old Republic II was a great game that told a story far removed from Star Wars’ original trilogy.

The prequels dedicated three films to overexplaining the background of Darth Vader – a story I’d absolutely argue was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to improve or inform the Original Trilogy in any substantial way. That was part of why I found those films so disappointing. While the third entry, Revenge of the Sith, was better than the first two, all three films didn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the table. As I sat down to watch The Force Awakens a decade later, I hoped that we’d start to see something different.

The five films made since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 have been a disappointment in that regard. We’ve had The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, which essentially remade A New Hope and Return of the Jedi only worse, Solo: A Star Wars Story which made the same mistake of unnecessarily overexplaining Han Solo that the prequels did with Darth Vader, and Rogue One, which was a great standalone story but was a prequel feeding straight into the plot of A New Hope. The Last Jedi tried to take things in a different direction, but was still a story primarily about Luke – and is now effectively non-canon after being overwritten by its sequel.

The Last Jedi was the most recent Star Wars film to even try to do something differently – but was still constrained by being a sequel using familiar characters.

I know I said I wouldn’t make too many comparisons with Star Trek, but there’s one that’s too important not to mention. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. And aside from a cameo appearance, that show basically did its own thing and didn’t worry about The Original Series. The Star Trek franchise thus established that it could be so much more than its original incarnation. Star Wars has never done that – in its cinematic canon it hasn’t even tried, despite existing for over forty years. Where Star Trek consists of three time periods, an alternate reality, and nine distinct sets of main characters, Star Wars has been unable to move beyond the story of its original trilogy. The prequels lent backstory to the originals. The sequels and spin-offs expanded that same story. Even The Mandalorian brought in themes, concepts, and characters that weren’t as far-removed from the original films as they should’ve been – a decision compounded by the silly decision to bring in Boba Fett in Season 2.

Star Was could be so much more than it is. But at every opportunity, decisions have been taken to narrow its focus and dive deeper into unimportant parts of its only actual story; after more than forty years, the Star Wars franchise has still only told one real story. The decision to shoehorn Palpatine into The Rise of Skywalker makes this infinitely worse, as apparently he’s been manipulating everything and everyone from behind the scenes for the entire saga of films. As I wrote once, this transforms the Skywalker Saga into what is really the “Palpatine Saga”, as he’s the only character who seems to act of his own volition. But this isn’t supposed to be (another) critique of that incredibly poor narrative decision!

The deus ex machina of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker… and really the entire sequel trilogy.

The decision to bring Palpatine back is indicative of a franchise that has no new ideas. It was categorically not “always the plan” to bring him back in the sequels, or this would have been established in The Force Awakens. Instead, Palpatine became a deus ex machina because Star Wars as a whole has been unable to move out of the shadow of its first three films. Those films could have laid the groundwork for an expanded franchise – as The Original Series did for Star Trek – but instead they’ve almost become a ball and chain; a weight around the neck of the franchise, keeping it locked in place and unable to move on.

It shouldn’t be because of a lack of ideas. The Star Wars galaxy is a massive sandbox for any writer or director to play in, with almost unlimited potential to tell genuinely new and interesting stories. Instead it’s a lack of vision and a lack of boldness on the part of a large corporation; Disney wants to play the nostalgia card over and over again, and because Star Wars had never previously tried to escape its Original Trilogy, doing so now seems – from a corporate point of view – too big of a risk. How else does one explain the decision to allow The Rise of Skywalker to overwrite The Last Jedi? Corporate-mandated cowardice, retreating to nostalgia and safe, comfortable ground. Trying something even slightly different requires a boldness that simply isn’t present in most boardrooms.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom unwilling to take risks or do things differently.

Two-thirds of the sequel trilogy re-told the original trilogy. The prequels were glorified backstory, and the two spin-off films were also prequels to the originals. Star Wars has only ever made three original films – everything else either overexplained that story or tried to re-tell it. The Star Wars “saga” is thus nothing more than one story. One main character – Palpatine – controls and manipulates it, and only a handful of characters get any significant screen time and development.

I wrote recently that the overall story of Star Wars has been dragged full-circle, with the questions fans had about the state of the galaxy and the Jedi Order after Return of the Jedi simply not being answered in any meaningful way. The galaxy is once again in a position where Palpatine is dead, there’s one remaining young Jedi, an autocratic state controls much of the galaxy but has suffered a major defeat, and the survivors will have to finish the war and try to rebuild. That’s where both Return of the Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker left things. Far from answering the questions posed by the original films, the sequels just asked the same questions again with a different coat of paint.

