It's been about a week since Marvel Studios' momentous presentation at San Diego Comic-Con, and fan fervor has yet to settle. The MCU faithful likely won't be coming down from the convention high any time soon, either, as Marvel gave them three years' worth of entertainment to look forward to. Company head Kevin Feige took to the stage and unveiled huge plans for the entirety of the MCU's Phases 4 and 5, along with a tease of what's to come in Phase 6 - including two Avengers titles.
The event was a rousing success for Marvel, outdoing themselves yet again to keep fans happy. With dozens of projects marked on the calendar (and more announcements surely on the way at September's D23 convention), MCU diehards will have their fix through at least 2025 - and almost certainly beyond.
As a Star Wars fan, it's hard not to be a little jealous. Output from the galaxy far, far away is a far cry from the well-oiled machine that's Marvel Studios. Lucasfilm projects under the Disney umbrella have been riddled with production issues from the beginning, and reception to the stories that have seen the light of day ranges from high praise to passionate vitriol.
It was only a few months ago that Lucasfilm had the chance to pull off their own Hall H event in the form of Star Wars Celebration. The weekend was fun, and more than a little exhausting, but there was a notable lack of special reveals that many had hoped for. Fans expecting big news out of the Lucasfilm Studio Showcase were left disappointed when Willow and Indiana Jones 5 received just as much, if not more, attention than Star Wars.
Ironically, the only announcement the company had for Indy was dragging Harrison Ford out to reveal the release date, which will presumably stick after a series of set backs and delays. Obi-Wan Kenobi was naturally highlighted while understandably glossed over, as it was set to premiere that night - and Lucasfilm delivered an epic experience for those in the room.
That left Andor and a brief check-in with the Mando crew to do the rest of the talking, with Skeleton Crew being the only new project announced. John Williams was hauled onstage to conduct a few pieces (including the new Kenobi theme), but in hindsight, The Maestro's appearance was more of a dog and pony show to distract from the lack of substance the panel had to offer, than anything.
In short, an entire weekend devoted to Star Wars was put to shame by Marvel Studios in an hour-long presentation. Anyone hoping to be wowed by the future of the galaxy far, far away instead spent their time browsing the exhibit hall, dropping $8 on hot dogs and packaged brownies. The MCU is unquestionably the most popular franchise in the world now, easily surpassing the title once held by Star Wars. General apathy and disinterest should be just as concerning to Lucasfilm as disappointment, and the company has to find a way to bring Star Wars back into the spotlight.
As Marvel Studios has demonstrated, it's not particularly hard - specifically when the groundwork already exists. Comic-Con was a triumph for the MCU, and hopefully, Lucasfilm and Disney executives were taking notes. There are three key takeaways from Marvel's Hall H triumph, and, if followed in at least a broad manner, Lucasfilm can craft a blueprint that will allow Star Wars to dominate once more.
Having a Plan
The age-old problem for Disney Star Wars: they've been winging it since the ink dried on the contract finalizing the Lucasfilm sale. It was fairly evident after The Last Jedi released and abandoned several storylines set up by The Force Awakens. For those unconvinced, it became blatantly obvious when The Rise of Skywalker steered away from its predecessor and retconned the entire saga. If that evidence wasn't enough, JJ Abrams' admission that a lack of a plan was the wrong approach for the sequel trilogy puts the nail in the coffin.
While it's unfortunate that Abrams, in his infinite wisdom, can't go back in time and work with Rian Johnson and the then-unfired Colin Trevorrow to map out the trilogy before filming a single frame of Episode VII, conceivably Lucasfilm would learn from the mistake. Forget the unfathomable story and character decisions made across the trilogy - the failure to maintain a coherent narrative across three films is surely something no production company wants to repeat.
Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy announced in 2019 that Star Wars would be taking a hiatus from releasing films for a short period following Episode IX, allegedly because the box office bomb for Solo should be attributed to "oversaturation". It's now mid-2022, and there's still no clear indication of what direction the franchise will be taking. Outside of the MandoVerse, the projects landing on Disney+ have been unrelated and stuck in the same era, with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, and The Bad Batch serving as the most recent examples.
