The Star Wars Anthology films sound awesome. The idea of doing standalone stories and exploring uncharted regions of the Star Wars universe is incredibly appealing. However, the current projects have been tumultuous behind the scenes. The recent news about the directors of the Han Solo film being fired is especially alarming. But, it’s even more disturbing when you see the frightening connections in this fledgling experiment. Which begs the question: what is going wrong with the Star Wars Anthology series?
Directors With Vision
It all started in 2015 with Josh Trank, the director of the sleeper hit Chronicle. Trank was openly developing a Boba Fett film for this new anthology franchise and fans were excited. Then, the troubles of Trank’s Fantastic Four began to become public. Plus, the finished film was so clearly reconfigured in post-production and Trank was very vocal about his displeasure with the final cut. After that, he was promptly pulled off the Boba Fett film and has been in director jail ever since.
Then, Lucasfilm tapped Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) to helm Rogue One. The movie was billed as a departure from the tone of the regular Star Wars films. Dubbing it a “war movie,” fans yet again were intrigued to see how this would differ from the kind of Star Wars movies they were used to. But, Lucasfilm became worried during post-production after some test screenings didn’t go over well with more casual viewers. Edwards was left out of a number of reshoots as well as the editing room, and those decisions drastically changed how Rogue One ended up.
Now, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord have been let go from the Han Solo film in the middle of production. Regardless of your personal feelings about any of these directors, it’s fair to say that they are creators with strong visions. That’s apparent in their other work. Even Fantastic Four was a clearly different tonal approach that the studio lost faith in at some point and tried to change. Lucasfilm has been very vocal about hiring strong filmmakers for all the Star Wars films. That’s given them a lot of cred from film fans. But, it seems like hiring directors with vision is backfiring on them. Could that be because these directors are taking bigger creative risks than Lucasfilm expected?
If that’s the case, then Lucasfilm should be hiring safe, knowable creatives that can execute the particular idea that the producers want to see. But, that’s also a problem with these Star Wars Anthology endeavors…
Narrative Safety a.k.a. Prequels
When the reshoots and heavy re-edits happened to Rogue One, Lucasfilm said that these changes were in order to make Rogue One “feel more like a Star Wars movie.” Exactly what that means is a little nebulous, but it casts a much more worrisome net over the Star Wars Anthology experiment. Should they “feel” like Star Wars movies?
The Skywalker saga of movies has cultivated a very specific tone over the course of seven films. They are epic, classical hero stories straight out of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. They draw upon mythical storytelling and are very successful at doing so. The Star Wars Anthology films are exciting because they don’t have to do that. What’s stopping them from playing with genre and form? Why can’t one movie be a straight up horror film and the next one a screwball comedy? Shouldn’t they be able to mess around with how their stories are told visually as well?
But most importantly, why is Lucasfilm making prequels? I don’t mean prequels to simply mean they take place before certain Star Wars films, but that these are all tales that directly link back to the Skywalker saga movies. Stealing the Death Star plans, seeing a young Han Solo, and potential films based around Boba Fett, Obi-Wan, and Yoda are the safest possible avenues for such a wonderfully inventive idea as anthology films.
The Star Wars Anthology films should be taking bigger narrative risks, like the early rumor about a film based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. That would feature one familiar element – the Jedi – but would not be beholden to any other plot or characters from the regular Star Wars movies. If Lucasfilm wants to take advantage of the property in the best fashion, they should be creating their own tales and heroes instead of siphoning off of the regular films.
They might also take a note from another studio…
The Marvel Model
I wrote about the future of Star Wars after Episode IX, and I posited the idea of a Star Wars Cinematic Universe in the Marvel mold. Audiences now expect these kinds of films to sync up in a serialized way. Many non-fans were confused when Rogue One was being marketed because they thought it was a sequel to The Force Awakens. Casual audiences need to understand the context of a film as best as they can. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has only strengthened this kind of conditioning. Each Marvel movie pushes a connected story forward in some way. The Star Wars Anthology films are not doing that.
Is there a happy medium? Could Lucasfilm figure out a familiar story that fans and general audiences would want to keep coming back to see? Is taking a page from Marvel’s playbook a step in the right direction? Or would it feel uninspired? That would depend on the kind of stories being told and who would be telling them. If Lucasfilm continues to hire highly artistic directors for these Star Wars Anthology films, they might be better off letting them take uncertain creative paths. And maybe they need to step away from the familiar characters, plots, and connections in order to forge something that feels fresh.
No matter what, it’s clear that the Star Wars Anthology experiment is off to a rocky start. Hopefully, it will find its groove and deliver the kinds of films we love, even if they aren’t the kinds of Star Wars films we expect.