This weekend saw the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, an origin story which stars Alden Ehrenreich as the eponymous smuggler and answers some of the burning questions that Star Wars fans have asked for decades. Why is he called Han Solo? Who is L3-37, the droid that Lando Calrissian won’t shut up about in The Empire Strikes Back? And how will the writers deal with the Kessel Run when everyone knows that a parsec is a unit of distance, not time?
Now that the movie is out, what can we expect next from the galaxy far, far away? Well, Lucasfilm is apparently following up Solo with a movie about Obi-Wan Kenobi, which will presumably show us riveting scenes of Old Ben bumming around the deserts of Tattooine for 18 years waiting for Luke Skywalker to grow up. But wait, there’s more! The latest rumours suggest that Logan director James Mangold is working on a film about Boba Fett. Remember him? The character who gets four lines of dialogue over two films, and whose death is the setup for a burp joke?
When Lucasfilm announced it would be working on a series of ‘anthology’ stories, many hoped that they would fill the vacuum left by the now non-canon Star Wars extended universe; a place for more diverse and risky stories, separate from the comfort blanket of the new sequel trilogy. Instead, the reverse has happened. The Last Jedi was downright revolutionary in its subversion of the Star Wars mythos, and its final moments teased a future brimming with possibility. Meanwhile the anthology movies seem content to mire in a bog of established characters and sometimes gratuitous callbacks to previous films – even going so far as to reanimate poor Peter Cushing.
Why the constant refusal to run the risk of doing something more interesting? The answer, sadly, is not that hard to figure out. Lucasfilm is now one of the most profitable arms of the mighty Disney empire, and getting bums into seats – not to mention selling action figures and lunchboxes – will always be a major concern for those in power. But it’s all the more frustrating when you realise there are examples that Lucasfilm could and should be following.
Consider the Cloverfield universe, which has cleverly transformed a series of entirely separate sci-fi films into a modern franchise. Thanks to little more than a couple of impressively cut trailers and an incredibly slick marketing campaign, producer JJ Abrams turned a relatively low-scale found footage movie into a monster hit, and the ‘Cloververse’ has only gone expanded from there. The excellent 10 Cloverfield Lane was only announced mere weeks before its release; and while The Cloverfield Paradox might not have been to everyone’s taste, it took an undeniable amount of chutzpah to drop the film unceremoniously onto Netflix during the Super Bowl.
Hell, there’s an even better (and more lucrative) model that Lucasfilm could follow, and it’s another subsidiary of the House of Mouse – the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been experimenting with genre for as long as it’s existed. Back in 2014, Marvel Studios released a bombastic space opera starring a tree and a talking raccoon mere months after it put out a dark and gritty espionage thriller. Not only did they both work like gangbusters, but the studio even brought characters from both films together for the release of Avengers: Infinity War this year.
If Lucasfilm wants its Star Wars Stories to be successful in the long term, it needs to start focusing on more interesting characters (Princess Leia origin story, anyone?). But to do something really special, these spin-off films need to be brave enough to branch out into genres other than space-hopping action. Why not create a hard-boiled neo-noir detective story that just happens to take place on the city planet Coruscant? Or a podracing movie a la Days of Thunder? Or a Cabaret-inspired musical showcasing the rise of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes?
Hang on a second, we should probably write these down…