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A year after The Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars fandom creators take the reins
To say it's been "a year" since the last installment of the Skywalker Saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, was released on Dec. 20, 2019 is more than an understatement. Usually, the year following a major cinematic release is one of contemplation, conversation, and assessments among the myriad of other things that fill our lives and brains day-to-day. But in the past 365 days, the sequel trilogy has come up a lot online, especially on Twitter where all three films — The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker — have become global trending topics, sometimes out of nowhere, like our cumulative pop culture hive mind spits one out of the collective consciousness and demands that we ruminate on them again.
But The Rise of Skywalker seemingly holds more weight in that ongoing conversation, perhaps because it closed out 42 years of Star Wars mythology on the big screen. The Mandalorian on Disney+ is likely nudging on that narrative, especially in today's Season 2 finale, but in terms of what has driven us to the cinema since 1977, this last movie marked the end of an era.
And thus, when the fandom knows that what comes next for Rey, Finn, Poe, Ben Solo, and Rose Tico, among others, could be a long, long way away, or maybe never again, that inspires the fandom to take up the narrative "what if" mantle themselves. And considering that The Rise of Skywalker was the least critically lauded and audience loved of the sequel trilogy, there's some disappointments to make right too.
As is often the case with passionate fanbases, from disappointment comes a wellspring of creativity and output. And 2020 was one hell of a busy year for Star Wars fans. In the fanfiction realm, the Archive of Our Own website currently tallies 61,477 works (and growing) taking place in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy mythology. Instagram currently has over 20K posts under the #StarWarsSequel hashtag, many featuring manipulations and original artwork portraying scenes and characters from the sequel films. Think about that… the sheer volume of "for free" work created just to share with other fans.
In regards to The Rise of Skywalker, this particular cottage industry has evolved so massively because just three months after the film's release (and controversial reception), humanity entered into the shared global quarantine of 2020. Ambitious fans suddenly had even more time to just think about the film and, in turn, created their own stories fleshing out the backstories they imagined for the sequel characters, charting out how they would have liked to see The Rise of Skywalker narrative end, or just imagining how it all would (or should) continue into the future.
Even official mythology creators, like bestselling Star Wars novelist and comic book author Charles Soule and artist Will Sliney, added to the ecosystem for charity. On June 27, Soule released a fan-chosen, non-canon story, "The First Lesson," about Ben Solo's childhood that raised $11,125 for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), which supports independent bookstores.
Soule told SYFY WIRE at the time that he was blown away by the response from the fandom, not only for rallying that kind of money during a pandemic, but also for how much passion it showed for the character himself. As the only author to have substantially written about the character in canon for the bestselling The Rise of Kylo Ren comic, he said he felt the weight of giving the fandom something worthy. "I didn't want to write anything that would step on the toes, but I wanted to make sure that whatever I wrote would leave lots of room for other stories to be told about Ben Solo in the future within canon, without canon, whatever," he said. "I really wanted to just try to write a great, fun story about Ben in a way that made me feel good, made Will feel good, and would give people who read it the good feeling that the best storytelling does."
And that sentiment is echoed in much of the fan-created works as well. SYFY WIRE spoke to several creators in the Star Wars corners of the internet who also felt the same kind of need to continue the storytelling around the sequel characters. All do it for their own personal reasons, but the abiding throughline is that they love Star Wars. For some, maybe not as much as they once did, but some part of the mythology grabbed them so deeply, they had to make some of it their own…
Released on May 28, 2020, Brooklyn, New York-based illustrator and concept artist Roberto Venegas' digital graphic novel continues from where TROS left off. Motivated by his love for the sequel characters, he tells SYFY WIRE how the project idea came about. "I wasn't ready to say goodbye yet. ... I felt there was more for them to do. Especially with Ben, I think there is complexity and potential to tell interesting stories with his character. How would he deal with his past actions and how would he atone in the eyes of others?"
And his medium also lends itself to creating a moment Venegas particularly wanted to see in TROS. "The heart of this story is one that we couldn't get in the film due to what I believe was Carrie Fisher's passing," he says. "Having a moment with Leia and Ben was the driving force behind me finishing this comic; having an intimate moment between mother and son I felt was missing in TROS."
The story also pushed Venegas' own skill sets. "I haven't done a comic before and I was curious to see what I was capable of doing. Dyad was an opportunity for me to improve as an artist and storyteller. From planning it, to actually writing it, it was all new to me and part of the fun. I just jumped in and hoped for the best. It was a little scary to be honest, so it felt wonderful to see people have such a positive reaction to it. I loved seeing people commenting on their favorite moments and loved reading about the unexpected emotions they felt while reading my comic. It made the five months of work worth it."
