From a "best of times, worst of times" perspective, this has been a week of light and darkness for the Star Wars franchise.
This week the trailer dropped for the fourth season of "Star Wars Rebels," a Disney-produced animated prequel series. As with everything from "Rebels," it looks really, really good.
"Rebels" is a masterful example of Disney's brand management ability: the show follows a group of adults, with one street kid they've adopted, fighting the evil Empire. Basically, "Rebels" is Disney mashing its version of "Aladdin" into the Star Wars universe — the two characters even look alike.
"Rebels" has been commercially and critically successful, and it's incorporated elements from the so-called Expanded Universe back into the fold of actual Star Wars canon, such as season three's villainous Admiral Thrawn storyline.
"Star Wars Rebels" season four starts Oct. 16 on Disney XD, and from all accounts, it's a season we can look forward to.
However, this week it was also announced that Disney was losing yet another director from its Star Wars movie franchise. In a press release, it announced it was firing Colin Trevorrow as director of the untitled Star Wars IX film — adding his name to director Josh Trank, who was kicked off of one of the standalone prequels and "The Lego Movie" directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller who were asked to exit the completely unnecessary Han Solo prequel.
That's four directors in the span of just two years. Disney has fired more directors for these new movies than it has kept from start to finish. Now, maybe "The Lego Movie" didn't prepare Lord and Miller to direct a big-budget action movie, but Trevorrow's "Jurassic World" made $1.6 billion and revitalized a 22-year-old franchise. Seems like this guy deserves the benefit of the doubt.
So, we must pose the question: how can Disney show such wisdom with a project like "Rebels," but such foolishness with these tent pole films?
And that asks the next question, which many people have been asking for a long time: is Star Wars really that good?
Answer: yes, but mostly no.
The original Star Wars is a masterpiece of cinema, with a very simple story executed to perfection. The acting, editing, and — most importantly — John Williams' iconic score elevate the material well beyond what George Lucas could have possibly envisioned. "The Empire Strikes Back" is, without exaggeration, one of the best movies of all time — and certainly the best sequel for boosting its predecessor with excellent storytelling.
But pretty much everything in the Star Wars world since then has been copying the model of the first one — over and over again — while always falling short of the quality of the second.
"The Phantom Menace," "Revenge of the Sith," "The Force Awakens," and yes even "Return of the Jedi" all just aped the beats of the original "Star Wars," while "Attack of the Clones" (the franchise's worst installment) superficially copied "The Empire Strikes Back" in a way that feels borderline blasphemous. "Rogue One" — despite its amazing third-act battle sequence — doesn't tell its own story, and neither will the Han Solo prequel movie.
There are signs that fans should feel worried about this year's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" since even the film's director and star have encouraged fans to avoid the marketing for it. Yikes!
Now that doesn't mean that one, a lot in these movies can't still be fun and that two, I will pay money to see episode VIII at least once. But why can't the Star Wars movies be as good as stuff like "Rebels?" I think that comes back to a fundamental problem with the franchise itself.
The enduring appeal of Star Wars grew out of the side projects in the period between 1983's "Return of the Jedi" and 1999's "The Phantom Menace" — spinoffs like the aforementioned Thrawn trilogy of books, comics from Dark Horse, video games like Dark Forces and X-Wing, and yes even the "Ewoks: Battle for Endor" made-for-TV movie.
In that 16-year gap between movies, The Holy Trilogy was sacrosanct and, without Lucas' willingness to create new stories, other writers had to feed the demand. Because they weren't creating projects to compare to the original three movies, these other writers had a lot of freedom. They were under virtually no pressure — if fans liked the new books or games, that was great; if not, they didn't seem to worry about it.
But now, with billions of dollars on the line, Disney isn't about to let directors tell creative stories, which is clashing with the demand for new content. Disney wants a shared universe on the scale of the Marvel movies, but whereas Marvel has literally millions of pages of source material to draw on, Star Wars only has three very old movies for inspiration. And directors who stray from the formula get thrown in the Sarlacc Pit.
Disney is going to keep releasing one Star Wars movie every year from now on — but if stars' predictions are true, we'll never see an original idea out of them. We have everything before us, we have nothing before us.