The War for Star Wars' Soul

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

Author's note: There is some speculation in this article regarding "Solo" but the sentiments expressed via that speculation are still valid even if said speculation ends up being false.

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If you're like me, you were completely and utterly elated this December because of the latest Star Wars flick brought to us by visionary director Rian Johnson. Yet, contrary to what I thought was gonna happen, not that many people were like me when it came to this new installment in the epic saga. Many people were disappointed, angered by what they saw on-screen, "It's not Star Wars" they shout "It's embarrassing" they proclaim "Why do they go to the Casino?" they fume. Discussing and engaging in the community reaction to this film has been one of the oddest things I've seen/been apart of as a film fan. How could a film that I saw as revolutionary and boundary-pushing be so despised by the same people who shared my deep attachment and love for this franchise?

That's when I realized that this group of people, a vocal minority to be fair, wanted one thing and one thing only: the same thing. They never wanted this franchise to move past its origins that were cemented 40 years ago and then reaffirmed by a trilogy of films that largely followed a similar blueprint with characters we already knew. Even "The Force Awakens" was familiar enough to not call attention to the fact that this franchise was indeed evolving. So when Johnson pushed the franchise forward in a bold and fascinating new direction, akin to "The Empire Strikes Back" which was also met with a similar response by many upon its release, it caused those people who were already worried to explode.

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But a sect of the fanbase being enraged by a film doesn't constitute a war. Not at all, the war is actually the making of Lucasfilm and Lucasfilm alone. The way the slate of Star Wars films has played out since Disney bought the franchise breaks down like this: "The Force Awakens", "Rogue One", "The Last Jedi", "Solo". Which loosely translates, at least to me, into: new, old, new, old. What Lucasfilm is doing is trying to have their cake and eat it too. They want to tell new and interesting Star Wars stories and create a new generation fo Star Wars fans that will carry the franchise forward for years to come. But they can't do that without alienating the older generation/those who can't accept change, which was made completely evident by "The Last Jedi". So in order to satiate that vital part of the fanbase that propelled Star Wars into being the largest cultural phenomenon ever we get movies like "Rouge One" and, more importantly, "Solo".

"Solo" and "The Last Jedi" coming out one after the other might be the most proof we have of this battle that is writhing beneath the surface. "The Last Jedi" is a film that takes the blueprint of "Empire" and "Return" and mashes them together in order to make something completely new and profound in Star Wars while completely liberating the final film in the new trilogy from "the poetry" of the original trilogy. Episode IX doesn't have to mirror the structure and beats of "Empire" or "Return" because it can't. Rian Johnson is pushing for innovation and new ideas in not just "The Last Jedi" but in all the Saga films to come. This bold new direction employs new story ideas and structures, populated with new and incredibly deep and interesting characters from all backgrounds. There isn't just one black dude in space anymore.

"Solo" on the other hand seems to be a wet dream for the people who hated "The Last Jedi". From the trailer it appears that we are getting all the fan service we ever wanted. From Han and Chewie's first encounter that led to their lifelong friendship to the game of Sabaac between Han and Lando that resulted in Han getting his iconic ship. This movie is going back to one of the most iconic characters in the franchise and telling the untold story. It's the opposite of what "The Last Jedi" and hopefully the rest of the mainline Star Wars films are doing. The moving forward vs. the constant backtracking. This is the War for Star Wars' Soul.

You might ask, "Why can't we have both? It's not like we can't see all these movies!" But this is more than just watching movies. This is about what Star Wars seeks to be as a franchise. Outside of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars is easily the largest and most dense universe in our current pop cultural landscape. But the movies have remained so insular until recently. For six movies we only followed a tightly knit web of characters as they made their way through this vast universe one adventure at a time. But it wasn't until the new brand of films that started with "The Force Awakens" that we got any main characters that weren't in some way directly related to the Skywalker family.  For a franchise that is a large-scale space opera it has remained consistently small-scale in its storytelling. While this absolutely worked for the original trilogy and helped give those films a real through line, it isn't a strategy that can sustain this franchise long term (something Lucas failed to grasp). To truly stand the test of time, the world needs to expand and become more and more inclusive of the rest of the galaxy far, far away.

This is something that "The Last Jedi" understood and made a core value by introducing new places, people, and concepts to the universe in bold and stylish ways. While I have no doubt that I will enjoy the hell out of "Solo", I have a feeling it won't do any of these things. While the trailer did inspire some hope by showing a few interesting things, the concept of this movie is still "come watch these characters that you know and love so much!" On top of that the Obi-Wan movie doesn't help inspire much hope that the Story films will seek to diversify and add depth to this universe like they should.

In the end I hope I'm proven absolutely wrong and that this article becomes a source of embarrassment for me. I hope "Solo" is a fascinating and interesting look at a corner of the universe that we have yet to see. I want to fall flat on my face in regards to all of these predictions and speculation, because I love Star Wars more than just about any film franchise on the market. I want to see it succeed and reach new heights with every film that is released. But I can't ignore the conflict that is happening in the fanbase and the production of these movies that points to a very different outcome. I can only hope that I'm wrong or in the very least that the movement of expanding the universe that began with "The Last Jedi" is the one that ultimately takes hold of this franchise. I can only hope that we push forward to more beautiful planets and thrilling stories, rather than trekking back to the same stories and characters that we've seen time and time again.