It’s time for the Star Wars movies to leave the Skywalker era behind for good

With eight new Marvel movies, three Avatars and the usual live-action takes on animated classics, Disney’s newly published release schedule is…  kinda busy. But even bigger news than what’s on the slate – like a new Indiana Jones adventure in July 2021 – is what isn’t. Because there won’t be a new Star Wars movie until December 2022 – and we have no idea what it’ll be when it does land.

After Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker is released at the end of this year, for the first time since Lucasfilm became part of the Disney empire back in 2012, the big screen future of that galaxy far, far away will be completely unknown. And considering we’ve got used to seeing a new Star Wars movie every year, that three-year gap is going to feel like an eternity. It’s good news for fans, however, because when even Disney CEO Bob Iger has admitted the one-a-year release strategy was "a little too much, too fast", no one can deny there’s a sense of collective Star Wars fatigue.

In the space of just four years, we’ll have seen nearly as many live-action Star Wars movies (five) as had been released in the previous four decades (six). But a bigger issue is arguably that every single one of those films has been set within a 70-year period in the Star Wars timeline, with much of the action restricted to a few core planets. All bar one (Solo: A Star Wars Story) have involved a representative of the Skywalker clan – and Han later married into the family anyway, so counts as an honorary member.

Return of the Jedi

For a franchise that constantly reminds us it’s set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….", that’s a ludicrously narrow range of time, geography and personnel. So perhaps it’s not so much about the quantity of movies as the reluctance (or maybe inability?) of Disney-era Star Wars to really spread its wings and do something new.

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(Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm)

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When J.J. Abrams made Star Wars: The Force Awakens, telling a story that borrowed heavily from the original Star Wars made perfect sense. Lucasfilm were making a statement that even if the Force had deserted the saga during the prequels, they still knew how to make a good Star Wars movie. Then Rogue One zeroed in on a couple of lines about some Death Star plans in A New Hope’s opening crawl, and expanded them into a war movie that – while unashamedly leaning into past glories – felt like nothing Star Wars had done before. Since then, however, everything’s felt restrictively bookended by Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and the latest Episode in the saga – currently Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

While continuing the saga beyond Return of the Jedi still makes sense, much of post-Disney buyout Lucasfilm’s strategy is based upon filling the gaps between movies. Everything from Darth Vader’s hunt for the kid who destroyed the first Death Star and C-3PO getting a red arm, to the origins of the Resistance and the Rebel Alliance, have been explored via in-canon comics, books, TV shows and the "Star Wars Story" standalone movies. We’re now at a point where there can’t be many stories left to tell in that space.

"The "Star Wars Story" movies are the epitome of the franchise’s current flaws"

In fact, the "Star Wars Story" movies are the epitome of the franchise’s current flaws, with their refusal to leave past glories behind. Where the brilliant Rogue One was driven by unknown (and expendable) protagonists, every other Star Wars standalone (made or mooted) has been about expanding the backstory of a popular character. At one point, Lucasfilm were reportedly lining up a Solo sequel, an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, and another focused on Boba Fett. All three characters would have been operating in a similar time-frame between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, passing through the same hives of scum and villainy (most likely on Tatooine), and effectively immortal because we know they have to appear in the original trilogy.

If all three had made it to the screen, Star Wars would have been in serious danger of eating itself, with loads of stories competing for space in the same tiny corner of the universe. Almost by definition, those stories can’t be that interesting because we already know that the key events of the Skywalker era – Republics tumbling, Death Stars exploding, er, trade disputes – happen in the nine Episodes. Hopefully those character-based standalones are a thing of the past…

A New Hope

Wherever the movies go next has to be radical, so that when Star Wars returns to cinemas in 2022 it feels fresh and new again. A big galaxy with millions of potential characters should allow filmmakers to tell any story they want, whether it’s a spy movie, a romance or even a comedy. Any film about a new "Chosen One" should be thrown out immediately. History needs to stop repeating itself.

Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy recently told The Hollywood Reporter,  "We are looking at the next saga. We are not just looking at another saga, we’re really looking at the next 10 years or more." She also revealed she’s talking about the franchise’s next step with The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, and Game of Thrones co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, all confirmed to be working on new Star Wars stories. "We’re sitting down to talk about where we go next. We’ve all had conversations about what the possibilities might be but now we’re locking it down."

Maybe those "possibilities" could involve a trip to the distant past – there are persistent rumours that the movie series from Game of Thrones season 8 show runners Benioff and Weiss will go back to the era of the Knights of the Old Republic games, set centuries before the Skywalker Saga. A Star Wars epic fantasy, with thousands of warring Jedi and Sith could be a blast, with enough distance from the Skywalker movies to give the writers complete creative freedom.

Alternatively, new movies could explore a distant future, where Jedi, Empires and Rebellions have disappeared into myth. Star Wars doesn’t need to stay hung up on the Force – it’s about aliens, strange new worlds, amazing spaceships and the feeling you really have been transported to another galaxy. Why not push the boundaries as far as they can?

If Lucasfilm are prepared to embrace the unknown, this could be the most exciting time in Star Wars’ history, a period that builds on a rich heritage and guarantees the series’ legacy for decades to come. If you’re still desperate for some Skywalker era action, you’ll be able to get your fix in the upcoming Star Wars: The Mandalorian TV show. But the movies need to leave that period behind forever.

Looking for something to do this weekend? This is how you can watch Star Wars movies online right now.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.