By re-telling the same story – albeit in a worse way – the sequel trilogy as a whole has entirely failed to accomplish anything.

The end of the sequel trilogy left the Star Wars galaxy in exactly the same state it was in almost forty years ago.

The announcement of The Mandalorian came with what I thought was an exciting premise: the adventures of a gunslinger far beyond the reach of the New Republic. Wow! Finally, something genuinely different in Star Wars. It didn’t last, of course, as the second episode of the show brought the Force back into things. While in some respects The Mandalorian tried to be different, in too many ways it was samey. The aesthetic, the reuse of elements from the original trilogy like Boba Fett’s armour, the Jawas and their Sandcrawler, and of course the return of the Force made what was already a boring show with episodes that were too short even less interesting. I found the whole experience a disappointment.

The two upcoming Disney+ shows – based around Obi-Wan Kenobi and Rogue One’s Cassian Andor – look set to repeat the same mistakes. Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi was definitely one of the prequels’ better elements, but do we need yet another prequel? In-universe, Kenobi went into exile on Tatooine after the rise of the Empire. Anything he does in the show would either be constrained by taking place within a few miles of his desert hut or else feel awfully tacked-on. And the Cassian Andor show is a prequel to a prequel. Rogue One was a great film, but does it need its own prequel show?

Cassian Andor was a great character in his sole appearance. Not sure he needs a prequel series of his own, though.

Can’t the investment being made in these properties be reallocated to something genuinely different? There’s so much potential in the Star Wars galaxy, yet Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on showing us the same tiny sliver over and over and over again. When people talk of franchise fatigue and the feeling that Disney is milking Star Wars dry it’s because of this! When every Star Wars project feels samey and repetitive, it’s much easier to get burnt out on the franchise.

There are some exceptions – I recently played through Jedi: Fallen Order, and despite that game using a familiar time period, it was a mostly-original story with only one returning character from the films playing a role. It was different enough to feel like a half-step away from what had come before.

Jedi: Fallen Order told a decent standalone Star Wars story.

For the franchise to survive long-term and remain viable, it needs to step away from the original trilogy for the first time. New films and shows, whenever they may come, should look at wholly new characters in a setting and even time period that’s distinct from what came before. There also needs to be a plan – the rudderless sequel trilogy can’t be repeated. Any new project needs to have someone at the helm to guide its story. Questions need to be asked at the beginning about where the characters are going and what the endgame of the story is, so that the franchise doesn’t just keep making the same mistakes.

Not every recent Star Trek project has been to everyone’s taste. But since the 2005 cancellation of Enterprise – and in some respects even before then – Star Trek hasn’t been afraid to try completely new things. Action films, a serialised drama show, and now an animated comedy have all joined the lineup. Some of these have brought in new fans, and at the very least, no one in 2020 can accuse Star Trek of being stale. Star Wars, in contrast, has absolutely become stale. The one story it’s been telling for forty years has finally ended, so now is the moment for Star Wars to properly move on.

The Star Wars franchise – including all films and other media mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash, Knights of the Old Republic II screenshot courtesy of the press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Happy (day after) Star Wars Day!

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for various Star Wars films, games, and other media.

Over the last few months, I’ve taken a few shots at the Star Wars franchise. Much of this was motivated by my intense dislike of The Rise of Skywalker, which is second only to The Phantom Menace in terms of how I’d rank the worst entries in the series. But it’s Star Wars Day today (well, it’s actually the day after… oops) so I thought it would be a great time to take a look at some of the franchise’s high points from my perspective. This will be a personal take on Star Wars, looking at my own history with the franchise and the things I’ve most enjoyed, and I’ll set aside most of the controversies and dislikes so we can just focus on the good stuff!

Yep… should’ve posted this yesterday.

So let’s start at the beginning. In the mid-1970s, a man called George Lucas… oh wait, that’s too far back. Let’s start at my beginning as a Star Wars fan. By the early ’90s I was a big Trekkie. Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the air, and I’d fallen in love with the world the series created, which spurred an interest in both science fiction in general and outer space in particular. I was dimly aware of the Star Wars franchise’s existence, but I’d never seen the trilogy of films. One of my schoolfriends at the time was a huge Star Wars fan, though, and for his birthday one year he received the three films on VHS. He invited me over and we watched all three over a weekend. The division that existed between Star Trek and Star Wars fans was prominent, however, and I remember thinking that “my” fandom of Star Trek was superior, even as I sat down to watch the films for the first time.

