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Why 2019 was the biggest year in Star Wars history
When it comes to the galaxy far, far away, there is naturally one year that stands above all others. Star Wars, the modern mythological legend, was introduced in 1977. The Skywalker saga unfolded in uneven spurts over the next 41 years, sequels and prequels and multimedia expansions all leading up to 2019, the biggest year in Star Wars history.
Bold declarations are not the way of the Jedi, but it was unavoidable here, an objective truth. This year's film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, served as the “finale” of the episodic Skywalker saga, a massive moment in and of itself. But as one chapter of Star Wars ended, a new one — chock-full of new adventures and new forms of entertainment — opened up.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, as well as The Mandalorian. Read at your peril.**
The run up to The Rise of Skywalker was massive in and of itself, beginning with Star Wars Celebration in April. We got the first teaser, we got the title, and we got news of an ominous return. This was the year that the Phantom Menace himself, Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) returned, and ultimately paid off years of material from books, comics, shows, and films … before he was put down for good. The Sith did not rise — a Skywalker did.
The film showed us that it doesn’t matter what blood you have, or what family you are born into. A Skywalker can become a villain, and a Palpatine can become a hero. When it comes to important moments that tie the entire saga together, look no further than almost every Jedi we’ve ever seen beckoning Rey (Daisy Ridley) to rise. Rise she did, and then she gave rest to the Skywalker twins back in the Tatooine desert.
Rey could have chosen to be a selfish, omnipotent Empress of the galaxy … but she chooses to be a Skywalker. A selfless, caring Skywalker, like Shmi before her.
2019 was not just about one movie and the buildup surrounding it, though. It was also the year that Star Wars finally made its glorious live-action transition to television via the new Disney+ streaming service, and in many ways that was a more important development.
The Mandalorian stole hearts everywhere with a first season consisting of 8 episodes, and even if not every fan liked every installment, it marked the first time since perhaps 1979 that the entire fandom agreed on something.
Find me someone who dislikes Baby Yoda, and I will show you the next Sith Emperor.
Baby Yoda — or, officially, the Child — is, for lack of a better way to say it, so hot right now. Star Wars fans agree on almost nothing, but then Baby Yoda (a child who is likely not Yoda or Yoda’s baby, but whatever) came along with a smile in his heart and a flap in his ears. He’s possibly the most adorable puppet character ever created for anything, and the galaxy loves him. I didn’t think universal love for any part of Star Wars was possible, but Baby Yoda has done it. That's not only important, it is borderline miraculous.
The series itself, I should also say, is fantastic. Jon Favreau has come to the forefront of the Star Wars galaxy as a force to be reckoned with, and he has brought George Lucas’ protege, Dave Filoni, with him. I used to consider Filoni the new hope of Star Wars storytelling, and that’s still true — the only thing that has changed is that he’s not alone. Filoni now stands beside Favreau, as well as directors Rick Famuyiwa, Bryce Dallas Howard, Taika Waititi, and most especially Deborah Chow.
2019 marked the first time that a woman has sat in the director’s chair for Star Wars, and it happened more than once. Victoria Mahoney led the charge directing the second unit on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and then Deborah Chow was in full command of Chapter 3 of The Mandalorian. Howard came next with her installment, and then Chow returned for Chapter 7. The fact that Deborah Chow will be taking the creative lead on the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series is fantastically important news.
The Mandalorian didn’t just give us an incredible Star Wars story on the small screen, it proved that such a thing could be done in the first place. Now that the concept has been proven with such a wondrous result, there is no limit to what content Disney+ can throw at us. Besides projects that we already know are coming, 2019 marked, more than anything else, the dawning of new possibilities. Though animated fare on the small screen continued to flourish with Star Wars Resistance, 2019 proved that there was an audience for live-action Star Wars on television, and a definite means to make it happen. A most important development, and most impressive as well.
There was no shortage of great books and comics this year, all of which now play a special role because everything is connected now. The GFFA doesn't just say that everything is connected — it follows through. Padme Amidala and her handmaidens (particularly Sabe) got the royal treatment in Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston, and Claudia Gray continued her winning streak with the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan prequel Master & Apprentice. Alexander Freed gave us a tale of high flying redemption with Alphabet Squadron, and Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse somehow managed to take the last few years of books and comics and give all of it a satisfying payoff.
In terms of comics, the original runs of Marvel's Star Wars and Doctor Aphra came to strong (but temporary) finishes. Both titles continued to excel, but both will have their time periods changed in the new year. Also filling out the year in comics were plenty of one-off tales in the Ages of the Republic, Rebellion, and Resistance ... and stories of both heroes and villains filled in some gaps that I, at least, was always curious about. Case in point: Snoke once took Kylo Ren to the cave on Dagobah, and Kylo saw some disturbing things within it.
