It’s been almost six years since George Lucas sold his Lucasfilm empire to Disney for the sum of $4.05 billion dollars. At the time I – as a life-long Star Wars fan – was beyond delighted, as I knew we would be getting not only new films and content, but good films and content, driven by a slew of different creators, directors, producers, and writers – all with legendary producer Kathleen Kennedy at the helm, guiding the entire starship! Having said that, I was still cautious in my optimism after the prequel era, having been wisened up in regards to expectations and the reality of the product we would be delivered. Joe Ovies and I did the first podcast (then just called the Dork Side Podcast) in December of 2015, right before The Force Awakens debuted in theaters and shattered expectations – both financially and quality – restoring Star Wars to the lofty perch of the world’s favorited entertainment franchise! At least for the time being… (more on that in a minute).
Shortly after the acquisition, Lucasfilm made the still-to-this-day controversial move of rebooting the expanded universe canon, stating that only the six saga films (episodes one through six at the time), and The Clone Wars animated series (not to be confused with Clone Wars, a series produced by Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack fame) would remain as canon. Yep, that meant all the extra material released prior to 2014 – novels, comics, roleplaying material, video games, and many reference books were not officially canon anymore, meaning that they didn’t actually happen. After dubbing these ‘Legends’ moving forward, Disney and Lucasfilm took their first step into a much larger universe, and some fans were (and inexplicably still are) pretty miffed about it.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’ve gotten four new films, a slew of new novels and comics, and two new animated series’ (with another already announced for a fall ’18 debut). How have these different divisions under the Lucasfilm banner fared in my opinion? Well, let’s take a look, shall we?
As I mentioned above, there have been four feature films released since the Disney acquisition – The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi, and Solo. Two of these films are saga films, meaning they carry forward George Lucas’ original series, focusing on the Skywalker family. The other two were dubbed ‘a Star Wars Story’, and weren’t directly related to the original six films in terms of moving those narratives forward. Having said that, they were certainly connected to them, with 2016’s Rogue One telling the story of a brave band of Rebels stealing the plans for the original Death Star, and the just-released Solo focusing on the early years of everyone’s favorite scoundrel, Han Solo. The remaining two films, dubbed ‘saga’ films, continued the story from the original six episodes, with 2015’s The Force Awakens picking up some 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi and 2017’s The Last Jedi picking up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams was tasked with directing and co-writing (with OG Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasdan) The Force Awakens, which would be the first Star Wars film since 2005 and would set the tone for a new era of Star Wars entertainment. To say that it delivered in spades would be an understatement. While it had a few detractors, the film was universally loved by fans and critics alike, introducing well developed new characters like Rey (the scavenger), Finn (the deserting Stormtrooper), BB-8 (the new, lovable droid), and Kylo Ren (the son of Han and Leia) and bringing back fan-favorites Leia Organa and Han Solo, with a cameo-esque appearance by Luke Skywalker at the very end. The Force Awakens played it safe for the most part, sticking close to the story outline from A New Hope and keeping the tech familiar and more akin to the beloved original trilogy, while shying away from the design and aesthetic of the prequel trilogy. The following year the Gareth Edwards directed Rogue One hit theaters, also to strong reviews from fans and critics. While not as loved as The Force Awakens, the film broke new ground as the story focused on a band of misfit heroes, all of whom meet a tragic end. The style of filmmaking was new to the Star Wars universe as well, with Edwards giving the film a very real, gritty wartime feel, which in my opinion really paid off. Some of the design aesthetic of the prequels was evident also, which was a nice touch, helping to reassure fans of that era that it wasn’t completely forgotten… And we got Vader, not much of him, but what we got was bonkers-good – it was the Vader we had always heard about but never seen on screen. Fast forward into 2018 and Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi arrived in theaters, backed by a great Rotten Tomatoes critics score. We finally got to see Luke Skywalker on screen, Leia leading the Resistance and the continuation of Rey and Kylo Ren’s journey. Everyone wins, right? Wrong. While many fans loved The Last Jedi (yours truly included) many absolutely hated it. Coming to terms with the hero of their youth, the mightly Luke Skywalker, retreating from the fight, cutting himself off from the Force, and living as a hermit didn’t sit well with many fans. And then things got ugly. A group launched a bot-spam campaign to lower the audience’s Rotten Tomatoes score, racist and sexist subsects of the fanbase came out en masse on social media, and the impossible happened – a real war over the future of Star Wars fandom ensued (and continues to this day). Some fans called for Kathleen Kennedy’s resignation and the firing of Rian Johnson from future projects (he has a trilogy of films planned for release in the 2020’s). They also called for a boycott of the next project to be released, Solo, which would make its way into theaters a scant five months after the release of The Last Jedi. And then the REALLY impossible happened – a Star Wars movie bombed at the box office. Plagued with behind the scenes drama and the removal of directors, Solo was still released on schedule, albeit with a massive budget (reported at $300 million, making it the most expensive SW film to date), and acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard taking the reigns and getting the project on track and wrapped up. We’ve discussed Solo quite a bit on The Exhaust Port, discussing the botched marketing, etc., but all-in-all Solo was a very good film if not great – ironically being the film most true to the spirit of George Lucas and A New Hope, non-stop, lighthearted fun. The film was perfectly cast and it really delivered everywhere except where it counts – the almighty box office.
