Q&A: Star Wars Generation Loss and The New Movie Circular File

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 21, 2024

1. Your last Q&A column, and your comments about upcoming/proposed/cancelled/speculated Star Wars movies, made me think: How many proposed Star Wars movies, since the Sequel Trilogy ended, have been proposed and scrapped? Do you think this is a direct result of the Sequel Trilogy, the response and overall box office numbers causing Disney to be more cautious about releasing a film? With the "Mandalorian and Grogu" movie announcement, did Disney look at the streaming numbers and say, "Yup, this is the ONLY safe movie we can make that people will go see?"As excited as I am for a new Star Wars movie, is this the right choice for a big screen movie? Will many people say, "Well, I am used to watching this on a streaming service, I can wait 3 months and just watch it on Disney Plus+"

More than anything, I would love a big book sort of like the late Tom Shales' Live From New York going into detail - even vague detail - as to what was in the works and what happened to it. I assume there were multiple movies we've never even heard of yet, plus there are quite a few things that Lucasfilm has yet to acknowledge isn't coming out. That's what makes your question hard to answer - are these movies still coming, or not?

Sometimes things just get swept under the rug for a variety of reasons, making a big fuss over something being axed isn't always the norm. Supposedly still coming:

1. The Mandalorian & Grogu. Just announced, Jo Favreau directing.

2. The Rey Movie, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The director recently made some comments about it, so it's likely to still be in the works. This is the one Damon Lindelof worked on and exited.

3. The Dave Filoni Movie, supposedly wrapping up the Mandoverse era of stories. This one is probably a ways off, depending on how the shows go.

4. The James Mangold First Jedi Movie. I am not sure I buy this is coming out.

5. The Taika Waititi Movie. I'm really interested in this one despite knowing nothing about it - supposedly the script is being worked on now-ish.

6. The Lando Movie. Formerly The Lando Series, this changed recently enough to assume it's still coming.

7. Shawn Levy's Movie. I don't have details.

Probably not coming:

1. Rogue Squadron from Patty Jenkins directing. I doubt it's coming since it has been seven years since the reveal.

2-4. Rian Johnson's movie trilogy. I like The Last Jedi, Poker Face, and the Benoit Blanc flicks - but this is another one we've been waiting for more than five years for the good word, so I don't think I would bet on it.

5. A Droid Story, a made for Disney+ animated movie that seems to have been swept under the rug. I haven't heard a peep about it since the announcement. I don't think it's coming.

Definitely not coming:

1. The D. B. Weiss & David Benioff movies.

2. The Kevin Feige movie.

3. The J. D. Dillard and Matt Owens movie, which may or may not have been TIE Fighter-related, supposedly has to do with Exogol. I admit I hadn't heard about this one before seeing the Wikipedia listing.

I generally assume once 4-5 years pass, a project is likely to have been quietly smothered unless James Cameron (or George Lucas himself) is somehow involved. I also wonder if it's valuable for the Disney stock price to announce a movie, regardless of intent to make and release the movie. The treatment of streaming series for Marvel and Star Wars on Disney+ have been incredibly squishy too, making it difficult for stores and manufacturers to coordinate an on-shelf launch date to have this stuff available to buy when the show is still on the air, as it were, too. I hope that when and if a movie gets made again, they can be sure to have stuff on the shelves a couple of months early.

I guess the big question is "Are you excited about any of this?" The fan reaction to everything has been somewhat tepid, I think thanks to a mix of ambiguity as to what these are, and a lot of half-truths. Lucasfilm teased what we thought was season 3 of The Mandalorian when telling us to expect the next chapter in that story, and what we got was blindsided by the reveal of The Book of Boba Fett. (That was an exciting reveal.) When it came to thinks like Rogue One and The Force Awakens, we had pretty clear-cut pitches - one was basically the opening crawl to the first movie, and the other was the next chapter in the movie series. Simple. All of the other movies are kind of vague - new eras, unspecific characters, and in some cases nothing much beyond the director. I think it's important to not spoil the fun of a movie, but also, you're wasting a lot of opportunity by not saying who might be in it, or point-blank confirming which Lando (or Landos) you're going to get.

The rise of Star Wars in the VHS era came from people who knew what the movie was watching and re-watching it. I think the weird spoilerphobia is vastly overblown and you're going to get a lot more out of your fans when you let them in on some - not all - of what you're doing. And seeing as we've got a list of about 15 pretty recent torpedoed movies, I'd say the reveals are an example of oversharing. If you're not far enough long to give me a release date (and that date can be 3 years out for all I care), keep it under your hat. It's such an odd move for a massive franchise, which is why I keep bringing up the whole "is this for the stock price?" angle. I don't know enough about the market to actually know, I'm just speculating here, but what purpose does telling us serve if that movie isn't on a calendar?

One last thing - I remember Shadows of the Empire, the 1996 "movie without a movie" that gave us a game, book, comic, toys, and a score CD. And a pop-up book. And trading cards and other stuff. If I were Lucasfilm, I would consider dusting off that playbook and examining if there's any value in extrapolating those pitches into a big multimedia event. "The First Jedi" as a movie doesn't sound very exciting as a movie, but as a video game? With a novelization? And some action figures and a few LEGO sets? A lot of investment has been made in conceptualizing unrealized Star Wars projects, and it might be smart to build a year around one of them.



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2. As an older collector, I was pondering this; Are there young kids, whom after watching a nearly 50-year-old movie, run to their dad or mother and beg them for a Luke, Han or Leia? This comes up because I remember Star Wars being a thing. But, to those born into a sea of media, does this still resonate? At the root, is Star Wars, and by extension the toys, timeless?

