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Where next for Star Wars? That's the question Lucasfilm is considering, as they wait for #RogueOne to hit the cinemas in December. Last year's blockbuster hit The Force Awakens launched a new Star Wars trilogy, while Rogue One is a bold attempt at a whole new approach: telling the side-stories of the beloved Galaxy Far, Far Away in a series of standalones.
But what next? Can the story of the Galaxy Far, Far Away continue to center on the Skywalkers and Solos, or will Rogue One launch the franchise in a whole new direction? In a surprisingly honest interview with EW, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has admitted that the company still hasn't decided. Here are the options:
Continue the Story of the Skywalkers and Solos
The surname 'Skywalker' is pretty much synonymous with the Star Wars franchise; the Original Trilogy was essentially the tale of Luke Skywalker, culminating in his triumphant victory in Return of the Jedi. When George Lucas decided to make the Prequel Trilogy, he understandably focused in on Luke's father, Anakin, and in so doing changed the focus of the franchise. Now, it was overtly dynastic.
In truth, though, the concept of dynasty has been a central one to Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader uttered the famous line: "I am your father." The Star Wars Expanded Universe had recognized that right from the beginning; when legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn published his much-loved Thrawn Trilogy, a major subplot was Leia giving birth to the twins, Jacen and Jaina. The years after saw both the Solo and Skywalker families expand, and even when Star Wars: Legacy charted the future of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, it was with a Skywalker front-and-center.
The problem was, though, that this damaged the franchise as a whole. The Expanded Universe began to feel rather more restrictive than it should have done, with original characters often standing in the shadow of the legendary main families. Worse still, it became less and less accessible as it went along; by the time of the "New Jedi Order" novels, you needed a phenomenal amount of background knowledge to make sense of many of the subplots.
What's more, the movies face a challenge the novels don't. As strong as the Skywalker / Solo brand may be, sooner or later Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are going to want to step out of the saga. That doesn't matter if you're writing novels; but if your ongoing Star Wars movie franchise is centered around these actors, then you have a real problem.
Follow the Pattern of Rogue One — Standalones & Spinoffs!
Rogue One is Lucasfilm's attempt to take a brand new direction. It's a standalone film, using the backdrop of the Galaxy we know so well and love so much, but starring original characters. It's not about extending the Skywalker / Solo saga; rather, it's about developing the wider Galaxy.
At its best, this was what the old Expanded Universe did. Ask any fan of the old Star Wars EU what their favorites were, and even Han Solo wouldn't bet against them mentioning the "X-Wing" novels. Written by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston, the X-Wing series told the story of the Empire's downfall — from the perspective of an elite squadron of starfighter pilots. Sure, the stars of the Original Trilogy had cameos, but you soon fell in love with the books' central characters: Wedge and Iella Antilles, Corran Horn, and countless more. (The X-Wing novels were so dearly loved that there's actually a subtle nod to them in The Force Awakens — who spotted it?)
According to Kathleen Kennedy, the idea of standalone movies actually came from George Lucas himself, before Lucasfilm was even sold to Disney!
“George talked to me about doing this when I first came aboard. He had often thought about doing it and he had actually written down three or four thoughts and ideas, directions you could go. Obviously inside the mythology there were lots of opportunities. So that was the first conversation I had.”
The decision to effectively erase the old Expanded Universe freed up lots of new stories — the EU had already told the story of the Death Star plans, for example, which will now be the focus of Rogue One. So the standalones we're getting are very different from the ones Kennedy first discussed with Lucas. Still, the core idea remains.
Here's the question, though; how will a standalone perform? Will the standalone Rogue One match the blockbuster success of The Force Awakens? Right now, it's too soon to tell; although it's a standalone, the fact that Rogue One has Darth Vader means it still has tremendous brand power. That makes it a smart experiment; different enough to blaze the trail, with enough ties to the beloved Original Trilogy to grab moviegoers' attention.
If Rogue One is a success, though, then it's likely to be a template for the future of Star Wars; no longer a dynasty, but now truly a wider Galaxy. Where Rogue One stands in the shadow of the Original Trilogy, future Star Wars movies may step further away, giving their creative teams a chance to tell some pretty powerful, entirely original stories set against the backdrop of the Jedi, the Sith, the Empire, and the First Order. Personally, I think that's the right move.