The future of Star Wars

What's next for the series on the big and small screen? 

Star Wars posters.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Star Wars is in a transition phase after concluding 40 years of storytelling. What's next for the series on the big and small screen?

Where did the last Star Wars film leave viewers?

The Rise of Skywalker was the last film released, in 2019. It chronicled the fall of the series' overarching villain, Emperor Palpatine, wrapping its main Skywalker saga with no member of the Skywalker bloodline still alive by the end. Now, Lucasfilm is in the midst of a four-year hiatus from Star Wars movies. The franchise returns in December 2023 with Patty Jenkins' Rogue Squadron, a fighter pilot film set to "move the saga into the future era of the galaxy." Plot details are under wraps, though the "future era" description could suggest it's set after The Rise of Skywalker, rather than continuing the franchise's trend of making prequels. But Rogue Squadron is said to revolve around a "new generation" of pilots, and it's notably not billed as a 10th episode. In fact, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has said Star Wars will move beyond its familiar three-film structure, so it's possible this could be more of a one-off featuring all new characters and not necessarily the start of a new main trilogy. But this is by no means the only film in development.

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What else is in the works?

Thor: Ragnarok's Taika Waititi is directing one upcoming Star Wars movie, while Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige is producing a mysterious film written by Loki creator Michael Waldron, and Sleight director J.D. Dillard was hired for a film in 2020. An entire trilogy from The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was also announced in 2017, promising fresh stories separate from the Skywalker saga. But some of Johnson's storytelling decisions in The Last Jedi proved controversial, casting doubt on whether the new trilogy will go ahead.

What were fans upset about?

Johnson took some big swings in The Last Jedi, which included depicting Luke Skywalker as dejected and struggling with failure. Critics loved the film, but fans were more divided. Two years later, critics slammed the more fan service-driven follow-up, The Rise of Skywalker, for playing it safe and reversing some of Johnson's decisions, suggesting Lucasfilm bowed to the online backlash. A major question going forward is how receptive Disney will be to risky storytelling choices that break from fans' expectations in a way that could again prove divisive.

What other potential strategy shifts are we seeing from Disney?

It might leave some breathing room between films. After Disney acquired Lucasfilm, it started releasing one new Star Wars movie every year from 2015 through 2019. But 2018's Han Solo origin film Solo: A Star Wars Story was a major box office disappointment, and Disney's then-CEO Bob Iger concluded the company had been releasing too many Star Wars movies too fast. At the moment, then, Disney's schedule has a new film debuting every two years in an apparent attempt to avoid Star Wars fatigue. An eventual return to one film a year is possible, but if not, there will still be plenty of new Star Wars content to be devoured on Disney+.

Like what?

The Mandalorian is a major hit, and three spin-offs are in the works. Lucasfilm says these shows will be interconnected, and they'll "culminate in a climactic story event." The Mandalorian will also return for a third season, but not until 2022 at the earliest. Like Marvel, Lucasfilm is giving various fan favorite characters streaming shows, with Disney+ series about Boba Fett, Ahsoka Tano, Cassian Andor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Lando Calrissian all in development. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series, in particular, is highly anticipated. It's an example of Lucasfilm catering to fans who grew up loving George Lucas' prequels, and it promises a "rematch" between Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan and Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker after Revenge of the Sith. Another upcoming show is The Acolyte, a mystery-thriller from Russian Doll's Leslye Headland set decades before the movies. That time frame should allow it to expand Star Wars' mythology in a unique way, as some have criticized the rest of the Disney+ slate for not moving further away from familiar characters in the Skywalker saga. For animation fans, there's also the ongoing Clone Wars spin-off The Bad Batch and the animated projects Star Wars: Visions and Star Wars: A Droid Story.

Why is Star Wars doubling down on streaming?

Disney sees streaming as vital to its future and needs consistent content from its biggest brands to grow subscriptions. But The Mandalorian has also been one of the most well-received recent Star Wars projects, so Disney is striking while the iron is hot. Disney+ also allows Lucasfilm to explore standalone Star Wars stories without each being expected to gross $1 billion at the box office. Several of the shows are set to receive only one season, so they can be viewed as an evolution of Disney's previous strategy to release spin-off films like Solo in between "main" installments. Indeed, the Boba Fett and Obi-Wan shows were originally discussed as movies before Solo disappointed.

What are the biggest challenges facing Star Wars?

Star Wars' cornerstone has always been its Skywalker saga episodes, and a major draw of the sequels was nostalgia for the original films and the returning cast. When Star Wars movies return, then, they face the challenge of replicating past box office success while telling new stories that might lack such a direct connection to what came before. As the shows delve deep into Star Wars lore, the franchise will also have to ensure it's not catering too heavily to diehards to the confusion of casual audiences, and the possibility of so many projects creating fatigue remains a risk. Finally, Star Wars fans are a divided group with varying tastes depending on which trilogy they prefer, and appealing to viewers from every camp will never be easy. The Mandalorian's success, though, suggests Lucasfilm is on the right track.

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