When the Skywalker Saga concluded, the natural assumption was that Lucasfilm would begin exploring a different time period for the next wave of films. Set in the distant past or far into the future, the window would be open for storytelling less restricted by the fleshed-out 70 years that fans know best. Supposedly there's a roadmap for what's to come, but there doesn't seem to be many people privy to it (assuming it exists).
Marvel Studios has pulled it off once already with the Infinity Saga, telling a massive, interconnected story that culminated in Avengers: Endgame. As was revealed at Comic-Con, they're in the thick of doing it again by way of the Multiverse Saga - and Kevin Feige is already thinking beyond those stories, too. There's plenty of source material for Marvel to refer to, and it helps to know that there's an army of customers ready to line up on opening night, but having years' worth of TV series and theatrical films planned and scheduled inspires a great deal of confidence in those working on the projects and paying to consume them.
Such a concept isn't even an anomaly for Star Wars. George Lucas has altered a few details about how much he had mapped out in advance over the years, but the overall format of multiple trilogies completing a saga has been there since the early 70s. At one point, Lucas planned on making 12 Star Wars movies, then he later cut it down to nine and, eventually, six. The original trilogy was always meant to be Luke Skywalker's Hero's Journey, culminating in him becoming a Jedi Knight. The prequel trilogy had seeds planted decades in advance, and the story was mapped out far more by Lucas than many tend to realize - something that both the Duel of the Fates and Yoda's speech to a young Anakin Skywalker highlight.
If Star Wars is ever going to be a big deal again, in ways that elevate the franchise beyond tapping into nostalgia and moves things forward in genuinely new directions, there needs to be a massive white board at Lucasfilm that plots everything out. This may not mean that every script for each project is done and finalized, as stories evolve during the creative process, but a starting and finishing point to aim for that will give the company a goal to reach and something for audiences to anticipate.
Executing the Plan
The next step in the equation is actually seeing the plan through. It's fun to have a flurry of announcements, but ultimately pointless if the projects in question never get made. The closest thing Star Wars fans have had to a Hall H-style event was the Disney Investor's Day presentation in December 2020 via live-stream - and a number of the projects announced are already in trouble. Rangers of the New Republic has been canceled, Lando could be years away depending on Donald Glover's availability and interest, and Patty Jenkins' Rogue Squadron is less likely to be made with each passing day.
At the moment, the MandoVerse is the only area of visual Star Wars media that seems to have a plan, though how much of a blueprint exists is up for debate. There certainly seems to be an end game in mind for Din Djarin and Grogu, like there has been from the start. The same can be said for everything revolving around Mandalore, as well. The Book of Boba Fett, however, was largely aimless and served more as a partial season of The Mandalorian than it did as its own story doing something unique with the titular character, even if the premise was there.
If the rumors are true, The Mandalorian's overall storyline won't be concluding until 2027, so there's still a ways to go. The jury is still out on how Ahsoka will do, and Skeleton Crew has too broad a premise to even consider how it fits into the narrative overall. Presumably Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni know where everything is going, though, if there's already an ending in sight (albeit five years down the road). It's similar to what the MCU has done on a smaller scale, and the formula has almost single-handedly kept people interested in Star Wars.
Regardless, fans can rest assured that the MandoVerse will be seen through to completion. The upcoming Andor series should be a similar case, and it's hard to screw up a two-season project spearheaded by one of the biggest writers in the industry. Leslye Headland's The Acolyte is likely in a similar boat, though the show's specifics and quantity of seasons remain a mystery. It's getting made, which is a win on its own, and hopefully Amandla Stenberg delivers a character who can rival some of the other dark side greats.
All of these planned shows are great, and it's fantastic that Lucasfilm is giving them shots, but there's one consistent problem: they're relatively small undertakings that individual teams work on separately. They don't fit into a bigger picture; presently, there doesn't even appear to be a bigger picture. It's not a major commitment to greenlight fairly low budget shows when they're just filling up random spaces on the calendar, expanding the franchise in more subtle ways.