As a fan of Star Wars since childhood, Okiro, a professional editor and filmmaker, tells SYFY WIRE that his video rewrite of the sequel trilogy was motivated by feeling like TROS fans weren't "arguing over where they thought, or wanted, the story of the sequels to go, but arguing because the fandom had now been thrown into intense factions that wanted to be validated no matter the cost. I think something worse than a fan being angry, no matter how reasonable or unreasonable, is a fan who just no longer cares about where the story goes, and I think that is my motivation in general for doing this rewrite."
And as a Black Star Wars fan, Okiro says this project is partly a "fix-it" in response to the lost potential of Finn's arc. "There was addressing John Boyega's confession of being sidelined in the sequel trilogy and the trajectory of his character Finn being dictated by his race instead of his character," he explains. "The only touch I wanted to personally give to this rewrite was a story that dealt with these characters so many fans loved while just trying to address some clear problems that fans, actors, and creators involved with the trilogy have expressed as well."
Releasing in segments on YouTube, Okiro says he's gotten great feedback. "Fans of the sequels like that I'm trying to make a story for these new characters they have grown to care for like Rey, Finn, and Kylo and fans of the OT, PT, and Legends. In just the first two videos covering the rewrite, I've included things from Kotor 1 & 2 while acknowledging the impact of the prequels and originals. So I'm hoping I can exceed their expectations, even if my main focus is just to tell a story for fun."
Okiro's ultimate goal is to finish Shadows of the Force, with various artists like @ArtfullyElyse and @cbulletart. He also plans rewrites to TLJ, titled "The Lost Heir," and a rewrite to TROS, titled "Guardians of the Whill."
The most organized animation project in the fan realm, Kylo Ren: Blood of Vader has been in the works since a few months before the release of TROS. Led by writer Tom Carver, animator, Alexander Turner, director, Austin SWE, and executive producers Hunter Radesi and Sheila (Stan) Freguela, the project plans to release five episodes of Blood of Vader over the next three years, starting with episode one "Ashes of the Empire" releasing in the first half of 2021. Each episode will be around 15 minutes long and feature 19 voice actors playing 22 different characters.
SWE tells SYFY WIRE that the project is focused on Ben Solo, and was born from the team's belief that "Ben's ending didn't line up with what they had been leading up to in [Episode] VII, and especially VIII." The story has evolved in the last year, but SWE says, "Besides being a fun adventure for Star Wars fans, it will also serve the purpose of filling in some gaps to make Ben's journey in the sequels less chaotic, and will make things make more sense in the bigger picture."
And while there may be disappointment in how the films played out, SWE reiterates, "Our team has taken the negative energy we have towards it, and made something positive out of it. I like to think Star Wars fans make the best content, because it is easy to immerse yourself in the mythology of it all, when you've done so already without creating something."
An artist and lifelong fan of Star Wars, Kasiopea (the artist's handle name) admits to SYFY WIRE she looks at TROS as a severe disappointment which prompted her to create an ongoing digital comic "to express what TROS lacked — a happy ending, the triumph of love, forgiveness, redemption, and atonement."
Released in installments on Tumblr, Kasiopea creates bespoke frames of original art using actor reference images, or pausing the films. "It usually takes one to three days to paint one panel. Sometimes even longer, when characters don't want to cooperate or I'm not happy with the result."
Posting throughout 2020, the artist said her feedback has been 90 percent positive. "I'm getting hundreds of messages with every single post. People are writing to me that my comic is helping them to heal after TROS trauma. I'm so happy to read this, it means a lot to me. Of course there are haters also, I'm getting death threats from 'true Star Wars fans' as they call themselves (death threats because I dared to defend Rian Johnson). But it's everyday life in fandom for every Reylo since TFA. We are used to it, we block 'the true fans' and continue our projects. Because we are saving what we love."
An artist and Star Wars fan, Louisa Roy also posts her comics on Tumblr. A comic creator for years, she tells SYFY WIRE, "In general, this is a hobby for me. Some people golf, some people run marathons, I draw comics. But there's so much more to it than that. I have been lucky in that I've had the spare time and money to invest in my hobby. And most importantly, I've been supported a lot not just by my family and friends, but by other fans, many I've never met in person. For all that we talk about the angry Star Wars fan, there are a lot of thoughtful, beautiful human beings in the Star Wars fandom and these fans have made loving and supporting spaces on the internet."
She also praises the depth and breadth of what the Star Wars fandom has created in this last year, and adds some general advice: "I would hope a lot of content creators would look at 2019 and 2020 and think to themselves, 'Maybe we need more hopeful media where characters don't feel so expendable and where death feels so cheap.' It could be like a challenge: Don't Kill Off Any Character Writers Challenge. Focus on keeping your characters alive and actually doing things. That would be my hope."
(Thanks to @balancedpadawan for her help in fandom outreach.)