Wednesday, February 7, 2018

In Laman's Terms: The Future of Star Wars Seeks To Avoid Some Mistakes of The Past

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

So yesterday Disney announced that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were going to producing and writing a new trilogy of stand-alone Star Wars movies. Making sure that the first post-Game of Thrones job for Benioff and Weiss was having such a major role in a new batch of Star Wars movies seemed like the kind of headline designed to appease fanboy sites across the internet by basically saying "The people behind one of your favorite brands is now doing something with another one of your favorite brands!" Cutesy quotes on official Disney or Star Wars social media feeds declaring "Send a raven..." (Hey! That's a reference to a thing I know!) seemed to solidify that this was news designed to make geek sectors of social media light up with enthusiastic responses.

Of course, such an announcement was met with plenty of negative reception too, not just from people dissatisfied with Game of Thrones as a show (I haven't watched a lick of that show, so I can't comment on their work there) but also individuals expressing much needed exasperation with the lack of diversity behind the scenes of the new Star Wars movies. Maureen Ryan of Variety wrote a great essay yesterday detailing how the writers and directors of all the live-action Star Wars movies (past, present and future) were 96% white guys. So much talent that could have added unique stories of awesomeness to the Star Wars universe left untold simply because of their skin color and/or gender. It's a tragedy and yes, fanboys, I know the head of Lucasfilm is Kathleen Kennedy, who is a human woman, that doesn't magically make this lack of diversity magically disappear.

That pressing issue has been on my mind as this announcement took hold of the interwebs as has been another (obviously far less important in the grand scheme of the world) aspect of how these future Star Wars movies are getting made. We now have two Star Wars trilogies coming up that are entirely divorced from the Skywalker saga, one from Rian Johnson, one from Benioff and Weiss. It's yet another example of how Lucasfilm is doing more stories with the Star Wars brand beyond just the tale of Jedi and Skywalker's that was at the heart of the original six movies. However, these new trilogies are notably different from the original spin-off's planned by Lucasfilm, spin-off's like Rogue One and Solo.
Those features were explicitly set in specific times and places during the original six-fim saga whereas these two new trilogies will be entirely divorced from the original Star Wars movies. However, more notably, these new trilogies are separated from Rogue One and Solo by being trilogies, whereas Rogue One and Solo are looked at as one-off movies, particularly the former feature. Now, Solo could theoretically support more movies but it's not being planned with sequels in mind, whereas these two new trilogies are being mapped out as an elongated story spanning multiple films with a story that's been planned out in advance, something even the new trilogy of Episode VII, VIII and IX didn't have (remember how Rian Johnson was free to make up his owners answers to questions left by The Force Awakens like "Why was Luke on an island alone?").

Why would they be changing things up so heavily from past Star Wars spin-off's? Perhaps because the productions on both Rogue One and Solo were absolute nightmares. Now, I thought Rogue One turned out great and Solo looks surprisingly solid but there's no getting around that both films, especially Solo, have gone through utter Hell in coming to the big screen with horribly troubled productions that have involved leaving behind notable filmmakers and running up millions on dollars to play for extensive reshoots. Those are the kinds of experiences Kathleen Kennedy doubtfully wants to reprise in the future so I'd imagine the idea of getting folks like Rian Johnson or the duo behind Game of Thrones to serve as the guiding hand for forthcoming stand-alone movies, a guiding hand that could help keep things in check enough to avoid the production calamities of Rogue One and Solo (recall how smoothly The Last Jedi went in it's journey to the screen).

Will this approach of basically hiring the movie equivalent of showrunners to help get trilogies of movies to the screen work? I dunno, I'm gonna have to see the films themselves to figure out if this approach is a creatively sound one (a ludicrous notion, I know). But it certainly looks like this is the way Lucasfilm wants to take things for the foreseeable future, especially since we're winding down on the new trilogy of main-line Star Wars movies and Disney's gonna need some other kind of long-form theatrically released Star Wars fare they can use to print money. That "long-form" part of the equation is what also makes me curious about where Lucasfilm is going in the future...are they now looking at trilogies of new characters as the way to go instead of doing one-off prequel movies like Rogue One and Solo?

Now, to be fair here, we are getting an Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off from Wonder director Stephen Daldry likely in 2020 (I'm surmising that release date from how the project will start filming in the very first month of 2019), so it's not like Disney is completely abandoning these types of movies after Solo. But despite rumors of Yoda, Boba Fett and even Jabba The Hutt (yes, really) movies being considered by Disney, it seems, at least from the perspective of the public (who knows what's going on behind-the-scenes) that these two new trilogies have taken precedence for Disney, perhaps because they'll both spawn more movies and won't have to live up to fan expectations of how already-existing characters should behave. Personally, I'd prefer to see more original storytelling about wholly new characters going through new adventures in the Star Wars universe rather than getting pointless origin stories for Yoda or frigging Boba Fett. The best parts of Rogue One centered on new characters, new locations while it's weakest moments came in forced fan-service to characters from past films. So much of Star Wars is so ingrained into the world populace due to the franchises far-reaching nature, why simply rehash what everyone on the planet already knows when you can blaze new storytelling trailers, do something exciting & fresh with the property at hand? Unless you wanna get really weird and do, like, a Max Rebo movie or a Lumpy movie, I'd say it's, at least conceptually, better to just embrace exploring new avenues of this galaxy far, far away and leave those prequel movies about specific characters from the original Star Wars trilogy in the past. As Kylo Ren showed in The Last Jedi, becoming too enamored with the past can lead you to lose focus of the future in front of you.

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