Recently I went back an watched Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars Stories movies. And after much thought and soul searching, I think it might be my favourite of the modern Star Wars movies. It feels like the one movie of the franchise that understands why the series was fleshed out as much as it was in what was once known as the expanded universe.
In my mind there are two kinds of “hardcore” Star Wars fan. There are the people like me who have spent the last few decades of their lives buying terribly written novels, collecting comic books and playing all of the games, simply enjoying spending time in the world and getting an increasingly complex sense of this fascinating setting.
And then you’ve got the people who simply enjoy the movies, and their knowledge and experience rarely extends beyond that, except for the odd episode of Rebels or Clone Wars. As dismissive as that comparison may seem, I’m not trying to say one of these levels of fandom is more valid than the other.
No, that level of gate keeping in media is bollocks. People are fully entitled to enjoy a fandom in any way they want. It’s when they start to push their personal agenda and tastes onto the rest of the world we have a major problem. But I’m getting away from the point here.
Rogue One is the only movie in the franchise thus far that really feels like it contains the spirit of the old Expanded Universe, now dubbed the “Legends” Continuity by the master lore keepers at Disney.
At its best, Star Wars is a setting, a tone and a feeling. It’s a world in which any story can take place related to the main set of movies or not. I equate it to a Dungeons & Dragons source book. It gives you the tools needed to populate a world and create your own story within using their framework. Which is apt considering the fantasy inspired elements within the Star Wars lore.
Rogue One feels just like that. Characters you know and recognise are there; Tarkin, Vader, Organa Sr. and Jr. But they’re not the focus, they’re the Easter eggs and connections to let you know this is a story that takes place in that same world.
My favourite pieces of Star Wars outside of the series are the Old Republic Video game series; a story told on a galactic scale, but takes place thousands of years before the first of the movies. They embody the tone, the feeling and the experiences of the franchise, but without the added baggage needed to slot them into the movie’s continuity. They feel like Star Wars without the need to name the characters you recognise, it’s different, and yet still very familiar.
It’s the same with the hundreds of Star Wars novels. My favourite of the many I’ve read (more than I’d like to admit) are the ones that have very little connection to the characters from the main franchise directly. The Coruscant Nights Trilogy; almost a detective story from the point of view of one of the few Jedi to survive order 66. Or anything written by Karen Traviss when she was still associated with the series. Creating a wider culture for the Mandolorians and the Clone Soldiers
Major characters exist in these stories, but they’re just to legitimise what the writers are already doing, and embodying the feeling and the tone of the Star Wars world in their writing. And that’s the aspect of the Spin off movies I wish Disney would pursue a little more.
When Solo came out earlier this year, it was less of what I wanted from these side stories. It’s an origin story for Han Solo, something that nobody genuinely wanted. Because it was a movie based one of the primary cast members from the original franchise, it was doggedly tied into events already. We know the main characters will come out the other side unscathed, thus removing any genuine peril from the story. Han himself had very little in terms of a character arc, what he did have felt undercut by how much of a ‘nice guy’ the character has become.
Solo ended up feeling like a checklist exercise. Like it needed to include an event in the movie that detailed every little thing ever mentioned about Han Solo’s past in the movies that came before. I said it when I spoke about the movie shorty after it came out. The movie would have been far better served had it not been about Han Solo, but some random Smuggler invented for the movie itself.
Sure, Rogue One is heavily impacted by the events of A New Hope, taking place almost right before it. But the cast of characters are either wholly original or are only tangentially related to the story being told in this movie. I don’t have an issue with Vader in Rogue One in the same way I have an issue with Solo because he’s presence is small and used very effectively. Not just that, it gives us a sneaky peek into something new about the character without being as blatant about it as the card game at the end of Solo was.
Personally, I don’t want to see a movie focusing on a young Yoda, or Obi Wan during his time on Tatooine. Even a Boba Fett movie would lean more into simply giving the more mainstream fans what they want instead of actually expanding the lore in any meaningful way.
What I want to see is a swashbuckling adventure set on the outer rim featuring a group of misunderstood bounty hunters, a hard boiled detective mystery set in the dirty streets of Nar Shaddaa or a Young Padawan’s first adventure gone wrong with their master in the beginnings of the Clone Wars.
My point is, there are hundreds of Star Wars stories to pull from that don’t revolve around the Skywalker/Solo clan, I’d love for Star Wars to lean into these a bit more rather than going for the easy picks. But the likelihood seems to be dropping by the day. I acutely remember talking to people after Rogue One came out, and them saying that the Vader rampage towards the end of the movie was the “only good bit of the movie”.
After the utterly pathetic fan backlash that came with the release of The Last Jedi, and the “disappointing” box office of Solo shortly thereafter, I fear that the mainstream fans will end up getting what they want, and Disney might be making many more risk adverse decisions in relation to their movies going forward.
It’s a real shame too, because the fact that they were so ambitious with the franchise in The Last Jedi was one of the things I loved about the movie the most.
But maybe it’s been a mixed blessing. The aspect of Star Wars I appreciate the most might find new life in Disney’s new streaming service coming next year. With Disney+ starting early 2019, there is already plans a Star Wars series called The Mandalorian and for a Rogue One prequel series.
Ironically, that second one is something I don’t want. Sure, make a series about Rebels fighting their fight against the Empire, but don’t just tie it to Rogue One for attention. They already have a series called Rebels that does just that, Star Wars has an incredibly deep well of material to draw from. The more they dip into it, the more the mainstream only fans will realise what the rest of us have known for decades.