5 Ways to Improve the Star Wars Franchise | Column from the Editor

“The Rise of Skywalker” has come and gone, and with it, the book closes on the nine episode Skywalker saga of Star Wars movies, broadly shaping the franchise for better or for worse. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts has finally released a single-player Star Wars game in “Jedi: Fallen Order”, and Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have sparked new life on the small screen that promises that Disney’s new Expanded Universe of tie-in material will keep the franchise alive. 

Whispers of new Star Wars movies have already appeared, as it is speculated that further films will follow the way of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, focusing on individual one-off films that have franchise potential, in the vein of “Captain America,” “Iron Man” and “Thor” (Perhaps we will get films titled “Revan,” “Nihilus,” and “Viciate”). There’s even some whispers that Marvel boss Kevin Feige will be involved some films in a galaxy, far, far away. 

This comes at a time when the future of Star Wars is in flux, largely fueled by the polarization Episode VIII “The Last Jedi” and Episode IX “The Rise of Skywalker” had on the fan base and general audiences, which leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.  

The issue with the new trilogy is that it both wants to try new things and copy the original trilogy, while having both too much corporate interference (in the case of “The Force Awakens” and “The Rise of Skywalker”) and not enough oversight (in the case of “The Last Jedi”, where director Rian Johnson really should have been dialed back a tad). 

But perhaps the single most harmful decision Disney made came long before even “The Force Awakens” hit screens: their masterstroke deletion of the original Star Wars Expanded Universe, that grew the franchise from a well-liked film trilogy to a multimillion dollar multimedia empire whose content made fans and members of the general public genuinely interested in Star Wars films post “Return of the Jedi”, because the old EU proved that there was a wealth of storytelling opportunities in the Star Wars universe beyond what we saw in the original trilogy. It also established a vibrant universe that’s very hard to replicate in a lab.

With all this being said, here are five things I think Disney can still do to improve the franchise post “Rise of Skywalker”: 

5. Quietly replace Kathleen Kennedy

As president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy was responsible for overseeing the progress of the Star Wars sequel trilogy and the spinoff films, as well as ensure that the integrity of Star Wars IP remains intact and valuable to Disney as a result of those projects. 

For the past two years, Star Wars merchandise sales have been on the decline, which should be greatly concerning, for years following a major film release should boost sales of these items, not hurt them. There are other factors to take note of, from the overall fall of brick and mortar retail stores, to the fact that digital devices play a larger role in children’s lives, to the fact that the Star Wars collectibles market has been inundated in the past twenty years to the point where it can be very hard to find anything of value nowadays. 

But still, this is greatly concerning because the majority of Star Wars’ value lies in its merchandise. The fact that sales have been so bad confirm that, while the last three live action Star Wars films have inspired a lot of discussion online, and all but “Solo” have been financial hits, they’ve largely damaged the Star Wars IP to the general public, and that can be tied to the fact that, while the new films contain competent directing, screenwriting and acting, they portray a lifeless Star Wars universe no one is compelled to visit after the films are over. 

Additionally, Disney needed someone with a strong voice and presence to ensure consistency with its films, something that was sorely lacking with Episodes VII, VIII and IX. 

Kennedy gets a strike for the uninspired new Star Wars universe, and the negative impact it has had on Star Wars merchandise sales. She gets another strike for allowing “Solo” to go over budget and mishandled in a way that it lost money and convinced Disney executives that other spinoff films were not viable. And she gets another strike for how incoherent and lazy the Star Wars sequel trilogy has been and the damage it has done to the Star Wars brand. 

Disney needs someone at the helm of Lucasfilm who will bring consistency to the Star Wars franchise, who truly understands all facets of the brand. Until they have that, Star Wars will continue to be damaged goods. 

4. Don’t produce a feature film for two to three years

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After the conclusion of the last trilogy, we need a break from cinematic Star Wars films, and Disney needs time to regroup. 

While their vision of a Star Wars film coming out every year was novel, they need someone who knows what they’re doing to map out such a schedule, like Feige. They need to realize that they can’t just make things up as they go along anymore. 

That is not to say they should ignore the small screen and works in other mediums, like comics and novels, over the next few years, because these works, when combined, are arguably more valuable than the movies.

Disney needs some time off to really put their heart in their slated Star Wars Disney Plus shows, and really make a new Expanded Universe that can stand up to the one George Lucas oversaw the creation of, thirty years ago. They struck out with Episodes VIII and IX, and need to prove in smaller works that they’re ready to take on another blockbuster before they rush another project into development.  

3. Cancel Rian Johnson’s film trilogy

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It’s been rumored that Rian Johnson has been working on his own Star Wars trilogy, and while there were things I liked about his Star Wars film (“The Last Jedi”), Disney needs to be done with Star Wars trilogies for good, and they need to move on from Johnson. 

He directed a mostly competent Star Wars film that blew it in major ways for the franchise, subverting our expectations in nonsensical and unnecessary ways that, despite how much I still like the film, did do major damage to Star Wars. 

Johnson is not someone you want directing a new film trilogy. Maybe he could pen an inconsequential Star Wars novel series instead.

2. Shift to the “Knights of the Old Republic” Era

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There have been rumours that the new Star Wars films will take place during the “Knights of the Old Republic” era, and they probably will, only because there isn’t much point in going beyond Episode IX right now, and there is a wealth of stories to be told in the past. 

Disney should shift their focus on this era with some major conditions: 

  • i. Make sure all major characters from the already-established canon are present (Darth Revan, Darth Vitiate, Darth Malak, Darth Nihilus, etc.)
  • ii. Be as faithful as they can to the original source material, offering novel updates and changes in story, but nothing major. If they go with Darth Revan, give us Darth Revan, not some watered down knockoff or some “original” alternate version that’s worse, like when they gave us Ben Solo instead of the perfectly fine Jacen Solo in the sequel trilogy.
  • iii. Cast Keanu Reeves as Darth Revan. He fits the character, you can build a franchise around Reeves, and there isn’t a single good reason why not to. 

1. Give Dave Filoni more influence in Lucasfilm

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One of the driving forces behind “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” “Star Wars: Rebels” and “The Mandalorian”, Filoni is a guy who fixed the prequels with “Clone Wars”, has shown a reverence for what the Expanded Universe was with frequent nods and recanonizations through “Rebels”, and has managed to spark new life in Star Wars with showrunner Jon Favreau through “The Mandalorian.” 

If anyone is going to be the savior of Star Wars, it’s him. He’s the only one who has proven he’s anywhere near ready to be a Feige-like figure at Lucasfilm. 

It could be worth considering taking a cue from Marvel by creating a Chief Creative Officer position in Lucasfilm that has more power than the president in terms of the overall mapping out of Star Wars’ new interconnected universe of films and tie-in materials. In this scenario, Filoni could enlist the Star Wars Story Group and give them real authority, ensuring Star Wars has consistency and a master plan. 

Filoni’s one weakness is that he has little experience in producing feature films — his background is almost exclusively in TV — so it might be good to have the president of Lucasfilm be a separate position that focuses on the day to day operations of the organization, leaving the construction of the overall tapestry and the master plan to Filoni.

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