The first rumor about a standalone Star Wars movie pitched a Zack Snyder-led riff on the Kurosawa classic Seven Samurai. I've always felt that the best way to handle the Star Wars franchise going forward was to hire a few truly bold filmmakers and give them free reign to discover new worlds in that galaxy far, far away, set apart from the drama of the Skywalker clan. The idea of some kind of "Seven Jedi" adventure certainly sounded exciting but, more importantly, it sounded interesting.
The story was denied within a matter of hours, only to be replaced weeks later with rumors of a movie focused on Yoda. I didn't take that bait, hoping that the story would be similarly denied before long. I had little desire for movies focused on already familiar characters. That's (one of many places) where the prequel trilogy went wrong. Give me new characters, new worlds, new adventures!
So of course yesterday Entertainment Weekly ran a story that Disney is developing movies about the bounty hunting tales of Boba Fett as well as the adventures of a young Han Solo.
I don't envy whoever's job it's going to be to cast a young Harrison Ford, let alone the actor (i.e. Chris Pine 2.0) who has to spend 100+ minutes working under Ford's formidable shadow. Fett is basically the personification of "less is more," although at least there's the possibility for a silver lining there: Joe Johnston, the guy who designed both Boba Fett's armor and the Millenium Falcon, has wanted to make a Fett movie for decades, so maybe after the success of Captain America, Disney will give him a shot. While there's been no official response from the Mouse House, CEO Bob Iger did confirm to CNBC that the studio is actively developing standalone films to be released concurrently with the new trilogy and that Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg have been hired as writers, although nobody knows if they're working on Fett, Solo, Yoda or something completely different.
This direction is disappointing on every level. Movies detailing the prior adventures of established characters...am I crazy or are we basically talking about a new set of prequels?. There was a very early story that Disney was looking to bring back Darth Vader, a concept that made no sense in the context of a new trilogy. Now it's becoming clearer. Vader's presence in a movie about Fett or Solo feels like a no-brainer, as does the merchandising goldmine if Vader is still an active and relevant part of what's destined to become Disney's most lucrative property. Combine that with the prospect of getting a new feature film literally every year for six or seven years and Disney's road map for the Star Wars franchise is starting to feel more and more like a simple and craven money grab.
I hope I'm wrong about all of this, but I don't think I am. Scripts evaporate, deals fall apart...even if these movies are currently in active development there's no guarantee they'll actually get made. I'm more concerned about the pattern that's emerging. The beauty of Star Wars is that it essentially has limitless untapped potential. George Lucas built a huge sandbox, and then literally wrote himself into one small corner of it. Disney backed up a Brinks truck to acquire Star Wars from the clutches of George Lucas, and I understand that they want to make sure they recoup and profit on that investment, but the third trilogy alone should more than refill their coffers. While Episodes 7-9 will almost surely focus on stuff like Han and Leia's kids and/or the elder Luke's new Jedi apprentice, (I bet he's got a dark side!) these standalone films create a tremendous opportunity to branch out and tell provocative new tales. Instead it feels as if Disney's willing to squander that opportunity in order to build a more marketable theme park ride.
Please Disney, I promise you're going to make your money back and then some. Forget about selling toys and instead focus on storytelling. After all, that's the reason we fell in love with Star Wars in the first place.
Now is not the time to play it safe. Now is the time for fearless exploration.
Now is the time to be bold.