I don’t want to say that I was completely blown away by Star Wars the first time I saw it. It was exciting, sure, but at the time I was still comparing it in my head to Star Trek, and Star Wars’ action-heavy story compared to the often peaceful exploration seen in Star Trek, as well as Star Wars’ fantasy elements like the Force compared to Star Trek’s supposedly “real future” were drawbacks. This was really just tribalism, though, and I can recognise looking back that, with part of my young identity being tied to being a “Trekkie”, I was less keen on Star Wars than I should’ve been!

Subsequent viewings of the trilogy in the months and years after definitely improved my opinion of the franchise, and I began to collect a small number of Star Wars toys, books, and model kits (I was a big model-builder in my youth). My friend and I grew up in a small community, and him and his dad were the only two Star Wars fans I knew at that point. I borrowed those video tapes and re-watched them more times than I can remember, finding something new to appreciate with almost every viewing.

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia became the archetypal heroes for me going forward. Their steadfast loyalty to their cause – even when it seemed like everything was going wrong in The Empire Strikes Back – was inspirational, and I’ve never forgotten that aspect of the films.

It was in the mid-90s that I got to play some Star Wars video games for the first time. On the SNES, which was the first home console I owned, I got the Super Star Wars trilogy of games – 2D action-platformers which were made for that console. They were difficult (and still are, if you’re tempted to track down copies today) but great fun nevertheless. After upgrading to a Nintendo 64 in 1998 I picked up a further two Star Wars games: Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron, both of which are absolutely fantastic, if somewhat dated by today’s standards. By this point in the late ’90s, helped in no small part by the video games I’d played as I was a big gamer at the time, I had definitely become a Star Wars fan – just in time for the prequel trilogy to kick off with The Phantom Menace in 1999.

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released on the SNES in 1993.

While I wasn’t impressed by The Phantom Menace itself, it did generate a lot of buzz around the franchise, as well as churn out a couple of surprisingly good games. I first played the Nintendo 64 version of Star Wars Episode I: Racer, which I enjoyed. That title is still celebrated by fans of both Star Wars and the racing genre today as being good fun, and despite the podracing sequence in the film not being my favourite, the game surprised me by being great fun, especially with friends. The second title I greatly enjoyed that shared The Phantom Menace’s setting was Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles, which I picked up on the Dreamcast. This action-fighting title was another great one to play with friends, and both of these games went some way to redeeming The Phantom Menace and helping me get over the disappointment I felt at the film itself.

Up next in the prequel trilogy came Attack of the Clones, which, despite what many people at the time and since have said, was scarcely any better than The Phantom Menace had been three years earlier. Once again, however, the aftermath of the film led to three great games – which I’d still hold up as being among my all-time favourites. First was 2003’s Knights of the Old Republic, which I picked up on the original Xbox. The Dreamcast had died by this point, and with no new games on the horizon I traded it in for an Xbox. The second game was the original Battlefront, which was absolutely amazing, especially with another player. And finally, there was Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords.

The two Knights of the Old Republic games must be my favourite entries in the Star Wars franchise – far exceeding several of the films in terms of creating an exciting and engaging story. These two titles are basically the only part of Star Wars’ former Expanded Universe that I’d consider worth reviving – the story of Darth Revan and the Jedi Exile are outstanding, and showed off what story-driven, cinematic role-playing games of the time were capable of. Fully voice-acted with a great art style and genuine player choice that affected the way the games unfolded, they stand up even today as being better than many of the current generation’s offerings. The twist in the first game that the player was Darth Revan was stunning – at least on a par with the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back. At that moment I put down the control pad and just sat for a moment in awe.

2003’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remains one of my favourite video games to this day.

Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005 and was the high-water mark of the prequel trilogy. While it was still an imperfect film, and as I’ve previously written I feel that we didn’t need to see Anakin Skywalker’s fall play out in such detail, because the original trilogy told us everything we needed to know, it was an alright film nevertheless. I might even be convinced to say it was a good film.

