Star Wars’ Ever-Expanding TV Galaxy Is Too Much Star Wars

By | December 16, 2020

During last Thursday’s presentation to investors, Disney laid out its plans for various franchises, properties, and universes. Of particular curiosity was the future of the Star Wars series: After the recent disappointment of Solo, the start of a four-year feature film hiatus, and the success of The Mandalorian, development on many previous plans went quiet as new rumors began to circulate about a major shift in direction for the franchise.

Any talk about Disney pumping the brakes on Star Wars content was quelled when the company announced 10 new additions to the universe, seven live-action and three animated, all bound for Disney+. In addition to The Mandalorian‘s third season, a few series had already been announced: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, and The Bad Batch, while four shows were announced for the first time: Lando, The Acolyte, and two Mandalorian spin-offs, Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic. Then there’s Visions, a series of 10 anime shorts, and last, and definitely least, the straight-to-streaming animated feature, A Droid Story. The one bit of non-TV news came in the form of a 2023 film: Rogue Squadron, directed by Patty Jenkins. If you’re keeping score, that’s nine TV series, one TV movie, and one theatrical feature.

They say you can never have too much of a good thing, and plenty of die-hard Star Wars fans have voiced unequivocal enthusiasm for an expansion in the direction set by The Mandalorian. But for many casual fans, it’s starting to feel like Lucasfilm expects you to eat, drink, and breathe Star Wars 24 hours a day just to keep up.

Purely in terms of episode count, the upcoming Star Wars TV presence is enormous, but far from record-breaking. If The Mandalorian‘s eight-episode seasons are anything to go by, we can expect individual shows’ episode counts to be relatively small. (Andor will have 12 in its first season, while Obi-Wan Kenobi will reportedly only have four total.) From our best guesses, once the new live-action shows begin dropping in 2022, we’ll still see at maximum 40 to 50 episodes per year, across all series. That’s about one episode for each time you wash your bedsheets. (You do wash your bedsheets weekly, right?) For comparison, during Star Trek‘s prolific late-’90s period, fans enjoyed around 54 hour-long episodes per year, split between Deep Space Nine and Voyager. And in 2019 alone, The CW’s DC Comics-based Arrowverse aired a whopping 97 hour-long episodes across six connected titles. Marvel seems to be chasing that formula with its slate of Disney+ shows. So what’s wrong with applying that ultra-saturation formula to Star Wars?

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Well, for one, the above Arrowverse, Star Trek, and Marvel examples all tell stories happening within the same time period, more or less simultaneously. If you watch the episodes in the order they come out, it’s easy to comprehend how they interconnect — without even looking at Wikia! The various Star Wars series, however, will span multiple different time periods. The Acolyte takes place centuries before Episode I, while Bad Batch is set shortly after Episode III. We don’t know when the events of Lando will occur, but if it ties into the Solo movie, it would be around 10 years before Episode IV. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor are set nine years and five years before Episode IV, respectively. The Mandalorian and its spin-offs, Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic, all take place simultaneously, a few years after Episode VI. Rogue Squadron will take place in yet another time period after Episode IX. Got all that? (Let’s not even start on Visions, which will freely jump around the timeline.)

For comparison, Trekkies might try to imagine if the Original Series, The Next Generation, Enterprise, Discovery, the J.J. Abrams films, First Contact, and Picard all premiered around the same time. It would be easier to keep track of tribbles than that timeline! The 9 Star Wars shows we heard about last week are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Lucasfilm’s future plans. Not only are there still more heavily rumored shows in development (a long awaited Rebels sequel), but three of these shows are described as limited series (i.e. a one-season mini-series) and event series (a shorter but event-ier mini-series). Then there’s the TV movie A Droid’s Story, which they’ll probably end up calling an “almost series.”

If Disney+ wants to maintain a steady flow of Star Wars content, Lucasfilm will need to keep launching a stream of one-off shows indefinitely. It’s easy to imagine the cuts getting deeper and deeper: First, Yoda. Pretty soon, Thrawn. Then, before you know it, a Therm Scissorpunch event series. (Note: We legitimately want this. We know we’re part of the problem.) Not only does this create even more timeline confusion, it potentially exacerbates the dreaded backdoor pilot syndrome.