So where does that leave us? I gotta be honest, I don’t really see how we could’ve hoped for anything better than what Lucasfilm delivered. All four of the films are in the top six in the entire saga (my opinion, of course) and the quality of the cinematography, art direction, special effects, and acting has been consistently on a level we’ve not seen in the history of Star Wars. The fact is there will never be a ‘perfect’ Star Wars film to not one but two generations of rabid fans that literally grew up with Star Wars, but what we have is pretty damn close, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Episode IX and beyond. My grade is a solid A, that was very close to being an A+.
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm one of the first moves was to cancel The Clone Wars, an animated television series that had been airing since 2008, eventually shipping the series to Netflix for a truncated final sixth season to wrap up some of the ongoing threads and get the storyline closer to the events of Revenge of the Sith. I’ve waxed a ton about my love of the show, going so far as to put together a series of what I consider to be the most essential stories and arcs of the sprawling series and an in-depth look at its run on an episode of the podcast with Sequoyah and Katrina. I would imagine the ultimate reason for cancellation was three-fold in the end – to start fresh with a story more in line with the aesthetic and story of the original trilogy, to get a product off of a competing network (TCW aired on Cartoon Network during its original run) and to cut costs (as anyone with eyes and a brain could see that The Clone Wars, while beautiful, must have cost a fortune to make). I get it, but it’s hard not to argue the flip side of this… To date, TCW is the most complete example of the storytelling power of Star Wars and Lucasfilm, and the fact that it remains unfinished is a tough pill for many fans to swallow, myself included. Not to mention Dave Filoni and his creative team delivered one Star Wars’ most enduring new characters, Anakin Skywalker’s headstrong padawan learner Ahsoka Tano, and reintroduced Darth Maul to the masses in an amazing series of episodes that added tremendous depth to an already fan-favorite (and previously criminally underused) villain.
After the cancellation of The Clone Wars, Dave Filoni and his creative team at Lucasfilm Animation launched a brand-new series titled Star Wars Rebels. The premise was to showcase the budding Rebellion and subsequent Rebel Alliance during a time period closer to the events of A New Hope and the original trilogy. At the center of this story was a young Force-sensitive orphan named Ezra Bridger, and his reluctant Jedi Master (who never completed his own training because of Order 66) Kanan Jarrus. The pair was surrounded by an ace Twi’lek pilot named Hera Syndulla, a headstrong and creative Mandalorian named Sabine Wren. some much-needed muscle and comic-relief in the form of the Lasat Zeb Orrelios, and a cantankerous droid called C1-10P (dubbed Chopper, who quite frankly was the best new character in the entire series). Set against the backdrop of the Empire at its full power, the series unfolded mostly in one-off episodes focused on our lovable band of Rebels figuring out the best way to fight a war against overwhelming odds. While the series was certainly enjoyable during its first season, it caught its stride in season two with the reintroduction of the aforementioned fan-favorite character Ahsoka Tano, who’s own storyline was juxtaposed against a more prominent role for Darth Vader – who unbeknownst to her was actually her former master, Anakin Skywalker. The final two-part episode of season two still stands as the very best Rebels had to offer, and sadly nothing in seasons three or four achieved the level of emotion or consistency showcased in that arc. That’s certainly not to say the final two seasons didn’t have their moments… Grand Admiral Thrawn was introduced as the main antagonist in season three, and his triumphant return into Star Wars canon was awesome, as Filoni and crew handled his character with the utmost respect. If anything they crafted a better personality for him than his original creator Timothy Zahn did, making him a much more relatable villain, a trait that was amplified when Zahn returned to Star Wars to write the origin story of his beloved character (more on that