Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been in theaters for just over a month, but it’s theatrical run appears to be waning. Last week’s Last Jedi box office revenues slipped to around 10 percent of its blistering $220 million opening weekend — but let’s not shed tears for Disney or Lucasfilm, the movie has already earned well over $1.2 billion worldwide (and counting). Star Wars is doing just fine, and its future is bright (if a bit opaque). Solo: A Star Wars Story and Episode IX are on the horizon, and speculation is already mounting for Rian Johnson’s recently-announced, new-fangled Star Wars trilogy. For the moment, however, things are kind of quiet.
So, given this momentary window between The Last Jedi and Solo, now might be a good time to talk about the future of the franchise and what fans want and expect going forward.
Easy topic, right? Don’t fall for that old Jedi mind trick. What fans desire from their Star Wars films is a particularly prickly subject. Star Wars fans are an unusual breed, spanning at least 3 generations (the original trilogy, the prequels, and the recent sequels/anthologies — we need a better term here). Aligning expectations across forty years of fandom is no easy feat, especially given all of the various rebel-resistance-republic-rogue-empire-jedi-sith constituencies — an incomplete list, to be sure.
Let’s pose a few open-ended questions about the future of Star Wars, and see where it takes us.
Are we finally nearing the end of the Skywalker saga? Every single Star Wars film — including Rogue One — has involved one or more Skywalkers (usually more). The great Skywalker family drama continues through Kylo Ren — offspring of Han and Leia — but let’s be honest, he’s not the marrying type, and the line may end here… unless there’s another twin or nephew or third-cousin smuggling Wampas or the like along the Outer Rim (look, I’m going to cram as many Star Wars references in here as I can).
What’s the deal with the anthology films? Rogue One was something cool and different: a full-on, old school, war movie wrapped in Star Wars tunics — and fans loved it. Solo appears to be a throwback story, which lands somewhere between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Solo giving us youthful versions of Han Solo, Lando, Chewbacca, plus Woody Harrelson in space — it’s been a troubled project — fired writers, massive reshoots, budget blowouts — so it’s anyone’s guess how this one turns out. There’s also the ongoing rumors of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Boba Fett films that simply refuse to die. Anthology films are Star Wars’ secret weapons, they allow the franchise to go literally anywhere, anytime, to explore anything they want. More of these, please!
Should Rian Johnson’s new trilogy explore an era long, long ago or should he venture to a time far, far from now? I’m not suggesting that the current Star Wars timeline is played out (it’s not), but maybe take a note from Star Trek and jump ahead a few centuries (a la The Next Generation) or flash way, way back to the birth of Jedis and Siths during the Old Republic (gamers know what I’m talking about). Either direction would allow Johnson to invent new characters and conflicts without any (necessarily) connecting to the existing timeline — and that kind of shakeup can be great for the franchise (alas, this is a well one should not visit too often, as Star Trek proved with Enterprise).
Ultimately, Star Wars is a franchise of unlimited possibilities appealing to moviegoers of all ages. The recent films have re-engaged and re-energized audiences around the world (except for maybe China, who have yet to really embrace Star Wars). Lucasfilm has plenty of options: they can play it safe and keep replaying Star Wars greatest hits or they can take chances that might broaden the appeal and develop new fans — evidence suggests that it’s a bit of both. Lucasfilm has been doing Star Wars for longer than most of their audience has been alive, they know what they’ve got and (hopefully) they’ve got another generation or two in them (they do).