Editorial: Why Nearly All New Star Wars Films Are Likely to Be Prequels

The hot rumor in Star Wars circles, buoyed by a Buzzfeed story, claims that Knights of the Old Republic, set centuries before the original Star Wars trilogy, will be getting at least one movie scripted by Laeta Kalogridis (Alita: Battle Angel). Certainly, the idea of a historical epic in the all new Star Wars universe seems like a good idea.

But whether it’s true or not, I would bet that nearly all future Star Wars films will take place an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The reason for this is simple: Disney-era Lucasfilm has painted itself into a corner by saying all ancillary media is canon.

Sure, initially that sounded cool. When I was a kid, I read Star Trek tie-in novels and assumed them official, later feeling mildly bothered that they weren’t. And to an OG Star Wars fan, Alan Dean Foster’s sequel novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye read as crazy confusing…and contradicted by much of The Empire Strikes Back. So coordinating everything sounds good on paper. Until you realize just how much it ties everyone’s hands.

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Without someone like George Lucas having the whole story in his head, Star Wars needs to attract good directors. And the directors need to be able to tell good stories. You can’t very well bring Rian Johnson, or anyone else on board, look at their sequel script, and say, “you can’t do this thing with Finn and Rey because one issue of a comic book won’t be canon any more.” Well, you can, but you’d be foolish. Indeed, some canon already contains contradictions due to directorial freedom: The Force Awakens novelization has Rey and Poe meeting at the Resistance base on Ileenium, but The Last Jedi moves that to the end of the Crait battle.

Now, let’s assume that Finn, Poe, and Rey survive The Rise of Skywalker. Yes, Disney says it’s the end of the saga. But Disney is also not stupid and they love making money. They know full well that 20 years from now, today’s kids will go nuts for a movie with Rey, Poe, and Finn returning. When and if that happens, they’ll want to bring a good director aboard. But if comics and novels have permission to write about those three characters’ post Skywalker adventures for 20 years, a tangled web of continuity results. In an “all canon counts” universe, this hamstrings anyone wanting to tell a new story.

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Look at every bit of major media that has come out since it was ruled that everything is canon. Films like Rogue One and Solo fill in gaps we already know. Then Star Wars Rebels takes place between the original and prequel trilogies. The Mandalorian takes place between the original and sequel trilogies. And Star Wars Resistance takes place around the time of The Force Awakens. Nothing in any of those projects touches, for example, Snoke’s backstory, for fear of contradicting the main saga. Lucasfilm does coordinate the timelines, so theoretically Poe and Finn can have some adventures set between now and the next movie. But they obviously won’t allow anything that might spoil a future plot point.

In the old days, we just enjoyed the Han Solo spinoff books without knowing if they’d ever be official. It didn’t matter. Not thinking we’d ever get Episodes VII-IX, we enjoyed the Timothy Zahn Thrawn novels for what they were. But we knew if new movies came along, they’d probably supplant them. That Lucasfilm briefly called Shadows of the Empire canon was a rare and exciting thing.

The beauty of prequels is that they won’t contradict any future plans. The downside is they’ll never actually move the story forward into really new territory. If your license is to survive on more than nostalgia, that needs to change.

How do you feel about the Star Wars universe potentially getting stuck in perpetual prequels? Share your  thoughts in the comment section below!