The events of the past month have made it clear that Star Wars is undergoing a major shift, and it’s made a lot of fans question the Disney sale. And those words – the “Disney sale” – are part of the problem. The sale is over and done with. What we’re going through now is more jarring, and a lot more ambitious. We’re going through a Star Wars reboot.
Dunc’s written extensively about how we should expect the Expanded Universe to get jettisoned once the new movies are out, because Star Wars has always had a tenuous grasp on continuity. But while the stories were constantly in flux, the franchise was relatively stable. Now, everything’s a bit more fluid, and we should recognize that the old rules are kaput. The new Star Wars is different in a few key ways:
1. The news will come fast and furious
You have to understand, we Star Wars fans are good at waiting. We’re used to book releases being pushed back, shows being delayed, toys being canceled. And shout-out to the older fans (whoop whoop) – we waited a long sixteen years for the first prequel, then as soon as it ended, we knew we’d have another three years until the next, and a solid six before the new trilogy wrapped up. But now we’re in the opposite scenario: news is coming so fast that it’s almost hard to keep up. Think about the announcement of Episode VII. I suppose some people can claim they’d been waiting for it their whole lives (we’re a dramatic bunch), but most of us had given up hope. Then, one day, badabing badabantha, it’s announced, it’s in pre-production, and it’ll be here in around two years. For fans used to waiting, two years is nothin’.
Since then it’s been a blur. Even ignoring all the rumors, a writer was announced, then a director, producers, not to mention the standalone movies. And it won’t slow down. When production kicks into gear, things will get even crazier – and thanks to the standalones, we won’t even get the traditional three-year lull to catch our breath. The trend these days is to create product efficiently and get it into theaters before the momentum wears off – think Harry Potter, Twilight, the Marvel movies, and now the Hunger Games sequels. There’s no reason to think Disney doesn’t have the same model in mind with Star Wars.
2. We won’t have Lucas to kick around anymore
We called him Uncle George because he’s been a constant. Back when he owned it, Lucasfilm was not a public company – one man called the shots, and he tended to call them about everything. He was a micromanager, but he was our micromanager, and there was a certain comfort in knowing what to expect. We knew his interests, his politics, his goals. (It helped that his movies were usually in development for at least a decade or two.) We knew he could laugh at himself. We knew he had stories coming out of his ears. And we watched as he became more and more comfortable with his legions of fans.
The one thing nobody knew was that he’d one day sell the company and approve the Sequel Trilogy, especially after years of saying it wasn’t going to happen. Now there are new people in charge, and I say this honestly: we have no idea what to expect. Our assumptions about Lucasfilm were always based on one man, and he’s effectively out of the picture. We don’t even really know if Disney is going to use his treatments for the sequels. (How did Bob Iger describe them? Ah yes. “They had a lot of potential.”) Maybe they’ll be followed to the letter, but Disney certainly isn’t obligated.
3. We don’t know who’s in charge
The other thing about George Lucas was that fans knew who to blame. Confused by an episode of The Clone Wars? That was George’s idea. Angry about the last Indiana Jones movie? Blame it on Lucas. Don’t like the prequels? By all means, write a book about how George Lucas destroyed your childhood. He was almost too easy a target, which wasn’t fair but at least it was mostly accurate. Then a few years ago, when he started to talk about retirement, fans began wondering who would take over. I remember a Star Wars Insider article which proclaimed that Dave Filoni and Katie Lucas were the heirs apparent. That didn’t work out so well.
Nowadays, we know who the heirs are, but everything else is a mystery. Decisions are being made left and right but nobody on the outside knows who’s behind them. Is Kathleen Kennedy in charge? J.J. Abrams? Lawrence Kasdan? Even Bob Iger seems happy to pass the buck. When asked whether the Mark Hamill and co. would return for the Sequel Trilogy, Iger said it depended on Michael Arndt’s screenplay. I don’t buy that for a second, and obviously Iger wants to hold news until it’s ready to be announced. But still, when the CEO claims the screenwriter is calling the shots, the power structure isn’t quite clear yet.
4. The news won’t all be good
With LucasArts closing shop and Lucasfilm Animation a fraction of its former self, a lot of folks are understandably depressed. But at the risk of being a Debbie Downer, we should probably expect more of this. Divisions of Lucasfilm may be gutted and licensees could suddenly find themselves outbid. And virtually every high-profile project from the old regime seems to be a goner: The Clone Wars, Detours, 1313, First Assault, the 3D re-releases, etc.
This is what I mean by a reboot. Disney has basically declared that right now there’s too much product available, and it looks like they want to clear house before Episode VII hits. This sounds crazy but it’s not at all unprecedented. Take, for example, Star Trek. Back in 1996, both Voyager and Deep Space 9 were on the air AND a Next Generation movie was in theaters. For many Trekkies, this was a golden age. But the franchise was so popular that Paramount became determined to keep it alive at all costs (hello, Enterprise!). Too much of a good thing quickly turned into just a lot of an okay thing.
Remember what happened then. Around the time that Star Trek was turning 35 years old, the overall Trek audience (not the die-hards) dried up and the franchise went on ice for a few years. That turned out to be a good move because eventually, people were hungry for more. At that point, Paramount decided that the best plan was a full-on reboot. And J.J. Abrams got a call.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m upset that The Clone Wars got the axe, especially after it had gotten so damn good. And I wish we could have seen at least some of the other projects. But oversaturation is a real thing, and we may have been hitting it with Star Wars. If Disney wants to step back a bit and – like Paramount did with Star Trek – get back to basics, it’s probably for a good reason.
5. The news won’t be all bad
I really and truly want the The Clone Wars to be saved, but I believe the decision to end it was based on more than just viewership. That’s why, as much as I support it, I don’t really expect the letter-writing campaign to work. Still, there’s plenty to be positive about. The new movies are right around the corner. Disney is exploring the idea of a Star Wars theme park. The novels and comic books seem to be thriving. And while the layoffs have been brutal, they’re industry-wide at this point… and at least many of our favorite folks inside Lucasfilm are still there. So yeah, the news sucks these days, and the next few months might be similarly rough. But when all this bloodletting is finished, Star Wars might just be stronger for it.