That’s it. We’re done. It’s over. There are no more films set within the main episodic Star Wars saga following The Rise of Skywalker. The 42-year-old main franchise has finally drawn to a close. But you’d have a better chance getting George Lucas to admit that Han shot first than getting Disney to stop making Star Wars movies altogether. With the Skywalker saga all wrapped up and Lucasfilm’s planned spinoffs reimagined as Disney+ series, which direction would set Star Wars cinema up for sustained excellence?
Disney is set to press pause on big screen adventures set in a galaxy far, far away until at least 2022. That release date was initially reserved for the first film from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss, but that project is no more. It’s anyone’s guess which film will take its place.
Shortly before The Last Jedi arrived in theaters in 2017, Lucasfilm announced that writer/director Rian Johnson was developing his own original trilogy. Regardless of your thoughts on The Last Jedi, Johnson’s resume—Knives Out, Brick, Looper—should be enough of an convincing argument to warrant further stories in this sandbox. When Observer interviewed Johnson in August, he said he was still working on that trilogy. However, given the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi and the dismissive attitude adopted by J.J. Abrams and the cast during Skywalker‘s promotional campaign, it wouldn’t be a shock if it’s no longer happening.
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy recently expressed interest in moving beyond trilogies as the studio segues into a new era of Star Wars. On that front, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is developing a new idea that he’ll be producing for Lucasfilm, though that project is not expected to begin serious development for a few more years. With the understanding that neither of these efforts may take the 2022 slot, there are two alternative directions that could reinvigorate fan enthusiasm while providing a roadmap to the future.
The first and most obvious option is to adapt the beloved video game series Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which follows an epic struggle between the Jedi and the Sith that takes place nearly 4,000 years before the events of A New Hope. It features legendary characters such as Sith Lords Darth Malak and Darth Revan as well as beloved female Jedi Knight Bastila Shan. Fan favorites all around.
In May, BuzzFeed News reported that Lucasfilm had hired Laeta Kalogridis (Avatar, Shutter Island) to pen the Knights of the Old Republic screenplay, though Lucasfilm has never officially confirmed that. KOTOR has a built-in fanbase thanks to the globally popular video games which provides it with something of a safety net as a proven concept. Thanks to its multi-layered narrative that delves into the history and mythology of Star Wars‘ most attractive elements, it can also work as a multimedia package with silos on both the big screen (standalone or series), as well as Disney+ and new video games. This would enable Lucasfilm to maintain the inter-connectivity it so dearly desires while also striking out into new ground not yet explored in live-action. Secondary projects can spring from KOTOR as it assume the mantle of “main” franchise.
The other direction Lucasfilm could opt for is riskier, yet nonetheless rewarding. If Kennedy is no longer interested in typical three-film series, than singular standalones may be the way to go (don’t let Solo‘s failure sideline this approach indefinitely). That is where the studio could embrace a sense of originality.
Every single Star Wars project—from the original trilogy, prequel trilogy, sequel trilogy, two spinoff films, multiple animated series and the three Disney+ series that will eventually see the light of day—roughly take place in the same 60-year time period. It’s time to start expanding this vast universe rather than constricting it to a few blood relatives over a small handful of decades. This is Disney, so we’re unfortunately restricted to family friendly content only, but you can still deliver a more mature product, such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Avengers: Infinity War, that also serves as a four-quadrant blockbuster.
What we’d like to see is a somewhat darker film set in the Unknown Regions, the outer limits of the galaxy that remain largely a dangerous mystery to the Republic and Empire throughout the majority of the franchise. Specifically, our film would take place on the planet of Ilum, where long ago the Jedi would send their young padawans to find and harvest kyber crystals to construct their lightsabers (it was featured in the animated Clone Wars series). We imagine a hostile environment of young, ambitious and powerful Force sensitive padawans all jockeying for superiority in the early days of the Jedi Order, which was infamously plagued with infighting and betrayals throughout much of its existence.
Imagine a Star Wars version of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series in which students of a war-driven space-bound society are split into houses, dropped onto a remote area of a foreign planet, and forced to battle one another to prove themselves. Pulling DNA from Red Rising, The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies, this story would tie into the lore of the Force, planting the seeds for the first wave of Jedi defections to the Dark Side, while also exploring why the ancient Jedi abandoned the Unknown Regions in the first place. Set far away from both the core worlds and the outer rim, and taking place thousands of years prior to the main Star Wars films, this could be a compelling new tale that opens up the world to new storytelling approaches.
The concept of standalone chapters, which the studio branded A Star Wars Story, is still viable as long as the right stories are chosen. Fans need something fresh, daring and inventive to sustain their interest. Your move, Lucasfilm.