I read in an article or review some time ago (it may even have been in 2005 when the film was released) that Revenge of the Sith could – and perhaps should – have been the whole trilogy; that there was enough material in the final part to spin out into three parts, and that it was the only part of the story worth telling. I’m not sure I agree on that last part, because as I said I don’t necessarily feel that anything in the prequels was a “necessary” story, but on the first part I agree. Revenge of the Sith thus laid the groundwork for the original films, and the prequel trilogy was complete.

After picking up Battlefront II in 2005, which was far better than the original game and another great title to play with friends, the only other games I picked up were 2007’s Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga and Empire at War, a Star Wars strategy game for PC that I couldn’t coax my ageing machine to run correctly at the time! Lego Star Wars was amazing though, and incredibly funny. It’s a great title to play on the couch with a friend, and it has a great sense of humour. A new Lego Star Wars game is coming out in the near future, and I’m sure I’ll give that one a try too!

Lego Star Wars is a ton of fun.

The Star Wars series seemed complete after the prequels were released. I even bought a DVD box-set called something like “the complete saga”, so it seemed for years that Star Wars was done and dusted: two amazing films, two okay films, and two crap ones, with a bunch of video games and toys to go along with them. So when rumours began swirling in 2012 that Disney was planning to purchase Lucasfilm, and with it the rights to Star Wars… suffice to say it piqued my interest!

JJ Abrams had led 2009’s Star Trek reboot, and Star Trek Into Darkness was due to be released. While Star Trek was different in many respects to what had come before, and I knew several Trekkie friends at the time who refused to watch it (some still haven’t, as far as I know), I felt that Abrams had done what he set out to. The franchise had been rebooted, and the film had succeeded in bringing new people to Star Trek for the first time in a long time – something that was necessary if we were ever to see anything more. So there was great optimism on my part that he could do something similar for Star Wars, optimism which peaked after Star Trek Into Darkness came out and was much better than the first film. George Lucas had been given too much free rein with the prequels, in my opinion, thanks to his legendary status as the franchise’s creator. With someone tried and tested at the helm in JJ Abrams, and with a big studio behind him to keep things in line, the sequel trilogy was lining up to be amazing.

The Force Awakens is the last Star Wars film I was able to see at the cinema. Despite being in pain and finding the experience difficult, I did manage to get there despite my worsening health – I couldn’t see myself waiting another six months! I’d do something similar for Star Trek Beyond in 2016, but after that I finally had to call it quits on going to the cinema in person, sadly. But to get back on topic, The Force Awakens was amazing. After the disappointment of the prequels a decade earlier, JJ Abrams put together a film which re-told Star Wars’ greatest hits for a new generation of fans. I was in love with Finn, Rey, and Poe – they felt different to the characters we’d seen before, but similar in some ways too. And Kylo Ren was an amazing villain, not despite his somewhat whiny and childish behaviour, but because of it. On display with Kylo was an aspect of the dark side we’d never really seen – Vader and especially Palpatine were so composed, and that was intimidating. But Kylo was conflicted and his emotions were right at the surface. Adam Driver played the role perfectly.

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi.

2016 brought us Rogue One, which I didn’t get to see until a little later. I would go on to name it as my favourite film of the 2010s when I wrote a list back in December, and with good reason. For the first time, Star Wars stepped away from the Skywalkers and largely left the Force alone. While I’d argue the scenes with Darth Vader were unnecessary and perhaps a little too much fan-service, the rest of the film was astonishingly good. Sticking with a single story – the race to capture the Death Star plans before the station could be unleashed – basically the whole cast are killed by the end, which was a major change in direction for a Star Wars title.

Jyn Erso is such a well-written protagonist, as is Cassian Andor – who will be the lead in a new series coming to Disney+ in the future. Jyn’s arc, from the jaded, apathetic criminal to the inspiring leader of a suicidal mission was beautiful to witness, and the death of each of the film’s heroes was tragic, with all of them given their own moment of heroism. Rogue One is a great reminder that every war leaves behind scores of dead heroes, and that the amazing deeds of the survivors are never the only stories worth remembering. The sacrifice of the crew of Rogue One paved the way for Luke being able to destroy the Death Star – setting up the fall of the Empire.

A Star Destroyer hangs over Jedha City in Rogue One.

