Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian Seasons 1-2.
At time of writing we’re halfway through Obi-Wan Kenobi – the Disney+ miniseries following the Jedi Master’s adventures in between the prequel films and the original trilogy. This article was partly inspired by that project, but I’ll try to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet. And I’m trying to avoid jumping the gun and being overly critical of Obi-Wan Kenobi until I’ve seen the remaining episodes.
So the question I want to wrangle with today is a complicated one, and we can look at it in different ways and from different angles. Can the Star Wars franchise survive if all it does is look backwards? Can it coast indefinitely on past successes? Are these deep dives into minor chapters of its sole original story all we can ever expect to see? Or maybe, one day soon, will Star Wars have to try something genuinely new and different?
For all the talk of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, Star Wars has really only ever told one single story since it premiered in 1977. Every project that we’ve seen since then padded out that story; the prequels provided background information about characters like Anakin and Obi-Wan, the sequels picked up the stories of Han, Luke, Leia, and of course Palpatine, spin-off projects like Rogue One fed directly into the events of the original films, and even The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett brought back the Force and Luke Skywalker.
The Star Wars galaxy has tens of thousands of years of history; the Republic existed for millennia prior to the rise of the Empire. And it has an uncertain future in the wake of Palpatine’s schemes. Yet every single Star Wars project brought to screen so far across more than forty-five years of the franchise’s existence has taken place within the same sixty-year span of galactic history centred around the rise and fall of the Empire.
In addition, of the tens of thousands of inhabited planets that exist in the vast Star Wars galaxy, the franchise continues to revisit the same ones over and over again. Tatooine, for instance, has been a major setting despite its purported status as an “unimportant backwater.” Most recent Star Wars projects have, to their credit, visited a new planet or two… but the same handful of old ones keep cropping up over and over again.
Star Wars feels like it has an incredibly rich and deep setting, one with millennia of history and a vast landscape of different worlds inhabited both by humans and some very interesting non-human aliens… but on both the big screen and in the new streaming shows, we’re continually shown the same few years and the same few locales over and over again. It’s like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and finding row upon row of dishes from all across the world, then constantly refilling your plate with chicken nuggets. I like chicken nuggets as much as the next person… but let’s try something different next time.
None of this is to say that I haven’t enjoyed at least some of what Star Wars has offered up over the last few years. I named Rogue One my favourite film of the 2010s, and with good reason – it really is an outstanding story. And despite the heavy nostalgia plays, I was surprised to find myself having a good time with The Book of Boba Fett earlier this year. So Star Wars can, at least for the moment, continue to find enjoyable ways to play in the tiny corner of the vast sandbox that it’s been restricted to. But can that continue for very much longer?
I suppose this gets at a more fundamental question: is Star Wars defined by the handful of characters that we’ve met so far? Are the likes of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker all that Star Wars can ever be? Or is there room for fans to find brand-new characters to fall in love with; characters who are different from the hero and villain archetypes that the franchise has introduced so far?
Many Star Wars fans seem happy to continue to explore the lives of characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Boba Fett, and Luke Skywalker, seeming to prefer that the franchise take a path not dissimilar to the old Expanded Universe. In the EU, that same handful of characters was thrown haphazardly into multiple stories set before, during, and after the events of the films – and with modern Star Wars retaining a focus on those classic characters in that same time period, it feels like we could be going down a familiar path.
However, there are other options available if someone higher up at Disney or Lucasfilm is feeling bold. Set aside characters like Leia and Han Solo and step away from the rise of Palpatine. Tell a story set in a completely different era, perhaps one that doesn’t focus on the Jedi and the Force. Visit completely different worlds, introduce a new alien or two, and tell a story that isn’t simply a riff on what the franchise has already done.
The Star Wars galaxy could be a setting for all kinds of different projects. There’s no reason why we couldn’t see everything from an ER-inspired medical series to a hard-boiled film noir crime drama – all set in the Star Wars galaxy. Forget the story outlines that have been seen already and take the setting as a blank canvas. Instead of telling a repetitive tale about a young Jedi from a desert planet who fights a nasty but ultimately redeemable family member/villain, do something else. Literally anything else.
