Why the Star Wars Anthology Series is the smartest thing that the franchise has done

Last week we got the awesome second trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It was great. In the afterglow, a lot of people missed a Star Wars trailer that dropped right afterwards. This was a short teaser trailer for a movie called Star Wars: Rogue One that was displayed at the Star Wars Celebration convention. A bootleg version was on Youtube for a short while before Disney pulled it. If you missed it, just go here to see the trailer.

Director Gareth Edwards has told us that Rogue One will tell the story of the mission to steal the original Death Star plans, taking place between Episodes III and IV. From what it sounds like, Rogue One will be putting the “wars” into Star Wars.

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For those unaware, Disney plans to release a Star Wars movie every year. Episode VII in 2015, Episode VIII in 2017, and Episode IX in 2019. In between those, they will be releasing standalone movies that will be part of what is called The Anthology Series. These movies will presumably fill in the blanks for the time between the episodic movies and tell stories that did not get fleshed out in the episodic films.

I think that creating an Anthology series is the smartest thing that Lucasfilm has done in a while. And here is why:

During the production of The Force Awakens, Disney announced that the Expanded Universe of Star Wars no longer counted as canon. That means all the books, video games, comics, etc. no longer became part of the official story line. It was a smart move. Making a movie set around 30 years after Return of the Jedi would have lead to multiple canon discrepancies that would cause a headache for any poor screenwriter trying to put a script together. But, the nixing of the Expanded Universe left a gaping hole in the Star Wars mythos.

One of the main reasons that the Expanded Universe became so popular was that it told the stories that were not fully explored in the films. In any well built science fiction universe, a viewer should feel like there are more stories to be told than we are seeing on screen. A TV show like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica has the time to develop a mythos as well as explore all the possible stories in their universes. But Star Wars, being a film series, only had six movies to tell the story. Understandably, George Lucas decided to focus on the Skywalker family and their role in an epic battle between light and dark. However, any fan of the franchise could look at the movies and think: “I’m sure that random side character has an interesting story to tell.” Thus, the Expanded Universe was born, and all of these side characters got interesting stories.

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This was lost when the Expanded Universe became non-canonical, but now the Anthology series will be stepping in to replace that hole. By including this series of films, the creative minds behind Star Wars are showing an understanding that there are more stories to be told in this world than just the ones that we see in the movie. Getting more stories is good, for the following reasons.

1. We can get the focus off the Jedi. Hey I love the Jedi. Who doesn’t want to carry around a lightsaber and do cool mind tricks? But sometimes they can really hog the spotlight. What was great about the Expanded Universe was that we could have stories that did not revolve around the Jedi and their cool lightsaber battles. One of the first Star Wars novels I read was just about X-wing pilots fighting against the Empire. It had a very Top Gun feel and was awesome, mostly because the stories were just about normal people doing what they could to fight for freedom. From what we have heard about Rogue One, we can assume that the anthology series will be following a similar path. We will see what it is like for the average soldier, civilian, smuggler, or bounty hunter in the Star Wars universe, and get to see a side of Star Wars that we have not seen before.

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2. Movies can have one general tone. One of the problems with the prequel movies, especially Episode III, was the tone. In Revenge of the Sith, the story bounces from slapstick humor, to fun space adventure to brutal dismemberment. All of those types of scenes have wildly different tones and putting them all together in one movie gives the viewer whiplash. Generally speaking, Star Wars works best when it takes the tone of a general space adventure with some dark and romantic scenes sprinkled in. Nothing over the top, just some scenes to change things up. What the Anthology series will allow film makers to do is explore different moods for Star Wars without ruining the movie. For example, I am expecting Rogue One to be violent and gritty. It will be a science fiction war movie about soldiers in military operations. But nobody wants The Force Awakens to turn into a bleak war movie half way through. From what we have seen in the trailers, that would be a weird tone shift. Writers of the Anthology series will be able to take Star Wars to places it has never been, without over-saturating the episodic films with multiple tones and styles. They will be able to focus on one part of the universe, and run with it.

3. This will pave the way for new Star Wars media. A while back, George Lucas was talking about developing a live action TV series for Star Wars. It would have been set between Episode III and IV and showed the rise of the Empire. Lucas had talked about it being dark and violent, with a 40s noir-film feel. The project never really got going, and I have often wondered why. Sure there may have been financial reasons involved, but I wonder if it was too much of a risk. Nobody had ever done that type of thing with Star Wars, so Lucasfilm was unsure how it would have played out. Eventually the plans were dropped, and Lucasfilm focused on more family friendly programming like The Clone Wars and Rebels instead of taking a risk with a radical re-imagining of the Star Wars universe. Now, the Anthology films will pave the way for new Star Wars media. As Disney/Lucasfilm experiments with different styles and stories, they will be less hesitant to take risks on new material. I believe that if the Anthology films are a success, we will see Disney/Lucasfilm branching out into live action TV series that will expand the Star Wars franchises to places it has never gone.

Whatever ends up happening, the Anthology films are good news. We will be able to experience stories within the Star Wars universe that have never been seen on-screen. It is a good time to be a Star Wars fan.

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