Star Wars is a movie franchise, first and foremost. It always has been and always will be. The most significant developments for the franchise are reserved for the big screen, and every other format of storytelling relies on the films to provide material to build on. It's a bit difficult to tackle new territories in significant ways if there's nothing to work with, though.
Kathleen Kennedy is well aware of the importance theatrical releases hold, but for some reason, things aren't moving along.
Rogue Squadron is probably toast, and Taika Waititi's film is supposedly next, though there have been mixed messages on the development and release window of the project. Kevin Feige's movie will happen sometime, but he's busy dealing with 30 other stories over on the Marvel end of things. And those three films are what presumably were going to fill the 2023, 2025, and 2027 Christmas slots on Disney's slate for Star Wars. The dates aren't looking too good.
There have been a number of situations that saw filmmakers brought in for larger projects that have been canceled early into development, as well. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were brought in to develop an entire series of Star Wars, but they were subsequently fired. Rian Johnson's trilogy remains in the "we're talking about it" phase five years after it was announced, and though Kennedy said it's still on the table, it's doubtful the project ever happens (and that may be for the best). J.D. Dillard was supposedly attached to a Star Wars project as well, but... crickets.
This isn't a campaign for Nike, but they've got it right: just do it. If years of time are going to be spent exploring ideas, then pursue them. Some will argue that it's good that projects are shelved before they can become problematic, but nearly every one released has had issues anyway. There's a serious issue at hand if every person brought in to spearhead a Star Wars movie can't tell a decent story or walks the production directly into disaster.
Kennedy has had a fascinating issue in struggling to find people willing to commit to Star Wars movies. In what world is making a Star Wars film something that so many writers and directors are unwilling to do? Sure, the fans could have something to do with it. Maybe the optics and industry talk of previous productions play a role, too. But the Vegas odds would be pretty high on the lack of structure and willingness to support a plan on Lucasfilm's end being the strongest motivators to steer clear.
It's a concern when the publishing department is more organized than the visual media front, and that's not a knock on the High Republic books by any means. If anything, that's a model the rest of the company should be following. The concept is derivative of how the MCU approaches its phases of storytelling, and to this point it's worked.
There's a lack of confidence at Lucasfilm to dive into unknown waters. What the MCU is doing is impressive in how Feige's plans are seen through, and the projects are generally delivered on schedule. This isn't an argument for Lucasfilm to follow Marvel's approach to the letter, though. Star Wars, when done right, is special and has a unique feel. There's a magic to it. Much of the MCU is formulaic, a template of narrative beats, CG fights, and cheesy humor that move a character or story from A to B. No one wants to watch the same Star Wars movie over and over again (though Empire and Revenge of the Sith are still pretty damn good). Just settle on a path to follow, plot it out, take the time to nail the story, and move forward with it.
Improving Fan Engagement
One of the most notable and disappointing drop-offs from Lucasfilm has been how the company engages with its fans. George Lucas was very open with the supporters of his franchise; he released regular updates on the productions of the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars, giving fans an inside look at his process while doing so. The fans gave to him, and he gave so much more in return.
Since the Disney acquisition, everything has been extremely secretive. It's fair to hold off on showing too much - part of the fun is being surprised by what happens in a story. But Lucasfilm has an incredible way of telling fans absolutely nothing about an upcoming release, to the point where it sneaks up on the calendar, and it's suddenly here without fanfare. A huge fanbase dying to get excited for something is stuck in long droughts and gets to eat when something comes out, then back to being hungry for a while without any updates on what's next.
Interestingly, this wasn't always quite the case in the new era. The marketing campaigns for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi were perfect. Expect a teaser around the spring during Celebration, wait a bit until the fall, and floodgates open with Monday Night Football trailers, TV spots, magazine features, and massive Force Friday merchandise drops. By the time December came along, fans were counting down the days and had their tickets months in advance.
