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What’s Going on With Star Wars’ Shift to TV and Storytelling Growing Pains?

Grogu with his hand on a security camera screen on Disney+'s The Mandalorian.

While The Rise of Skywalker wrapped up the Skywalker Saga nearly three years ago, rumors have been circulating since then about what Star Wars’ next movie trilogy might look like. With the recent news that Taika Waititi is putting his Star Wars film on the backburner, and Rian Johnson’s trilogy still little more than a thought experiment, the future for Star Wars on the big screen is getting murkier and murkier. At this point, the only upcoming Star Wars film we have firm details about is Patty Jenkins’ upcoming Rogue Squadron, expected December 2023.

Meanwhile, there are approximately 10,000 television shows on the docket in the Star Wars extended universe. Well, to be specific, The Book of Boba Fett, Visions, Andor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka, Rangers of the New Republic, The Acolyte, and Lando. Needless to say, it’s clear there’s a larger investment in the Disney+ TV galaxy right now, which begs the question: What exactly is happening?

Most critics and insiders would agree this shift can be traced back to three years ago, with the rocky production and release of Solo: A Star Wars Story. With the Skywalker Saga nearing its conclusion, Disney was developing a future of standalone character-driven films.

In case your Star Wars history is a bit fuzzy, Hollywood comedy blockbuster duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller originally signed on to write and direct the standalone pseudo-prequel, but Lucasfilm ousted them from the film over differences of opinion on the direction the movie was going. This happened late in production after much of the film was already shot, and Lord and Miller were replaced with very by-the-book director Ron Howard, leaving us with the finished product.

Solo was met with mixed reviews, no thanks to the production shakeups. While it was considered a bomb due to its huge budget and massive franchise pedigree, it grossed nearly $400 million. Though this is less than half of what The Force Awakens raked in, it would still be an objective financial success if so much money hadn’t been poured in to get it there. Yet, Disney’s choice to pull their other planned standalone films reinforced the idea that Solo was an abject failure.

Oddly enough, many of these projects have now wound up on Disney+ as television series, namely Obi-Wan and what was originally planned to be a Boba Fett film. With so few films in development and so many TV shows coming down the pike, what does this shift say about Disney’s investment in the future of Star Wars? There are two clear answers to the question.

First, there’s the obvious answer: Disney+. While it was obviously rumored and planned for much longer, the titan of a streaming platform didn’t exist until November 2019, roughly 18 months after the release of Solo. In addition to the back catalog of all Disney content, the company must provide new programming to retain subscribers and attract new ones.

Star Wars TV show logos for Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka, Andor, and Rangers of the New Republic.

Funneling resources into creating TV shows for Disney+ is a safe (and undoubtedly cheaper) way to give fans new content without having to wade through the public relations nightmare of the box office, especially in a complex pandemic world. Streamers don’t have to share ratings numbers and instead simply rely on fan reactions and reviews to gauge success with the public. And since Disney caters largely to its fans, every Star Wars Disney+ original is a likely guaranteed home run.

Second, Star Wars is at an awkward point in its storytelling phase. Let’s compare Star Wars and Marvel for a moment, two tentpole Disney properties. Both wrapped up huge phases of their storytelling in 2019—the Skywalker Saga and Infinity Saga respectively—and both have used television shows on Disney+ as a way to tell stories in between new films.

However, with Marvel, it’s clear there’s more coming. Unlike Star Wars, there is source material—hundreds of comics, dozens of different storylines, and characters that haven’t been explored yet—to draw on. While WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki fill in gaps from existing films, they also bridge the gap from the Infinity Saga to Phase Four.

The television content we’re getting from Star Wars, however, isn’t really going anywhere particularly new with the stories it’s telling. While The Mandalorian explores new characters in a unique part of the timeline, it has veered off course of its originality by cameoing famous Star Wars characters who exist at the same point in the canon timeline (most notably in the season two finale).

Based on the success, popularity, and awards attention the show has received, this trend is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, with at least two spinoffs (Ahsoka and The Book of Boba Fett) planned. While it’s fun to explore beloved characters anew, see animated characters come to life and vice versa, it’s unclear at this point what other storytelling exists in Star Wars right now.

Because Star Wars is a purely original creation without source material (other than the original films) to draw from, up to this point it has been a limiting sandbox for its creators. Perhaps Disney is still afraid to let originality take too much of the reins after Solo, or perhaps they think there is little interest in stories outside of the Skywalker Saga era. Either way, it’ll be a while before we see something new on the big screen.

(images: Disney/Lucasfilm)

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Molly Catherine Turner is a writer based in New York. She wrote her masters thesis on the ideology of rap and has presented on various pop culture phenomena at conferences across the country. Her work has been featured on Culturess, Lambda Literary, Dork Side of the Force, and ScreenRant.