With the sequel trilogy complete, the books and comics are now free to explore anything and everything that took place in that time period. It's open season on Luke Skywalker's journey from Jedi Master to bitter hermit, and likewise for the childhood/teenage years of Ben Solo. I'll eat a hat if we don't get a book about Lando and Jannah going off on a post-TROS adventure, and I'd gladly eat a hat in exchange for a book about what exactly went down with Palpatine, Rey's parents, and how one goes about growing multiple Snokes in jars.
Star Wars continued its incredible habit of weaving stories from completely different media together in the game Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order, and the game itself proved to be an important development on the gaming front. The best part of Star Wars: Battlefront II was the single-player mission and the story of Iden Versio. The rest of the game was all multiplayer, and though it's fun at times, it was Iden's story (and her connection to the rest of the galaxy) that drew me in. This year's game did away with multiplayer completely and gave us the fully in-canon story of Cal Kestis, an apprentice left astray in the wake of Order 66.
When it comes to immersive Star Wars experiences, however, perhaps nothing was more important in 2019 than the opening of Disney's massive Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge theme park addition. Whisking guests off to the fully in-universe world of Black Spire Outpost (in either L.A. or Orlando), travelers can fly the Millennium Falcon, build their own lightsaber, and, at least in the Orlando location, experience the groundbreaking Rise of the Resistance. It is, without a doubt, one of the most jaw-dropping theme park attractions that I've ever experienced.
One thing that was definitely not running short in 2019 were hot takes. More specifically, hot takes about how Star Wars is dying, getting tired, on the way out, etc. In the past week alone, I've read plenty of such pieces both online and in print, and they are all trotting out the ol' chestnuts of the box-office performance of Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story and the divisiveness caused by Star Wars: The Last Jedi (deserved or not).
The gist is always the same, because it will always get people to read: "Listen up! Star Wars is dead! Go and hate something else now!" Things with Star Wars have been divisive since 1983, so disagreement among fans is nothing new. Despite that, so many articles this past week have read like funeral notices or hospice advertisements. I'm curious if people will still be writing about it being a dark time for Star Wars after watching the episode of The Mandalorian that Taika Waititi just directed. Curious indeed.
If you want to talk about a dark time for Star Wars, then let's discuss 1990. Back then, for all I knew, there would be no more of these movies that I loved so much. The best that I could hope for was a book (Timothy Zahn got us through those years), and then West End Games published a huge series of RPG books filled with lore. I had those books and I read them, but I never played the game. It wasn't because I was some friendless nutbar, though the second part of that descriptor is true.
It was because no one else cared about Star Wars in the same way I did. No one else was passionate enough about it to want to play a game based on it. Those fans were out there, I just didn't know them.
Skip ahead in time, if you would, to just a couple of days ago when I visited Galaxy's Edge. I didn't go for any professional reason; I went because I was already going to be in the area, and I think I've made it clear that I'm a fan. Would the day after Christmas be an okay time to go? Sure, I thought. So many articles reported that the immersive world of Black Spire was often deserted. The Christmas season is always peak time for Disney, and the new ride had just opened, but Star Wars was dying, if not dead! Where's the risk?
Yeah, about that ... it bears repeating that yes, this was the day after Christmas, and yes, it is a historically busy time for Disney. That said, I took one look at the utterly overflowing-beyond-capacity Galaxy's Edge, and Star Wars has never looked more alive.
Kids of all ages, and adults too ... not all of them with kids. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and in one case just two older people by themselves. All of them, and I do mean all of them, were outfitted in some kind of Star Wars regalia. Plenty of younglings strode around the park with the telltale signs of the build-your-own-lightsaber bag, but plenty of adults had them too, and they weren't holding them for someone else. Fans from every corner of this world, of every race, and every age, mobbed every damn corner of the place. Once again, this is no small thing.
I walked around for most of the day, and I talked with a lot of these people. Were they complaining? Were they lamenting the loss of Star Wars in their lives? Were they talking about how their excitement had dimmed, or how Solo had underperformed?
What do you think? All of them, every single one, had nothing but love and excitement in their eyes when they talked about the galaxy far, far away. Whether it was the new film, Baby Yoda, or getting to pull the lever that sent the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace (my own favorite part of the day), every person in that park was happy. Everyone was feeling joy. Hot and exhausted as well, it's a theme park after all ... but they were one with the Force.
The Star Wars galaxy is changing, and 2019 marked the beginning of that change. It is not an ending — in many ways, it was the end of the beginning. The films will go off in entirely new directions now, and the only limitations placed on them will hopefully be the imaginations of the artists behind them. Television has cemented itself as an even more important medium in the mythos, and books, comics, and games proved their importance time and again.
2019 was the most important year that Star Wars has ever had because it truly showed us what this mythology was capable of, and what might be waiting on the edge of the horizon. The spark of the galaxy far, far away has not dimmed, not even a little bit. 2019 turned that spark into a raging fire, and that fire will burn with the intensity of the iconic twin suns forever.
Star Wars is dying? Please. 2019 proved that Star Wars has not even begun to show us what it can really do. The best is yet to come, and 2019 was the year in which it was born anew.