Like many of you (I assume), I grew up loving Star Wars. In fact, I don’t remember my life before my obsession with Princess Leia, Wookiees, and Millennium Falcons. I was mesmerised by this larger-than-life space opera, and that adoration has lasted into my adulthood.
However, though nothing can replace The Empire Strikes Back as the single greatest entry in the Star Wars universe, with age I have come to realise that what I love most about Star Wars—the rich world building and the feeling of “knowing” the characters as well as your family—are traits better served by the storytelling in a television series.
The Problem With the Prequels (and the Sequels)
I remember my dad taking me out of school early to see The Phantom Menace (1999). As an OG Star Wars fan, he was excited to have more of his favourite franchise after nearly 20 years. My dad was so excited that he even bought all three of his children popcorn and candy (y’all, that never happened and I’ll just leave it at that unless I launch into one of my father’s tirades about movie theater concession prices). My dad’s excitement was so infectious that I remember not sleeping the night before we saw the movie.
OK, OK, Jar-Jar gets a bad rap (but I dare you to tell me he isn’t the most annoying mofo in the galaxy), but the real problem I have with the prequels (and the sequels) is that characters like Jar-Jar just don’t seem to fit because we don’t know them the way we knew Luke and Leia and Han. Hell, we know R2-D2—who communicates with friggin beeps—better than we know most of the supporting characters in the post-OG trilogies.
The Star Wars world grew too big after Return of the Jedi, and a 2-hour movie simply isn’t enough time for us to get to know that world anymore. There’s no depth, and no rich world built with recognisable tropes and archetypes that would allow us to understand it, no matter the universe. Instead we get characters like Jar-Jar and Supreme Leader Snoke, who, in the context of the films, seem to have no backstory or history at all. Those tropes and archetypes are noticeably absent when it comes to these characters, making them even more unfamiliar to us.
For those of you that may want your Star Wars to be fresh and new and with zero tropes, let me remind you that writers have relied on archetypes to tell stories for thousands for years because there is a universal understanding of what those archetypes mean. We instantly recognize Luke Skywalker or Rey as the hero of the story because of archetypes, and by doing away with these familiar storytelling techniques for supporting characters, the story simultaneously becomes too simple and too confusing. Don’t believe me? Alright, think of Finn, the stormtrooper-turned-resistance fighter. The Force Awakens introduced Finn as someone who could leave the First Order behind and become someone who fights for good; ostensibly, his purpose was to serve as foreshadowing for Kylo Ren/Ben Solo to follow the same path. However, what purpose does Finn serve in the next two films? What role does he fulfil?
If the answer doesn’t immediately come to your mind, just remember John Boyega’s words from his 2020 interview with GQ magazine:
“…what I would say to Disney is do not bring out a black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”-John Boyega, GQ, September 2020
While I could write ad nauseam about all the problems of the Star Wars films of the last 20-so years, the truth underneath it all is pretty simple: It is damn difficult to make a Star Wars film post-RotJ that will please a majority of audience demographics. The galaxy has outgrown the typical format of a Star Wars film, and unless the formula changes, future entries in the Star Wars film lineup may also never live up to the original trilogy.
Side note: I stand by what I said in the previous paragraph for every “new” Star Wars film except Rogue One (2016). THAT is how you make a Star Wars film that lives up to the lore of the universe it’s created in!
So, if we want more from our Star Wars and the films are lacking, where do we turn?
Big Galaxy. Small Screen.
I’ll admit it: I did not have high hopes for The Mandalorian. But, after finding out that Jon Favreau was attached, and that Pedro Pascal was set as the lead…I mean…I had to watch it, ya know?
I remember being halfway through the first episode, turning to Nina, and saying, “This feels like Star Wars.” And then, just like everyone else, I saw THE CUTEST BEING IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE…um, I mean “The Child”…and yeah, my Star Wars obsession is now just as fierce as it has ever been.
What makes The Mandalorian such a success? (Besides Baby Yoda, of course). Well, the way the series is scripted really allows us to know Mando and Grogu, but also all the side characters that are introduced as well. Timothy Olyphant appears in one episode and he has more character backstory and development than all of Finn’s in three friggin films. Not only is the script really adept at allowing the world to build and grow, but the way that it is filmed also captures the magic of how people felt watching A New Hope for the first time almost 45 years ago. It’s a space western and it’s full of all the tropes and archetypes my little writer heart could hope for, but, more than that, it uses them effectively.
Since we have to wait almost an entire year for The Mandalorian season 3, I recently began watching the animated series Clone Wars for the first time. If this series had been around during the gap between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, I probably would have loved the prequels more than I do. Again, since it’s a series, the characters are given time to be fleshed out, and characters, like Anakin’s padawan, Ahsoka, are really given a chance to shine.
The true strength of Clone Wars is that it does not follow a singular protagonist. Many lesser known Jedi are given a chance to shine in their own episodes, and the Jedi lore is really brought to the forefront of the storytelling in this series. I haven’t finished the show yet, but I imagine watching Anakin’s betrayal in Episode III is far more heartbreaking once you’ve seen how he is bonded to the rest of the Jedi, and basically murdered his entire family for power. I really wish I had been able to watch these 13 years ago, because the richness and complexity of this galaxy next to the simple and straightforward storytelling is really special, and brings the depth of character that I had really wanted from the prequels.
Another thing that Clone Wars gets right is the addition of fan-favorite characters, like Boba Fett. I recently watched a series of episodes that showed Boba has a child, and given the fandom’s insatiable hunger for all things Boba, it was an extremely smart decision.
An even smarter decision? Giving Boba Fett his own damn series (co-starring the amazing Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand). The Book of Boba Fett drops on Disney+ in just a few weeks, and I already know that it’s going to give me more of what I want from Star Wars: more world-building, and enriched lore from the original trilogy.
And, really that’s all we’ve ever wanted, right? The original trilogy produced a spark of something magical and gave us a taste of a universe that audiences just can’t seem to get enough of; the television series have taken that spark and created a goddamn miracle: a fully realised cinematic universe with the biggest playground that screenwriters could ask for. The galaxy is the limit, folks.
So, do I love the movies? Yeah. I still watch them every year and argue with my brother about whether or not Han or Greedo shot first. But, OG trilogy and Rogue One aside, the films just can’t catch up to the series. The Star Wars series are travelling at light speed, and the next stop is anywhere.
And…that’s all I have to say about that. May the Force be with you, and don’t forget to binge The Book of Boba Fett on December 29, 2021.