I know that The Last Jedi was controversial, and that controversy didn’t feel great heading into 2018. Many Star Wars fans had come to detest the franchise, and some would even start making money cashing in that hate for advertising revenue on social media platforms like YouTube. I had low expectations for The Last Jedi as a result of all the controversy, and again this was a film I didn’t get to see until months after its release. I knew the outline of the story heading in, and because so many people had been so vocal and genuinely angry about the way the film played out I lowered my expectations – and came out pleasantly surprised.

What I admire most in The Last Jedi is the way the story explains what happened to Luke. This single storyline shows how anyone – even someone we want to put on a pedestal as a hero – can fall into depression. Mental health is incredibly complicated, as anyone who deals with it or cares for someone dealing with it can attest. Luke made a mistake – again, something which can happen to anyone – and as a result of his one mistake he fell into a deep depression that left him “waiting to die” on Ahch-To. To me this was a powerful message, one that I related to. To anyone who says “but my hero could never ever become depressed!”, I will always say that mental health can affect even those we think should be the strongest, and that mistakes, flaws, and failures are all part of being human. Anyone who can’t understand that has been very lucky in life to never have to deal with mental health or see a loved one go through it, and perhaps that’s why they had a hard time with the concept.

The characterisation of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi may have been controversial, but it resonated with me.

The Last Jedi also threw a curveball in how Rey’s lineage unfolded. By saying she had no connection to Star Wars’ “great families”, the film showed how heroes truly can come from anywhere. Any of the young girls watching the film could be as great and powerful as Rey – again, that was a powerful message, one which finally steered the franchise away from the concept of inherited power, chosen ones, and destiny.

In 2018, I picked up the most recent Star Wars game I’ve played – the much-maligned Battlefront II. I got the title on sale at a deep discount, and as someone who isn’t much of a multiplayer gamer, I just played through the campaign. I enjoyed my time with the single-player story, and felt that for the discounted price, Battlefront II was worth it. However, the controversy surrounding the game’s incredibly poor in-game monetisation is legitimate, even if Electronic Arts has since restructured some aspects of that.

I also had the opportunity to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story in late 2018, and I found it to be an enjoyable heist-crime film with some Star Wars trappings. It doesn’t fundamentally “ruin” Han Solo’s character, but nor does it really add much to his story. I saw the Mandalorian in November/December last year – it was actually the first subject I wrote about here on the website – and finally, of course, I have recently watched The Rise of Skywalker.

So that recaps my personal history with Star Wars – but already there’s more on the horizon. A couple of weeks ago I picked up Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on PC, and I’m going to be playing that very soon (assuming my PC can handle it!) There are of course more projects in the pipeline for Disney+, including the aforementioned Cassian Andor series, as well as an Obi-Wan Kenobi series which will see Ewan McGreogor reprise his role. It’s definitely a great time to be a Star Wars fan right now, with so much going on and the franchise very much alive.

Star Wars began with a story about this trio, but grew to be much bigger than any of them.

When I think back to what Star Wars was when I first encountered it – a geeky trilogy of films that you’d be bullied at school for being associated with – and compare it to where it is today, the change is astonishing. Star Wars has fully entered the mainstream in a way science fiction and fantasy stories usually don’t. Along with the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and Game of Thrones, Star Wars has not just crossed over successfully, it’s been a trailblazer for many other sci fi and fantasy projects to become a success. More than that, it’s popularised both genres in a way that they never had been, and transformed what was once a fairly small niche into something that big companies are happy to invest vast sums of money in. The entire world of sci fi and fantasy owes a lot to Star Wars’ success, and it’s hard to envision how many great shows, films, and games we’d have missed out on were it not for the franchise.

Star Wars also has an aesthetic all its own, inspired by earlier science fiction in some regards, but putting its own spin on them. The ships, weapons, and even costumes of the Star Wars galaxy are instantly recognisable. A Star Destroyer or a lightsaber couldn’t possibly come from any other franchise, and this visual style has carried through every iteration to date.

Speaking for myself, Star Wars has had hits and misses, but there were definitely more of the former than the latter. I’ll always be excited to see what the franchise has to offer next, and I’ll always be ready to tune in to the latest film or series or try the latest game if at all possible. The setting Star Wars created, with Sith and Jedi and the Force, and with hyperspace, blasters, and droids, remains a genuinely fascinating and enthralling fictional galaxy to escape to, and I’m happy to go back and re-watch my favourite films and re-play my favourite games time and again.

May the fourth (or fifth) be with you!

The Star Wars franchise – including all films, series, and games mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and Disney. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.