Would Star Wars fans want to see a show in this setting that steps away from the Jedi, the Force, and the Empire? Surely there has to be room for that in a setting as vast and untapped as the Star Wars galaxy. By diversifying the way it tells stories, Star Wars could build a solid foundation for the future.
It seems obvious that this nostalgia-heavy, backwards-looking Star Wars can’t last forever. Heck, it can’t last more than a few years at most, because sooner or later the franchise is going to exhaust all of the characters and settings that the original films and the prequel films had to offer. What will come next after The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Will it be Jar-Jar: A Star Wars Story? Even if Star Wars pulls out every single minor character and tries to expand their role into a fully-fledged Disney+ series, there’s a hard limit on how long that can last.
And there’s a real danger, too, that revisiting classic characters to give them additional stories could detract from powerful moments in the original Star Wars saga. The Book of Boba Fett may have gotten away with bringing its obviously-dead title character back to life, but one thing fans seem to universally agree on is that The Rise of Skywalker failed to successfully resurrect Palpatine, and that his ham-fisted inclusion in a story that was never meant to be his ended up being a weight around the neck of the sequel trilogy.
This was my concern going into Obi-Wan Kenobi – and no, there aren’t going to be any major plot spoilers here, don’t worry. But in a general sense, I was worried that any story featuring Kenobi set in this time period would have to be incredibly careful not to overwrite or damage moments like his reunion with Darth Vader aboard the Death Star.
Even if it could avoid those pitfalls, there was still an open question about how ultimately necessary a series like Obi-Wan Kenobi would be. We’ve already seen the most interesting and most important parts of Kenobi’s story; what could this miniseries add to that that wouldn’t end up feeling incredibly tacked-on? How would it avoid the trap of sending Kenobi on a rip-roaring adventure that you’d think he might’ve mentioned?
Several of Star Wars’ recent projects – including ones I personally enjoyed, like Rogue One – could have been reworked to be set at a different time, in a different location, and featuring different characters. The same fun stories could be present, but by stepping away from the familiar into something different and new, there’d be no danger of treading on the toes of any of the powerful and impactful moments from earlier Star Wars stories.
When I think about the idea of expanding Star Wars and telling new stories in its wonderful galaxy, my mind doesn’t immediately go to Luke Skywalker and a handful of other classic characters. We’ve seen their lives play out already, and adding new chapters partway through – or unnecessary epilogues – just doesn’t feel worthwhile. Moreover, what we’ve seen so far are the most interesting and most important chapters of their lives, dealing with the rise and fall of the Empire, the death and rebirth of the Jedi Order, the Galactic Civil War, and so on. At best, anything else feels tacked-on, and at worst it undermines parts of that original, powerful saga.
Both for the sake of telling engaging and exciting stories and as a point of simple practicality, Star Wars can’t keep relying on the same few characters, the same few planets, and the same tiny sliver of its vast and expansive setting. Sooner or later the creative team will have exhausted the potential of every major and minor character from the originals, the prequels, the sequels, and spin-offs… and what then? The choice will be either to bring Star Wars to an end or to try something else.
There’s so much untapped potential in a setting as wide and deep as the Star Wars galaxy. There are tens of thousands of years of history to explore, an uncertain future to chart, and more planets, aliens, and factions to explore than we could reasonably list. We could see a story charting the very beginnings of the Republic and Jedi Order, or the franchise could step away from its familiar niche into completely different genres; mystery, crime, horror, adventure, even romance or comedy. All it would take is a degree of boldness on the part of the producers in charge – a willingness to try something experimental with the franchise they own.
So that’s my answer to the question posed above. Star Wars can’t keep doing this forever. Something’s going to have to change if the franchise is to survive long-term, and the sooner attempts are made to make the switch – to figure out what might work and what won’t – the smoother the transition will be. After forty-five years, it’s time for Star Wars to set aside the Skywalkers, Palpatines, and Kenobis.
The Star Wars franchise – including all films and television shows discussed above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.