below). So what was the problem then? Well, for starters the format of the show – mostly consisting of single, one-off episodes – didn’t allow the story to unfold in a very fluid manner, at least in my opinion. Also, the characters of Ezra and Kanan simply weren’t incredibly likable to many fans, and while both grew on me as the series progressed (especially Kanan), neither came close to achieving the level of affection I held towards Ahsoka Tano. Speaking of characters, many were criminally underused, most notably Hera Syndulla. She was more often than not relegated to a support status, even though it was obvious there was so much more to her character and potential arc than what was being showcased. The villains were hit-and-miss also, with the original Inquisitor from season one, Thrawn, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Vader being obvious standouts. Instead, Imperials were typically used more for comic relief than anything else, which is unfortunate, and certainly didn’t lend itself to an Empire that was supposed to seem threatening… Don’t get me wrong, Rebels is a good show and more than worth your time to watch. It just wasn’t as great as what had come before, maybe that’s why I’m a little cold towards it. The last few episodes of season four were superb Star Wars storytelling, showcasing creator Dave Filoni at his absolute best, furthering the mythology of the Force in a manner similar to what he did in the Mortis and Yoda arcs in The Clone Wars and what Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi. Unfortunately, it all felt rushed and the character arcs of many of the main and supporting characters did not end in a believable and satisfying manner in my opinion. In my opinion, there was so much low-hanging-fruit left on the table, it was hard not to be disappointed in the end. Wedge Antilles was introduced and almost never heard from again. The crew made it to Yavin 4, a planet with a rich Legends history (especially in regards to the Force and Sith), and none of it was explored. Beloved Imperial Captain Pellaeon was mentioned as an afterthought by Thrawn in the season finale, a mention that would’ve been better served to never have happened. And don’t get me started on the arc of Imperial turncoat Agent Kallus, a character with a ton of potential who was reduced to three steps below a side character in season four. I could go on and on here, and the bottom line was the final season – which had its moments – was rushed to a conclusion, and I don’t see how anyone who watched all four seasons of the show could argue otherwise… Also, in terms of design and animation Rebels never came close to the level of quality featured in The Clone Wars. Character design aside, all you have to do is look at the scope of any ground, air, or space battle and the difference between the two series’ is striking. Also, Rebels never really got lightsaber dueling down, which is odd, but I digress. Bottom line, the quality wasn’t there. I’m encouraged that the word on the street is that the upcoming Resistance series is created using more of an anime-influenced style, and I for one would welcome this with open arms.
Lastly, we have Forces of Destiny, a series of two-to-three-minute animated shorts set in all eras and the showcasing the amazing ladies of the Star Wars saga. When FOD first launched I have to admit, I loved it. The 2D animation was a welcome change from the style of Rebels, and I enjoyed seeing Rey, Leia, Padme, Jyn, and of course Ahsoka – especially considering that almost all of the original actors were back to portray our heroes. However, as the second half of season one and subsequently season two rolled out, I found myself quickly growing tired of it. Maybe it should’ve been a one-and-done kind of thing, who knows. But Lucasfilm rolled out a full merchandise and marketing package revolving around the series, and it didn’t work. At all. The dolls were on clearance as quickly as they rolled out onto shelves, and quite frankly they were hideous. Something that should have been simple and fun felt forced. In my opinion, it’s high time to lay this baby out to pasture and move on, especially with Resistance on the horizon. But hey, if they are gonna keep it rolling maybe do a season focusing on the bad ladies of the saga – Rae Sloane, Ahrinda Pryce, Captain Phasma, Asajj Ventress and Doctor Aphra – but hey, that’s just my opinion.
