The Interconnected Multi Star Wars Verse! It’s bound to happen/is happening, whichever, so all that’s left for us is to see is how they’ll continue repurposing the John Williams horns year after year, product after product, episode after episode. The latest rumor to ensure that we’ll never stop thinking about the Skywalkers, Solo, and the new crew was that Disney was planning a live-action Star Wars television show. Then came the report that the show is not happening – currently.
This news, both bits, was met with … presumably some kind of mixed reaction online. Like with everything, you probably had equal parts people screaming about how it would be awesome to have weekly Star Wars (how grand will life be with a new CGI X-Wing every Saturday?!?), people screaming about how the show would be terrible (for reasons which I will get into below), and people not caring one way or the other. My personal opinion is that, I don’t see how a Star Wars show can work and I don’t care either way; I don’t have to watch it if it does come to pass. No one does. But if you want to, it’s all yours.
To be fair, I fully acknowledge that Star Wars has been successful lately in the television realm, but it’s the animated television realm. And not the Ewok series from the 1980’s, but shows like Rebels and Clone Wars. Even though I haven’t watched much of either series, I fully acknowledge their popularity and success. But animation is an entirely different animal than live action television. This isn’t to denigrate animation, quite the contrary (I even wrote an article praising the cartoon). There are so many unique benefits to animated series that mesh well with this franchise – the universe is vaster, the possibilities and designs are virtually limitless, characters don’t age, you don’t need the actors (just people who sound kind of like the original actors…even after the original actors die!), and it doesn’t look weird when a character switches from human being to CGI acrobat. Moreover, animation still has a niche “stigma” attached to it, which enables it to be more experimental to the benefit of the creators and viewers. This respect has been mutually beneficial; James Earl Jones actually voices Darth Vader in Rebels, while Forest Whitaker is playing a Clone Wars character in Rogue One.
In comparison, live action is greatly constrained by the physical realm and budgets. Actors have schedules as well as real-world physical proportions that limit their ability to do some of the more fantastical Jedi fetes (rewatch the prequels to recognize the awkwardness); unless the producers are willing to go full Game of Thrones, sets will be cheap warehouses or bad green screens; and you’re not likely to get the big names (actors or characters) to make guest appearances. Put another way, it seems like animation works to earn the respect of the dedicated viewer, while live action is more likely to coast on the name.
What am I basing this on? Well, Star Wars‘ closest analogue and fellow adopted sibling – Marvel. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – the big budget spin-off of The Avengers film is the MCU’s weakest property by far. A huge part of its failure is its inability to integrate into the greater universe. (And while Feige disavowing the series is a big part of that, it’s not its only problem.) There’s a disconnect between how these highly trained agents (some of whom are super-powered) fighting super-powered threats can neither call in The Avengers when there’s a potential world-destroying villain nor how The Avengers can call them in when they need to capture the Winter Soldier or whomever. In exchange, we get a middling action show that rarely escapes the confines of a headquarters set or studio backlots. It might look expensive for network TV, but it definitely looks cheap compared to its brethren. Alternatively, the Netflix shows are far more successful because they’ve scaled back on the connection to the greater MCU, but would such an approach work for Star Wars?
Ironically, despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe taking place on a single planet (well, plus Asgard, plus everything everything in Guardians of the Galaxy, plus that planet Simmons spent a couple of months on…), despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe taking place primarily on one planet, it comes across as larger in some areas than the Star Wars universe. Admittedly, I’m not particularly well-informed about the Extended Universe (neither the original library of thousands of extraneous material that Disney tossed into the toilet, nor the new one created not to step on JJ Abrams’ toes), but for most of us the story of Star Wars has a pretty narrow focus: Jedi vs. Sith, Empire vs. Rebellion, First Order vs. the Resistance. It’s a testament to how lived-in the universe feels and how much we love it that it comes across as bigger than that, but when you boil down Star Wars, it’s Good vs. Evil. Comparatively, Marvel seems more comfortable taking on characters and storylines with more diverse tones.
It’s certainly possible that Star Wars can play around in this realm- the Netflxy route with the smaller, darker, more personal shows. Bounty hunters, wretched hives of scum and villainy, space politicians – all perfectly fine fodder for more insular shows about evil. But is that what Star Wars is about? Or, to put another way, is that what Star Wars could be? In a dream world, maybe. Unfortunately, all the controversy behind Rogue One (I did an article on that too) shows that that’s not what Disney wants Star Wars to be. They want it to be four-quadrant, family friendly, and inoffensive. And that’s fine in its own way, but for all of our outlandish aspirations of the shows we want with Boba Fett and Hutts and rogue Jedis, we nevertheless have to consider the show they are willing to give us. Is it really worth getting something mediocre just to fulfill some pathetic TIE Fighter fixation?
So what would/could a Star Wars show be? On the most negative end, it could be an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D situation; something trying to play in the same world as the big boys but simply cannot. Let’s say for argument’s sake that we’d be focusing on members of The Resistance (because who else would we focus on?), but they can’t actually play as a significant part of the Resistance. Due to the favoritism given to the films, much like with AoS, they’d be stuck awkwardly talking around or through the events and characters of the movies since the studios won’t hedge their billion dollar franchise on a show most people won’t watch. Because they would be unable to directly affect or change things in the actual films, much like with AoS, attempts to make them seem important within their own show only make them seem less important in the larger context. The show could try for prequel route (either before I, before IV, or before VII) but, again, its impact on the larger universe would be negligible at best. It better have genuinely great characters, but it won’t.
Yet the pleas/expectations for the show only signify a bigger problem: the oversaturation of the modern megafranchise. Star Wars used to be one movie every three years with a two-decade gap between trilogies; now it’s one movie a year with no indication of stopping anywhere on the horizon. The Episode movies are coming once every two years while the spin-off prequels (at least Rogue One and Han Solo) come across as soulless attempts to catch in on nostalgia – even moreso than many modern movies.
Maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder, and part of Star Wars’ lasting appeal was its rareness. The Extended Universe was there for those who wanted it, but for most of us six (or, to be more accurate, three) movies were all we needed. Trying to overload us with more Star Wars won’t bolster the brand, but cheapen it. There are stories to tell in the Star Wars universe both including and outside of Luke, Leia, Han, Rey, Poe, and Finn – before and after they took up lightsabers. Unfortunately, just because television on the whole has made advancements in quality and experimentation doesn’t mean that every potential series will continue on in that tradition. A brand as important as Star Wars probably wouldn’t be allowed to take the chances it needs to for a series worthy of its name. Or we could just shut up and wait for a Star Destroyer.