Lucasfilm Is Trying To Expand The Star Wars Galaxy, And It Must Evolve Or Die

The first "Star Wars" was released in 1977. The most recent spinoff, the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" TV series, aired in 2022. An additional season of "The Bad Batch," as well as the new shows "Andor" and "Tales of the Jedi," are coming later this year. That's almost 45 years of solid "Star Wars." There was only one brief break in the franchise, lasting from 1985 (which saw the cancelation of "Ewoks") until 1997 (when the theatrical release of the "Star Wars" Special Editions happened). Ever since the release of "The Phantom Menace" in 1999, it's been pretty much all "Star Wars," all the time (even if "The Clone Wars" was the only stop-gap). With Disney now holding the reins, one can be certain that not a month will elapse without several visits to the galaxy far, far way.

Throughout this broad and busy franchise, audiences have witnessed maybe 67 years of history. The earliest significant point in "Star Wars," at least as a film and TV franchise, was "The Phantom Menace," and the latest has been (to date) "The Rise of Skywalker." Almost all of the shows and movies have dealt with the same cast of characters (or their offspring), and revisited the same locales time and time again. It seems that the remote desert planet of Tatooine was, in fact, one of the most hap-hap-happening places in the whole galaxy. Despite the constant and tantalizing promise of myriad worlds and species and technologies, "Star Wars" has stayed frustratingly close to the Skywalker clan in film and television.

The focus on a mere 67 years of "Star Wars" history has put the franchise in an awkward place, creatively. A recent /Film interview with Lucasfilm executive vice president Lynwen Brennan admitted that sticking close to home is what made the franchise authentic, but in so doing, made vast, creative expansion of the franchise inherently difficult. 

Star Wars: The Next Generation

Of course, one could certainly argue that hovering around the familiar is what makes a franchise a franchise. It wouldn't be "A Nightmare on Elm Street" if it weren't about Freddy Krueger. It wouldn't be "Tremors" without Graboids. And it wouldn't be "Halloween" without Michael Myers (unless it was "Halloween III: Season of the Witch," which has since been rescued from the ash heap of critical rejection). By that logic, it wouldn't be "Star Wars" unless there were a Skywalker directly involved. At the very least, the film or TV show could only be one degree removed from a Skywalker. Even "The Mandalorian," initially a standalone story about a new member of Boba Fett's clan, eventually featured a digital Mark Hamill as Luke

The bloody-minded adherence to Skywalkers, however, has left the franchise insular, small, even incestuous (literally in one case, as one well-remembered kiss from "The Empire Strikes Back" denotes). Rey, a new character introduced in "The Force Awakens," turned out to be related to Emperor Palpatine. "Solo" and "Rogue One" filled in backstories where no backstories were needed. An entire series is now devoted to what Obi-Wan was up to in between movies. It's only 67 years of history, but "Star Wars" seems ill content to leave anything up to the imagination. This galaxy is incredibly small. It guess it's no wonder that ships can only poke along at light speed. They don't need to go very far to find someone related to Luke or Leia or Anakin. 

Therefore, I offer the following Modest Proposal for "Star Wars," and it is a simple, tested formula: "Star Wars: The Next Generation." 

A century hence

"Star Wars" is, as the title denotes, a franchise devoted to war. They take place during enormous, galaxy-wide conflicts between the fascist government (The Empire, the First Order) and a well-equipped counterforce of rebels and resistance fighters (The Rebel Alliance, the Resistance). To ensure audiences are rooting for the underdogs, the Empire will never be outmatched in terms of weaponry or technology, and Rebel attack craft will be dented and scuffed. Additionally, both the Good Guys and the Bad Guys will have a notable lone wizard in their midst, adding an eerie psychic dimension to the war. This is not merely about governments warring, but the very Forces of good and evil. 

It needn't be argued that Skywalkers are not required for this dynamic. 

Indeed, what would the "Star Wars" universe look like several generations hence, once Skywalkers are a near-forgotten thing of the past? What do new wars look like in the future? Has communication and travel technology advanced or not? Did the Rebels take over the government? What if they themselves slowly succumbed to corruption, effectively becoming the new Evil Empire that a new generation of Rebels had to fight? The future is a grand place. There's new iconography to be invented. 

This skip-forward-about-a-century model was already proven successful with "Star Trek." The 1987 reboot series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" took place about 85 years after the original series, when the Federation was even more enlightened, and technology had greatly advanced. Even the uniforms had changed. The central ship was still called the Enterprise, but it was an all-new Enterprise, the Enterprise-D, much larger and capable of more technological wonderments. It featured no returning characters (apart from occasional cameos), eager to go in a new direction. 

It was a hit.

The Tiny Toons of Star Wars

Of course, this "new generation" model was already attempted by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015. That film featured a mostly new cast of characters, each with their own arc, now embroiled in a new war. The new Empire was constructed of a new generation of fascists, and the new Rebellion was stocked by new hotshots and misfits. "The Force Awakens," however, wasn't so far in the future that Luke, Han, and Leia couldn't still interact with their new-generation counterparts. 

In that regard, "The Force Awakens" more closely resembled "Tiny Toon Adventures" than "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Each "Star Wars" character now had a "junior" version, but the "junior" versions could also converse with their "adult" progenitors. Indeed the "adult" characters were now more or less teachers, the same way the Looney Tunes characters were teachers at Acme Looniversity. Rey and Finn were to Luke Skywalker as Buster and Babs were to Bugs Bunny. Kylo Ren was to Darth Vader as Montana Max was to Yosemite Sam. Hux was to Tarkin as Elmyra was to Elmer Fudd. BB-8 was to R2-D2 as Little Beeper was to the Roadrunner, etc. 

The makers of "The Force Awakens" — the first film made after Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm — clearly felt the need to reestablish that a new "Star Wars" film — the first since "Attack of the Clones" in 2005 — could feel like some of the earlier ones, and, as such, repeated a lot of plot points from the 1977 original. Empire, Rebels, fine. Another Death Star, though? Another Darth Vader? The connections were too, too close. This was a new "Star Wars," but really it wasn't. 

Wipe them out. All of them.

The solution going forward is to simply execute a creative Order 66. Lift up "Star Wars," turn it upside down, and shake all the crumbs out. Ensure that there are no remaining familiar characters. Even long-lived species like Wookiees and Yodas are gone (an exception can be made for an elderly Grogu). 

Once enough time has passed — 100 years? 500? 1,000? — then a new war can break out. How did the galaxy change in that time? How did the technology? Are things better now, or worse? Are there Jedi any longer? What of The Force? Is it still obscure, or the driving energy behind a galaxy-wide, mainstream religion? Rather than starting with the characters, start with the world. What is the nature of the galaxy? Is it oppressed or united? Is it ideal, or is it tilting into fascism? Then, once settled, characters could emerge. Rebels, villains, bureaucrats. All the usual types one finds in "Star Wars," but in a new context that would make the franchise feel new and exciting again. 

A final acknowledgement. This author does remember that "Star Wars" was based on the simple adventure serials of director George Lucas' own youth. "Star Wars," however, has been an institution far longer than those serials were ever in vogue. As such, the simple "bold adventure" notions can now safely be given over to stories of subtlety and shades of moral grey. There needn't be doomsday weapons or moments of bland triumph. Let "Star Wars" be more complex in both story and character. 

Evolve, or die.