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Disney’s Star Wars Announcements Show Their Biggest Franchise Problem

Disney’s Investors Call revealed a host of new Star Wars content that, while exciting, further confirms Disney’s overreliance on comfortability.

Disney’s Investors Call broke the internet by confirming a host of new Lucasfilm and Star Wars properties, and while all of them seem intriguing, it’s also hard to ignore just how many of them rely on fan service and familiarity. Since the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Lucasfilm has taken a step back from theatrical content and has been driving the future of the franchise through television, comics, and novels. The Mandalorian has continued to be a smash hit with fans, especially after the re-introduction of Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), and if their recent teases regarding Thrawn are to be taken seriously, viewers could see another major player return to the galaxy to face off against Din Djarin. On the flip side, the High Republic subseries is set to kick into high gear at the beginning of 2021, exploring the Jedi Order at the height of their power and a lawless vision of the rest of the galaxy.

Several of the upcoming new Star Wars shows will explore the timelines popularized by both of those works. Leslye Headland’s Disney+ series The Acolyte is a mystery-thriller set during the final days of the High Republic. The post-Return of the Jedi timeline currently serving as the setting for The Mandalorian is also about to get a little bit bigger, with both Ahsoka and The Rangers of the New Republic being set in the same era.

There’s no denying that each of these new projects is going to deepen the Star Wars universe in their own respective ways, but there’s also no ignoring a general trend among all of them. Two Mandalorian spin-offs, The Bad Batch, Lando, and the Andor prequel all highlight just how reliant Disney is on Star Wars’ particular brand of fan-familiarity. Since the beginning, the intersection of fan service and storytelling has been a crutch for Disney’s adventures in a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite its title as the highest-grossing Star Wars film, was notorious upon release for borrowing plot points and story elements from A New Hope, in an effort to draw fans back into the franchise. Similarities such as Snoke being an analogue to Sidious, the Starkiller Base, the main protagonist’s desire to escape a harsh desert wasteland, all of it was engineered to put fans back in the mindset of George Lucas’ original vision. And while the movie certainly introduced many unique elements and engaging characters, several of its major mysteries were reliant on connecting new characters to preexisting ones.

For all of its controversy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi attempted to pivot and change course by implying that the saga could be something new, but the divisive reaction to the film led Disney to double down with The Rise of Skywalker, a movie that lives and breathes on the whim of fan-service. Lando Calrissian’s return, Kylo Ren’s redemption, and Palpatine’s presence as the main antagonist all feel like choices deliberately made to tug at nostalgia for the story decisions made in the original trilogy, without attempting to do anything exciting or new. Above anything else, the biggest failing of the sequel trilogy was its inability to lead Star Wars into the future.

While The Mandalorian is beloved for a bevy of reasons, one aspect that has grown more prominent with season 2 is drawing on Star Wars’ tightly woven history. Filoni expertly weaves in new characters like Din Djarin and Grogu with returning fan-favorites such as Boba Fett and Ahsoka, and it works because it marries fan service with necessary storytelling. With so many spin-offs taking place at the same time or focusing on characters that everyone has known for years, it seems as if Disney might be taking away the wrong lesson.

George Lucas’ original trilogy succeeded because of just how bizarre and unique the worldbuilding of the universe was. Disney has the chance to explore entirely new corners of the galaxy and the franchise’s timeline, and hopefully audiences see them move beyond relying on familiar characters and locales to tell stories. Star Wars has always been a playground for unbridled creativity and artistic freedom, and it’s time for Disney to push the galaxy into unexplored and frightening new directions.