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?