When Disney announced their upcoming Disney Plus streaming platform, I was not optimistic or excited about it. I already pay $13 a month for Netflix, which has more shows and movies than I could ever watch, and so far, no other streaming platform has had enough original content to warrant me to drop the service, or add a new one (though Hulu and Amazon Prime Video do make decent cases).
But the more news that comes out about it, the more my mind begins to change, from its $13 a month bundle with Hulu and ESPN Plus, to the assortment of original content coming its way, one of which is a 99 percent confirmed Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan Star Wars series, which, in my opinion, is exactly what the franchise needs to start getting people invested in it again. In fact, I think this series has the potential to single-handedly do so.
It is no secret that Star Wars has been struggling under Disney ownership, as their new theatrical trilogy, while financial successes, have failed to garner enthusiasm in one of the largest and most enthusiastic fanbases on the planet, which has translated to the poor performances of their spinoff films and merchandise sales. There’s a lot of reasons why this is, but I think the biggest is that Disney just didn’t fundamentally understand why people like Star Wars, especially in the past two decades.
On paper, it is easy to look at Star Wars as just the multimillion-dollar film series that established what the modern day blockbuster was in the 70s and 80s, and for many, especially for older fans, that is what Star Wars will always be: A classic movie trilogy. But after it concluded, the hype died down, and all the popcorn was eaten, many forget that Star Wars was forgotten for nearly a decade in the 80s and early 90s, relegated to VHS tapes and obscure tie-in merchandise. The original trilogy wasn’t designed to give birth to a sprawling merchandise empire that would produce bestselling stories outside the movies, and that is why it took until Timothy Zahn’s 1991 Star Wars novel “Heir to the Empire” that modern Star Wars would finally start to form and evolve the franchise into the multi-legged money making empire that it is today.
Zahn’s novel, and the branded content that came after it, got people to care about Star Wars again, and by the time the 90s drew to a close, there was plenty of interest in new films.
And when those new films came out, the franchise grew tenfold, even if the three Star Wars prequel movies were lacking in quality. Despite this, Star Wars was everywhere and was making more money than it ever had before. In fact, it is arguable that the Star Wars prequels were just glorified merchandise commercials, for toys of obscure characters who arguably didn’t need to be there, and best-selling books and video games that became successful franchises in their own right, and gave Star Wars staying power.
In the 90s and early 2000s, Star Wars was messy, but it was mostly loved, and whether or not you liked the prequels or not, they certainly kept your attention and gave you something to talk about. Star Wars was weird, but it was interesting.
When Disney bought the franchise, they undid all of that, seeing Star Wars as only the original three movies that sputtered out of the public consciousness a few years after the original trilogy was complete. They sought to clean up Star Wars and undo everything that allowed it to grow into the cultural phenomenon in the 90s and early 2000s, while still expecting it to be able to pull its monster numbers, distancing themselves from the prequels and expanded universe books and games that got people caring about Star Wars again in the first place. For Disney, you weren’t a Star Wars fan if you bought its merchandise or bought any of its tie in material; you were only a fan if you saw the original trilogy, and nothing else. There’s even an embarrassing interview “The Force Awakens” and “The Rise of Skywalker” director J.J. Abrams with Gizmodo, in which he assumed that best-selling Star Wars novels were barely read by Star Wars fans.
“It became very clear that if we were adhere to the Expanded Universe [novels], it would have been a very tricky thing to navigate,” Abrams said. “It wasn’t even clear what is canon in the Expanded Universe. And I don’t think the vast majority of Star Wars fans have ever read a [Star Wars] novel. We can’t try and please every fan of that universe first. We have to try and tell the best version of a Star Wars movie.”
That best version of a Star Wars movie being rearranging elements from the original trilogy of films, set it years later with a cast of barely-defined characters and incoherent social justice themes, and proceed to take away everything that made Star Wars special. Great job, J.J.
But after the massive divisions “The Last Jedi” and the lackluster performance of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” it seams like Disney is finally course-correcting with McGregor’s (mostly confirmed) return as Obi-Wan, and Jon Favreau’s “The Mandalorian,” both of which promise to explore some of the cooler, lesser-known parts of the Star Wars universe, and it is in these series that I have hope for the franchise going forward. We’re yet to see how Favreau will treat the most beloved bounty hunter race in the galaxy, but I have great hope for McGregor as he is a brilliant character actor who can make a film work even when he’s given little to nothing to work with.
I like Star Wars, but I used to love it. And as we’ve seen with the Star Wars spinoff movies, just giving us a lot of generic films with the Star Wars name isn’t going to make people interested in it again, or restore the wonder and commitment to its world fans had that was deleted with Disney’s “masterstroke” reset of the franchise. Star Wars is weird, nonsensical, but at the very least it’s cool, and that’s why it has connected with so many people. And say what you will about the prequels and its cast, but McGregor’s return as Obi-Wan is at least that — cool — which is something I can’t say about most of the Disney Star Wars movies and tie-in content.