Yes - but LEGO is winning now.

Anecdotally, I hear kids latching on to all kinds of stuff - arguably the danger of making too much Star Wars. I know someone who has a kid who is over the moon in love with The Book of Boba Fett but doesn't care for any cartoons or the movies. I don't know if kids intrinsically get what they're watching is old or not (I mean, we all watched The Wizard of Oz which was almost 40 when Star Wars hit theaters) and I think the pool of Star Wars toys is too massive for a kid to actually ask for a specific character and get something appropriate. Maybe they can find Darth Vader in a LEGO set, but you're probably not going to go to the store and find anything you would want from a current movie or TV show unless (and sometimes, not even if) the character is the title character of a current show.

I assume today's kids will probably have their first toy experience with Star Wars in the LEGO aisle. The action figure aisle is generally empty except for "deluxe" figures right now, and what's coming is unlikely to be original trilogy-focused. But on the LEGO aisle, you'll find something. Maybe it's a big playset, or a polybag, or a mech - but it occupies the "toy" space that Hasbro has largely ceded. It's also very likely dad and/or mom had some form of LEGO sets as kids, and nudge the kid to get a higher quality "toy" rather than a figure they can pose and probably not do anything else with since Hasbro vehicles, playsets, and other action accessories largely do not exist at retail.

Based on what seems to be selling, LEGO isn't getting stuck with unsold low- and mid-price original trilogy sets. People show up for this stuff and aisles are empty. There's a lot of competition for their attention between Young Jedi and made-up just-for-LEGO sets and Christmas Sweaters in addition to movie-specific goodies, but it appears kids are still buying it all in a big way. Or their parents are. You get the idea. I don't know if Hasbro can compete in this space without rethinking how it sells the products, because if you want an X-Wing, Hasbro doesn't want your money. But Mattel, Jazwares, and LEGO are selling original trilogy X-Wings, and someone's buying it all over and over again.





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Right now - based in part to those two questions - it sure seems like Star Wars is losing its gravitational pull. Just nine years ago people were lining up to buy toys at midnight, re-watching movie trailers millions of times on YouTube, and speculating wildly about what will come next. That's not happening as frequently - maybe it's the death of attention spans thanks to social media and an endless supply of bad takes on YouTube and think pieces potentially written by AI, or maybe people are just growing old and out of it. I know I still want to be excited and truth be told, I do have a good time when I pick something and rewatch it - even from the Disney era. I didn't love Solo as much as Revenge of the Sith when I first saw it, but in the rear view mirror? Both are a good time.

I don't know that any media franchise from the 20th century is doing great right now. I haven't watched Echo from Marvel yet, mostly because the trailer promise of "more bloody beatdowns" isn't what I look for in TV. Star Wars keeps to much of the same formula, with similar scores and hero's journeys and the same kind of dialogue for the modern era. Lots of franchises are giving us fewer stories and - if you're a comic fan - "writing for the trade paperback" has absolutely infected TV. I don't have to love every episode of a show, but I do miss having a beginning, a middle, and an end each week. Ahsoka was a lot of middle. I don't know if it's working for the bottom line, or if the goal is "keep subscribers" or "deliver media experiences that drive sales to product" or "please the shareholders" - but 2023 wasn't an inspiring year (outside of toys) and 2024... I don't know what to expect from the new stuff.

My not-so-wild take? Look at anime. Japan's anime and manga that comes and hits it off in America tend to focus on teenagers and young adult characters, and their fans seem to be about that same age. Some fans stick with it for life, but a lot age out of it as their shows end and they don't come back for the new thing with now-younger heroes.  (To some extent, this was alluded to in Martian Successor Nadesico.) Some shows are so good that you can watch teenagers when you're 40, but it seems a lot of franchise fans really bristle against the heroes being younger than the audience. The Mandalorian largely sweeps that question under the rug with masks - Star Trek: Strange New Worlds had a captain with big "daddy" vibes - and shows with young heroes get poo-pooed by the old-school interneteratti. I may be wildly off base here, but I don't think so.  Having heroes in their 40s and 50s keeps closer to how the original Generation X fans, and some of those elder millennials, "look up" to the characters. Or maybe sideways. When you bring in younger heroes, the older people (you know, 1970s kids) tune out a lot more. I am expecting Skeleton Crew to get hand-waved by the original generation, and I assume Jude Law is there as a character for the adults to identify with (as opposed to Batman and shows that often have a child or teen Robin for the school-age audience and their disposable income. See also, all forms of Teen Titans.)

Lord of the Rings has characters that are mostly older, and those books stuck. Harry Potter as a kid thing let fans grow up with the characters, and a lot of them are still fans. The original Star Wars probably did this with the best of them - kids like Luke and Leia, teens liked Han (and Leia), older fans have the likes of Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, and Tarkin. And then you've got masked characters and puppets like Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, and in later movies Yoda and Boba Fett that transcend age. Maybe that's where the sequels went wrong - they brought back Han, Leia, and Luke, but said "What if we just kill them?" and then alienate those old-school fans. Bringing Luke back to life in The Mandalorian most likely did wonders to stop fans from bleeding out into other interests.

Or it could just be industry trends - action figures are seemingly down 15% last year, which isn't going to do a lot to convince people that they should do more big weird risky things.  Maybe it's time for something new, for a new audience, while we just play with the old stuff from the last 45 years.

--Adam Pawlus

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