In defense of standalone Star Wars stories

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Feb 21, 2018, 6:00 PM EST

When you think of Star Wars, what comes to mind first? Among the characters who have achieved household-name status and the quotes that everyone can recite at a moment’s notice, there’s the static blue copy which opens every film: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

If that’s to be believed without question, then it connects to the impression that the universe in which Star Wars takes place never feels that far off from our own place, our own time. It resembles both our past and our semi-distant future, both in the fictional people whose stories are told and the conflicts that arise in the telling of them. Since the beginning, those stories have mostly revolved around a specific group of people. There’s a reason that the majority of Star Wars films are referred to as the “Skywalker saga;” they follow the lineage of the Skywalker family that starts with Anakin and has concluded, as of now, with his twin children Luke and Leia. Now that Luke has passed on and Leia, as far as we know, has concluded her story as well - the franchise needs to pass the torch (or the lightsaber, more accurately) to a new group of heroes. Maybe that should also mean a change-up in the format of the storytelling itself.

Within the episodic movies, the team behind Star Wars have also begun releasing more self-contained films. Billed as “A Star Wars Story,” these installments are set within the overall timeline of the Star Wars galaxy but take place at the edges of the bigger story, featuring characters who are either background or supporting - or, in some cases, brand new additions to an already expansive universe. Rogue One told of the small group of Rebels who had stolen the Death Star plans, something that had only been touched on briefly via dialogue in previous films. In this year’s Solo, we’ll finally get the opportunity to follow the adventures of a young Han Solo and Chewbacca - as well as potentially learn the answers to several more unanswered questions. How did the Millennium Falcon make it through the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, as an older Han references in A New Hope? How did Lando lose the Falcon to Han in the first place, as mentioned in Empire Strikes Back? Not all of the narrative gaps necessarily need to be filled, of course, but it is exciting to speculate over what will be revealed and what will remain a mystery.

Even in the Star Wars Stories that we know of, though, there still seems to be a tendency to find some small way to link them to the Skywalkers. Rogue One featured a lot more cameos than may have been really necessary, from Bail Organa and Mon Mothma as leaders of the Rebellion, to Vader's hiding in plain sight on Mustafar, to the CGI that created new performances for Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Princess Leia. In spite of the fact that the main group of Rebels was in no way related to the characters in the episodic movies, it felt as if the minds behind the story were afraid to truly let Rogue One stand on its own, separate from any Skywalker interference. While Solo likely won’t feature similar appearances, given that it takes place much earlier in Han Solo’s lifetime, it also wouldn’t be surprising if the movie managed to hint at those destined connections in some shape or form.

In terms of future films, maybe it’s time for Star Wars to move beyond the traditional arrangement of trilogies - and move on to telling stories about the types of characters that fans have never encountered before on the big screen. Other mediums have already progressed in this area - from TV shows to books to comics to video games - all of which have diversified the universe even further than the scope of the feature-length movies. The main character of Star Wars Battlefront II’s story mode isn’t a Skywalker or a Solo - it’s Iden Versio, the leader of a special forces unit called Inferno Squad, who is later forced to reckon with her Imperial ties after the destruction of the second Death Star on Endor. Eventually, she defects to the Rebellion and fights for her former enemy underneath leaders like General Leia Organa - who does appear, but mostly on the sidelines (as do Han, Luke and Lando). The recently added chapters of the Star Wars Battlefront II: Resurrection DLC are brief in comparison to the main game, but focus more on an older Iden and her relationship with her daughter Zay as they fight to avenge husband and father Del.

Versio's story has also been told in book form, via Christie Golden's Inferno Squad. Other novels revolve around those who inhabit the same world and fight the same battles but whose paths rarely cross with a big name, such as conflicted childhood lovers Thane and Ciena in Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars. In the comics, fan favorite Doctor Chelli Lona Aphra is first introduced as an ally to Darth Vader - but her later exploits in her own stories have evolved her outside of her relationship to one of the franchise’s biggest villains. Star Wars Rebels is a wealth of new Force users, pilots, droids, worlds and more, telling daring stories in animated form long before The Last Jedi shook things up on the silver screen.

The promise from Lucasfilm at the end of last year was that its latest trilogy, to be helmed by The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, would “introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored." In some ways, this is a reassuring move. It’s a sign that LFL believes in Johnson’s vision enough, polarizing fan reactions aside, to hand over the reins to not just one but three more films. And the fact that it will focus on entirely different characters we’ve never really delved into is also promising. But, after these movies are over and done with, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Star Wars to continue with the pre-existing trilogy formula. Standalone stories are relatively new when you consider the scope of the entire franchise, but it is possible for an equally compelling narrative to be told within the timeframe of one movie. Rogue One was proof enough of that, though the jury is still technically out on Solo as of this writing. If making more of these “Star Wars Stories” could accomplish anything, though, it’s directing new focus towards people at the fringes of the galaxy rather than those that have been at the heart of it - the kinds of characters who are typically relegated to those books and comics rather than the feature films. Star Wars has the potential to shift the center of its universe even more than it already has, so the only question now is: when will it let go of the past?

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