The main story of The Mandalorian Season 2 frequently grinds to a halt for episode-long side missions that look an awful lot like backdoor pilots, from Ahsoka to Bo Katan to Cobb Vanth to Boba Fett. Entire episodes sideline Baby Yoda antics in favor of introducing a new audience to side characters already established in the deeper canon, who are ripe for a spin-off series. While the first season largely felt like it was doing its own thing, Season 2 has often been hamstrung in service of the franchise’s IP overlords. If the Star Wars TV universe continues expanding, we could expect a never-ending diet of backdoor pilot episodes constantly threatening to derail the story.

But the Star Wars TV universe could do its own thing! (To give credit where credit is due, The Acolyte is poised to do exactly that.) Yet, it’s clear that Disney and Lucasfilm’s primary goal is to milk the IP it paid $4 billion for, even if it means ignoring the most fundamental facts of the universe. Nowhere is this more worrisome than in the news that Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) will return for Obi-Wan Kenobi, which Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy promises “will be the rematch of the century.” 

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Rematch of the century? Wasn’t the duel between Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) and Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) in A New Hope the official rematch? We’re about as emotionally invested in this battle as we are for the outcome of a rematch between Tom and Jerry. The dramatic power of the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope wasn’t captured in their fancy clashing of blades but in the weight of a shared history, the revelation that two old friends were reuniting after a tragic betrayal decades prior. Obi-Wan was, for the first time, witnessing the horror of what his pupil had become — a “master of evil.” Vader tells Kenobi, “We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” That moment is foreshadowed in the prequel Revenge of the Sith when Anakin says, “Don’t make me destroy you, Master” — shortly before Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) turns him into a toasted raisin. George Lucas made it crystal clear: The Death Star was the first reunion of these two characters since the High Ground of Mustafar. 

Now with (at least) one more reunion in the intervening years, what will Lucasfilm do to preserve continuity? Maybe a defeated Vader ends the duel by saying something like, “Well, Obi-Wan, I guess this confirms you’re still the master and I’m still the learner. I’ll get you next time!” Maybe they shop at the same grocery store, and each time they bump into each other Vader says, “I sense something, a presence I’ve not felt since… last week.”

The more Star Wars retreads the same ground — repeating the same characters, planets, and conflicts — the smaller the universe feels. And “adding to” these original stories actually means taking away from them, contradicting narratives that were told with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. In the canonical Marvel Comics, this is modus operandi. Did you know that shortly after the events of A New Hope, but before Empire Strikes Back, Luke dueled lightsabers with Darth Vader? That happened! So when Luke fights Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s already round two. The low readership of comics means moments like this are ignored by the majority of the Star Wars audience, even if they are official canon. However, now that the immediate future of Star Wars is TV series for the massive Disney+ audience, it’ll be a lot harder to ignore these sorts of cheap deja vu moments. Remember how you cringed in Solo when you heard Han (Alden Ehrenreich) casually reuse (or pre-use?) his iconic “I know” line? Prepare yourself for more of that.

Star Wars is best when it’s weird and new. From the first time we set foot in the cantina, with the palpable sense that every background traveler had their own backstory, to Luke’s thala-siren milk in The Last Jedi, the franchise thrives on moments that focus not on answering old questions, but on presenting new ones. There’s nothing wrong with the countless books, comics, manuals, and guides to the Star Wars universe that reveal how every person in the bar had gone on some journey just as fantastical as Luke’s, but the Lucas’s cinematic approach was built on the idea of creating and preserving negative space for our imaginations to fill in, whereas Disney-era Lucasfilm is obsessively packing that negative space like a hoarder. 

Baby Yoda (stop trying to make Grogu happen) is great. He’s mysterious and cute and lovable and that’s everything he needs to be. All we really want is to watch Mando (Pedro Pascal) take him on adventures and learn to be a good dad, yet more and more, Baby Yoda’s story has been derailed in favor of explaining the backstory for a character that was on screen for less than 10 minutes. Apparently, the Imperial remnant needed Baby Yoda’s Midichlorians to help make Snoke clones for the resurrected Emperor Palpatine — lest we forget, Midichlorians are the microscopic creatures that live in one’s blood and make one Force sensitive — and now this backstory-clutter has kidnapped Baby Yoda out of his own show: He didn’t appear once in the most recent episode, “Chapter 15: The Believer.”

Star Wars can be a launchpad to spark countless fantasies. But this high-volume rehash mandate could make the Star Wars universe as familiar as your backyard. Do we need an explanation for everything? Lucas was much derided for introducing Midichlorians, his infamous over-explanation of the Force, and their reintroduction in The Mandalorian feels like the canary in the coal mine. The infamous days of deciphering every mystery have returned with a vengeance, and fans are eating it up… for now. But not even the Sarlaac could hold Boba Fett down for long.

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