We are four films into the new era of Star Wars and up to this point, Disney's revival of the franchise is a success. Yet, the Star Wars franchise finds itself in an extremely interesting place at the moment, one that was simultaneously unpredictable and yet inevitable. For maybe the first time in this new era, there is real uncertainty about the direction of the franchise, and cracks in its box office armor. We are coming off of two Star Wars films in a 5-month period that represent different challenges this franchise is currently facing and why the path forward must be carefully plotted.
December saw the proper return of franchise hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. While that film was met with critical acclaim and box office success, the fanbase was divided, with many taking issue with how the film operated within the context of the franchise and what it did to beloved characters. For some fans, it didn't feel like Star Wars. Just this past weekend saw the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second anthology film and easily the most troubled thus far. Following a tumultuous production, Solo debuted to lukewarm reviews and a box office performance well below expectations, showing that perhaps audiences weren't interested in seeing a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich).
There is no single reason for these outcomes and the failures of The Last Jedi and Solo are not the same, but the prescription to avoid these problems moving forward applies to both: Star Wars needs to break away from characters that we know. I realize the irony of that notion considering that news about the Boba Fett movie, but read on to see why this is exactly what Star Wars needs right now.
New Characters Avoid Controversy
The Last Jedi was extremely divisive among the Star Wars fanbase, partially because it brushed aside or delivered unsatisfying answers to questions raised in The Force Awakens, but also because of how it presented Luke Skywalker. People don't like to see their heroes deconstructed, and a jaded Luke isn't what people wanted from his return. He was then killed, which also upset people. This isn't a new franchise, it has existed for 40 years. These aren't only beloved characters, they're iconic, tied to the history of cinema and marinated in nostalgia for decades. That is hard to live up to and inevitably some people will be disappointed with creative choices that don't align with what they expected or wanted from a character. Focusing on brand new faces avoids all that. New characters stand on their own merits and won't be judged against some impossible standard.
The Franchise Can Take More Risks
It is interesting to look back at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story through our current lens. The first anthology film was a huge success and with the exception of Darth Vader, was basically about all new characters. Rogue One took chances and did things we haven't seen before in a Star Wars film. It was practically a war film, and all of the heroes died at the end. That was a huge risk, and the kind of thing that keeps Star Wars thrilling and in the discussion. That kind of risk-taking is enabled when we are dealing with new characters that aren't beholden to pre-established mythology and don't have to line up with films that take place before and after. When David Benioff and D.B. Weiss do their film series, don't we want them to be able to make the kind of risky, compelling choices that have made Game of Thrones such a cultural touchstone?
It Will Make The Universe Feel Bigger
With Solo in theaters, a Boba Fett movie in the works, the always-rumored Obi-Wan movie and heck even a Lando movie being mused about, Lucasfilm is keeping us in the same corner of the galaxy, in the same time period, with the same characters as it always has. This will inevitably begin to feel stale. Perhaps that is why Solo struggled? It featured a beloved character, but didn't tell us anything that felt new or exciting or necessary about him. Introducing new characters in new places and in new times will make this universe feel fuller and more expansive. This is literally an entire galaxy, and there are any number of stories that can be told. Expanding out the universe will keep things fresh and interesting so that every Star Wars is an event, and not something that people can easily justify skipping because it's just like the last one.
Exciting Filmmakers Can Bring Unique Visions to Star Wars
We may never know exactly what Phil Lord and Chris Miller's version of Solo would have looked like but some of the rumors made it seem like they were going for a more comedic tone, one that was not in keeping with what we expect/want from Han Solo. That would mean they weren't right for Solo, not that they aren't right for Star Wars. I think most people want to see what new stories can be told in this universe that challenge our notions of what a Star Wars film can be, and aren't just rehashes and origin stories. A focus on entirely new characters and stories allows originality to thrive, while legacy characters restrict it. Some fans didn't like The Last Jedi, but if they have an open mind, they might like what Rian Johnson does with all new characters in his upcoming trilogy. If we want Star Wars to attract exciting filmmakers with bold creative visions for this franchise, new characters allow for that.
New Characters Propel The Franchise Forward
The biggest selling point of The Last Jedi was the chance to see Luke Skywalker again, but close behind was to see the next chapter in the stories of Kylo Ren, Rey, Poe and Finn. These are new characters that audiences fell in love with, and they quickly became just as important to the franchise as the legacy characters. Luke, Han and Leia were new characters once too, there's no reason that other new characters can't become just as memorable given the chance. Solo proves that the warm embrace of nostalgia is not enough, and revisiting old characters isn't a bulletproof recipe for success. If we are going to have at least one new Star Wars movie every year until the end of time, new characters will be necessary to keep things fresh and interesting. Star Wars has used up almost all of the old hyperfuel and if it wants to reach hyperspace again, it needs to refuel and start picking up new passengers.