For some unknown reason, everything changed with Solo. The marketing was botched six ways to Sunday - the real reason the movie bombed, though Kennedy and Bob Iger have assigned blame to other non-issues. Ideally, the film should have been pushed to a December release; it was doomed to fail in its release slot, as well. The Rise of Skywalker had an equally abysmal promotional effort, rivaled only by the atrocious film itself. Triple Force Friday was a joke, and aside from a vague teaser and trailer, little else was shared up front (except Palpatine's message in Fortnite...).
Lucasfilm's fan engagement still stinks three years later. The Disney+ shows generally get about a month's worth of promotion. This might work for Marvel, but the MCU is also pumping out endless streams of content; Star Wars basically has nothing until there's something. Obi-Wan Kenobi should have been a huge deal. The return of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen? Get the word out everywhere. Treat it like a movie; or make it a movie, then market it like one. A few TV spots during the NBA Finals didn't do the trick.
The streaming numbers for Disney+ still looked pretty good, and ultimately, Disney doesn't care about selling a product to people who are already going to see it. But it's easy to imagine how many more people would have dropped everything to watch Kenobi if it were treated like the event it deserved to be. The premiere it received at Celebration was a blast, and it's a bummer that so many fans weren't able to see the first two episodes in a similar environment.
It should come as no surprise that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were the two creators met with the most thunderous applause all weekend at Celebration. They've created a story in a small pocket of the timeline that fans love, giving them what they want in surprising ways that remain loyal to George Lucas' vision and maintain suspense. The Mando+ panel was electric, and the boys delivered. Seeing the cast was cool. Grogu's cameo was even cooler. The extended trailer for The Mandalorian Season 3 and a teaser for Ahsoka blew the roof off.
The best thing they did? Favreau and Filoni had damn near every costume in the MandoVerse (that's been seen onscreen so far, at least) packed up with countless props and set pieces and put on display at the convention. "The Mandalorian Experience" was by far the coolest thing at Celebration, a love-letter from the series' creators to their passionate fans. It felt exactly like something Lucas would do, and there were undoubtedly kids walking through the exhibit who will end up making Star Wars projects in the future because of it.
Speaking of Filoni - the guy is a superstar. Every time he walked onto a stage, be it for Mando, Tales of the Jedi, a brief introduction for The Bad Batch team, or a short Q&A after The Clone Wars finale's screening, people in the room went wild. Dave Filoni has treated Star Wars fans so well for over 15 years, sharing so much about his creative process. It helps that he's created some of the most beloved shows as well, and he always knows to come with surprises in hand to an event.
It's essentially what happens when Feige takes the Hall H stage, but for individual projects as opposed to massive unveilings. If Lucasfilm can get it together on the film front and incorporate that into their streaming efforts, fans will be elated. Do a massive reveal akin to the MCU events, get everybody fired up for the next decade of Star Wars. While Celebration was fun, Lucasfilm had three years to come up with a plan, and the company largely came empty-handed. Don't get shown up by Marvel; strive to reach and surpass it.
The longer it fades from the public eye on the silver screen, the harder it will be to usher in a new generation of fans. Star Wars is more or less stuck in the past; people watch the new shows, but other than The Mandalorian, there's not a ton of investment. People largely return to the six Lucas movies and Clone Wars.
Each generation of kids deserves their own slice of the Star Wars pie, and right now they're mostly missing it. Merchandising isn't what it once was; at least the Episode VII kids had some decent stuff, though. Marketing reaches practically no one, and certainly not the kids. They're not going on r/StarWarsLeaks for breadcrumbs of information and lone stills from a show. If Lucasfilm wants them, they've got to get Star Wars in front of them.
Get it in front of all of us, because we're all big kids itching to enjoy Star Wars. The hype is part of the experience. Watching Star Wars should be fun. Get a big project cooking, plan it out with care, and sit back as Star Wars is restored as the Empire it's supposed to be. Right now, the galaxy far, far away is missing out.
But if these lessons are learned, it won't always be.