OK, so what’s the verdict? Put simply, following is what we have to judge the Lucasfilm Animation division by – the cancellation of The Clone Wars (and the subsequent low hanging fruit left on the trees, even though fans are begging for more TCW content), the slightly-above-average Star Wars Rebels, and the largely forgettable Forces of Destiny. It is what it is. My grade: B-.
As mentioned above, when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney the old expanded universe (the collection of stories outside of the films and The Clone Wars series) were de-canonized, meaning they didn’t actually happen. They were dubbed Legends in a move that was met with much controversy, some of which still carries on today in some circles. I myself was taken aback by this as well, at first anyway. I read and loved all of the expanded universe novels and comics, and played all of the games, so I hated to see all of this material being scrubbed so to speak. But man, has it been worth it! In terms of Star Wars novels have gotten banger after banger, with almost every single book being amazing – both in the adult and young adult categories. The Lucasfilm Story Group was assembled right after the Disney acquisition, and it has really paid off. Every connection between the films, novels, comics, and animated series’ have been very rewarding, especially to a fan like myself who devour any and all Star Wars content I can get my hands on. I can honestly say that all of the books feel much more like Star Wars than the old Legends books if that makes sense. And while I still enjoy some of that material, it honestly pales in comparison to what the Story Group and authors are delivering today. The group of new authors (Claudia Gray, Chuck Wendig, and Beth Revis to name a few) and a veteran or two from the old days (James Luceno and Timothy Zahn) have delivered some of the best Star Wars stories we’ve ever gotten, and I can’t wait to see what they all have in store for us moving forward! I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, as I’ve outlined our definitive ‘Reading Guide’ here on the Dork Side site, so if you’re interested just read that and then dive right in – you won’t be disappointed. Lastly, let’s not overlook the bevy of reference material that’s been released. I absolutely love these types of books, with the ‘art of’ and visual dictionaries/visual guides for each film being a must-read for any fan. Surprise – once again the story group is in charge of most of this content, with Pablo Hidalgo himself being the author of more than a few of these. My grade: A+.
Disney owns Marvel, so it was no surprise when they purchased Lucasfilm that the comic license agreement with Dark Horse Comics would be coming to an end. Dark Horse did some amazing work with the Star Wars license in the 90’s and 00’s, and I for one will be eternally grateful for all the amazing content they provided. Having said that, with the clean slate for new canon material, a unifying factor in the story group, and a new publisher in Marvel we were surely going to get the most amazing Star Wars comic content of all time, right? Well… it’s been a mixed bag. Very good to amazing at times, but mediocre at best in some spots. For every amazing ongoing or mini-series we’ve been delivered (both of the Darth Vader ongoing series’ for starters, and both the original Lando and Kanan mini-series’) there has been an average series (Poe Dameron and Mace Windu, anyone?). Then there is the ongoing flagship Star Wars title. Although it’s been resurgent of late (with the change-over of writers and artists), it focuses way too much on the big-three characters, leaving a ton of great stories and characters just sitting on the sidelines, just waiting for a shot. This would’ve been a great opportunity to reintroduce Rogue Squadron into canon, tell a story of two about General Draven and Rebel Intelligence, showcase General Hera Syndulla (from Rebels) and her role in the Alliance, or give us a few Imperial-centric stories told from their point of view, just to name a few. Hell, possibly give Rogue Squadron their very own ongoing series to replace Poe Dameron (which is getting ready to end its run)! All of these ideas would inject some much-needed energy into the ongoing series, possibly even attracting some new readers in the process. Out of the four of the Lucasfilm divisions being graded here, comic books are probably the least accessible to the average fan, if that makes sense. And it’s here that they haven’t quite figured out the formula, at least not in terms of getting more fans into the current ongoing and mini-series offerings. If anything more and more fans are seemingly turning their backs on Star Wars comics, which is unfortunate. Hopefully, with some of the series’ that are currently in production coming to a close before year’s end, we can get more material that both old and new fans of the comics can enjoy and subscribe to. My grade: C.
So we need an overall ranking, right? Of course, we do. Here’s the quick formula I came up with in order to give Lucasfilm what I consider a fair grade in the post-Disney acquisition era: Films = 50%; Animation = 20%; Novels = 20%; and Comics = 10%. Using that formula it leaves us with an overall grade of A. So what exactly do fans have to complain about. Absolutely nothing, at least not to this point. The future looks pretty damn bright if you ask me!