When speaking to investors a couple days ago, Disney chief Bob Iger revealed the studio was working on not one but “many” Star Wars TV series that would be distributed on its upcoming subscription streaming service. That news came shortly after the announcement the guys currently serving as showrunners on “Game of Thrones” had been tapped to develop a new series of films that are separate from the Saga movies and those coming from Rian Johnson.
Putting aside (at least for now) the fact that the field of Star Wars creatives are overwhelmingly white guys, all of that amounts to a lot of stories from a galaxy far, far away that are coming down the road.
The question of whether or not this is too much remains to be seen. We’re just months away from getting our fourth Star Wars movie in under three years and the franchise is wrapping up the very popular “Rebels” show on Disney XD. Also happening are multiple books for both older and younger readers as well as a multitude of comics series for a variety of audiences.
What I feel like we’re missing most from the “good old days” of Star Wars fandom is time to really live with and reflect on any one thing.
Fans of all ages had three years to debate The Empire Strikes Back before Return of the Jedi. Was Vader’s claim of fatherhood true? There were no books filling in backstory and providing clues in those years, no other stories following events in other parts of the galaxy to distract us and spur other conversations. After Jedi we had a solid eight years before Heir to the Empire came out and reignited conversations and imaginations.
Eight years of rewatching the Trilogy on sick days from school and memorizing every line of dialogue and detail of mythology and scenery. 16 if you ignored the books and comics and went straight from Jedi to 1999’s The Phantom Menace. That’s enough time for these movies to soak into our skin and become part of us.
Now we’re moving from one to the other faster than it takes the Millenium Falcon to make the Kessel Run. There’s no time for the stories to marinate or become essential because oh hey, here comes a new one.
That reflects in a very real way the realities of the media landscape in the first two decades of the 21st century: With so many entertainment options to choose from you constantly need to be current to maintain the audience’s attention.
Disney knows it needs to constantly be feeding the audience new material. Let more than a year go by without a new offering and you might as well cash in your chips because they’ve moved on. It’s too much time. They’ve watched 35 shows on Netflix in that time and don’t remember where the last movie left off.
Those releases aren’t enough, either. The pump constantly needs to be primed with “Journey to…” type stories that offer backstories for characters we haven’t even met in the movies yet and provide context for the events in those movies. There’s a bevy of material to choose from depending on how informed you want to be when you finally go to the theater.
The problem is that those gaps of years are part of what allowed the original Star Wars movies to become classics. You might have enjoyed Empire the first time you saw it, but by the seventh time you really appreciated how great Irvin Kushner’s direction was and how emotional the action-packed story truly is. Having the time to revisit the movie increased your enjoyment.
Let me put it this way: If someone in 1985 had 30 hours a year to devote to Star Wars, they spent it rewatching each of the original three movies 10 times, with a bit of time left over for the Marvel Comics series if they chose to do so.
If someone in 2018 has 30 hours a year to devote to Star Wars, they might spend two of those on Solo, five playing Battlefront, 10 watching “Rebels” and three watching The Last Jedi on home video. That leaves just 10 hours left, which might be spent following all the news on the various upcoming projects in the works. You’re not going to have a lot of bandwidth to revisit Rogue One for the second time. There are other, more pressing Star Wars-related priorities.
In that way Star Wars has moved from being a towering California pine with deep roots anchoring a tree that towers over all others to one of a number of shrubs you plant along the back fence. It’s great and you like it, but it’s not unlike the other five bushes flanking it.
It is, in a word, disposable, much more so than would have seemed possible several years ago.
There’s been a lot of commentary in the last two years about whether Disney can avoid fan burnout with its aggressive Star Wars strategy. That will certainly be tested. More troublesome than that, though, is that Star Wars could move from being a giant of pop culture to something that’s been commoditized to the point of no longer being special. Then we’ll have lost something unique that will be hard to recover.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.