Since “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” concluded the latest trilogy in 2019, Lucasfilm has exhibited a kind of paralysis, making lots of television and several splashy announcements, but failing to pull the trigger on producing new movies. That appears to have changed with the news out of Star Wars Celebration, which charts a new course for that far-away galaxy.
The gist of the announcements coming out of London, where the four-day gathering was held, involved something old (very) and two things relatively new. Notably, one will be largely original and the others will draw on existing personalities and properties, while reflecting the oversized role that animation, under the leadership of Dave Filoni, has played in stoking the fires of George Lucas’ creation.
In hindsight, the lack of new movies can be seen as a reaction – and really an overreaction – to the box-office failure of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” the stand-alone prequel released in 2018. That prompted Lucasfilm to redirect another spinoff featuring a beloved character, “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” to Disney+, despite the fact that it had a direct connection to the movies with Ewan McGregor reprising the role.
We’ll never know how “Obi-Wan” might have performed as a movie, nor how “Ahsoka,” an upcoming live-action series starring Rosario Dawson, might have fared in that format. Both, though, appear to have advantages that “Solo” lacked, and the muscular trailer for “Ahsoka” spurred at least as much enthusiasm as the news pertaining to the next batch of films.
As for those movies, Lucasfilm has wisely recruited Daisy Ridley to return to the role of Rey, while tasking director James Mangold (whose “Indiana Jones” sequel is due this summer) with going back to the early days of the Jedi Knights. In addition, Filoni – having effectively made the movie to live-action with “The Mandalorian” – is behind a third film devoted to that timeline, which, hiccups with the show’s latest season notwithstanding, has become the current standard-bearer for the “Star Wars” universe.
All this activity suggests that Lucasfilm and its leader, Kathleen Kennedy, have finally gotten over a sort-of self-induced panic over potentially taking a wrong step, after false starts with projects from high-profile filmmakers like Patty Jenkins and Rian Johnson and Marvel’s Kevin Feige.
A key to that seems to be Filoni, who first through animation and now live-action has teamed up with Jon Favreau to establish themselves as the franchise’s most-reliable shepherds and stewards, steeped in a love for its lore and minutia.
It’s worth noting that not everything lasts forever, and that we’re now as many years into the 21st century as were left to go in the 20th when “Star Wars” first hit theaters in 1977. Moreover, we have moved into an age when movies need to be events, big enough to justify a theatrical release and motivate people to put down the remote and leave the house.
At one point, Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged the company might have been guilty of doing “a little too much, too fast” with “Star Wars” fare, having spoken of the wisdom of pursuing quality over quantity when it comes to its product, either in streaming (unlike Netflix’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach) and movies.
Each of the films announced, however, looks to be a judicious expansion or extension of the “Star Wars” brand, giving fans something tangible to which they can look forward.
Disney is already planning a 40th-anniversary release of “Return of the Jedi,” providing audiences a chance to experience the tingle of John Williams’ glorious fanfare again in theaters.
Yet, that’s really just an appetizer for what’s to come. Because seeing “Star Wars” back on a cinematic track – with the prospect of watching movies on the big screen where it was born – does, indeed, feel like cause for celebration.