Star Wars: Looking at the History and Future of the Franchise
It seems as though Star Wars has an infinite lifetime as a franchise. Celebrating a belated May the Fourth (be with you), Cal Pull dives into a history from a galaxy far far away.
When Star Wars first hit theatres in 1977 it was a smash hit and remains the 4th highest-grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation). Now, 44 years, 5 sequels, 6 prequels and countless TV movies & mini-series’ later, it still stands out as one of the best-loved film franchises of all time.
When I was growing up, Star Wars had fallen into the basket of being a ‘nerd’ thing. But in 2021, thanks to a well-received streaming show, ‘The Mandalorian’, and a standout star in Baby Yoda, the franchise is back in front.
Even some of the biggest fans of the series don’t know the depth of the franchise: the TV Movies, short-lived miniseries’, and the downright weird spinoffs. All of which add humour and colour to the franchise.
So, let’s dive into the franchise:
The Beginning: Star Wars (1977)
After failing to secure the rights to make a film based on the sci-fi adventure series’ Flash Gordon, George Lucas decided he’d just invent his own, and set about writing a space-fantasy film. Inspired by Flash Gordon, old Knights’ and Princess tales, Kurosawa samurai movies, and the politics of the time.
After a long trek to studio funding, he made the film, which included some of the best special effects’ that still hold up today. His designs for the characters, notably Darth Vader, and the starships seen in the film have become iconic.
The Film launched the careers of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, who played Luke, Han and Leia respectively. The Film was retrospectively retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in the late 90s when the prequels films were produced.
Fun Fact: This is the only theatrical Star Wars film that doesn’t include the well-known ‘Imperial March’.
An Odd Detour: Christmas of ‘78
We don’t talk about this one, and believe me it’s even weirder to watch. The Star Wars Holiday Special is the sort of film that should be lost to time. Even stranger, they managed to get the whole cast to participate.
The End of the Beginning: 1980-83
After the success of the first film, Lucas was set to finish the story. The Empire Strikes Back, largely regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time, threw a real wrench in the gears with a revelation that even the cast didn’t know about.
Return of the Jedi then completed the original trilogy, with the redemption of a villain and the victory for the heroes.
The Quiet Years: 1983-1999
After the release of Return of the Jedi, the creative team swung back to Television films – An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle For Endor. I think these two are worth watching and are under-appreciated, although I haven’t seen them in years. They’ve both been added to Disney Plus recently, so when you’re at home bored in the break, be sure to check them out.
There was also two short-lived animated series’ titled Droids and Ewoks, based on the robotic characters, R2-D2 and C-3PO and the Ewoks of Endor respectively. I haven’t seen either, but they’ve also been added to Disney Plus recently, and might be on the list for a rainy Saturday watch. These were series’ made for young kids, and aired between 1985 and 1987
Some less than impressive Prequels: 1999-2005
1999 heralded the return of the Star Wars saga, with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It was the first film in a new trilogy, set before the original films, focusing on a young Darth Vader. The film wasn’t what we’d call a great success. It made a lot of money, but George Lucas wanted to make a film that focused too much on entertaining young kids, and not enough on satisfying the long-term fans. At least that’s what the critics believed.
In 2002 things got a little better with Attack of the Clones. It was considered an improvement over Episode I, but contains some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard. There were some cool action scenes and some cool concepts, but ultimately the film didn’t meet the standard of the original films.
One thing that the prequels always did better than the Originals, I believe, was the score. Don’t get me wrong, John Williams is always a top tier composer, but his thematic work on the music for the prequel films is some of the best in cinema history.
2005 was something of a homecoming for the saga. Revenge of the Sith was dark, yet entertaining, and the film fans had wanted. It has some of the clingiest concepts put to film, like Luke’s mother dying of heartbreak (a little bit dramatic don’t you think). But overall, it has great action, great drama, and an overall great story.
Everybody loves 3D Animation: The Clone Wars, Rebels and the 2010s.
After the success of Revenge of the Sith, Lucasfilm presented the well-regarded The Clone Wars animated series – more mature than the early series’, it remains a popular series for fans of all ages.
Following the Clone Wars were two more animated series’ based on the Rebels before the original film, and Resistance based on the rebels between Return of the Jedi, and the Sequel Trilogy.
2015-19: The Rise of Disney
In 2012 George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, who immediately began work on a series of new films. Beginning with The Force Awakens, the sequel trilogy had a strong start, but received considerable fan backlash to The Last Jedi and The Rise Of Skywalker, the latter of which was dogged by inconsistencies in the creative vision.
Disney has, however, had great success with Spin-off films – Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story were welcomed critically, and Rogue One was a financial success as well.
Disney’s biggest success by far is The Mandalorian, also known as ‘Baby Yoda Show’, which helped launch Disney Plus. The show has been a critical and commercial success, and is now launching its own spin-off – The Book Of Boba Fett.
What to Look Forward To:
May 2021 – The Bad Batch (series)
Launching today, The Bad Batch is a follow-up to The Clone Wars, and follows a team of ‘bad’ clones – deformed clones who were trained to be an elite unit.
2022 – Andor (series)
Based on the character introduced in Rogue One, Andor will follow Cassian Andor and K-2SO before the events of the film as they work to build the Rebellion.
2022 – Kenobi (Miniseries)
The series has been much-requested by the fan base, and will follow Obi-Wan Kenobi in his exile on Tatooine whilst watching over young Luke Skywalker.
2023 – Rogue Squadron (Film)
Not much is known about Rogue Squadron, but it is being brought to us by Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins.
The following haven’t been given a release year, but are in active development at Lucasfilm.
Ahsoka – Based on the character, initially introduced in The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano.
Lando – Starring Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, originally introduced in The Empire Strikes Back and portrayed by Glover in Solo.
Rangers of the New Republic – originally set to star Gina Carano before she was fired by Lucasfilm in February, the series will follow the titular Rangers and will be set after Return of the Jedi.
With so much energy left, Star Wars will continue to entertain for generations to come. Happy May the 4th, and may the Force be with you.
Feature Image by Morning Brew via Unsplashed