Last year’s The Rise of Skywalker was, for better or for worse, the last Star Wars movie we are going to see for some time. Disney and Lucasfilm have cinematic adventures in the works but the first one isn’t set to arrive until December 2023. Plus, The Clone Wars, Rebels and Resistance are over. While we have The Mandalorian season 2 on the horizon, one could argue now is a good time to venture into new territory for the long-running franchise. Specifically, it is about time for Lucasfilm to make animated Star Wars movies.
I have, as a huge fan of Star Wars for my entire life, had this thought for some time now. But recently, a short film titled Hunted was released as a means to promote the upcoming video game Star Wars: Squadrons. I expected a fun little cinematic bit of CGI that felt like a glorified ad for a new game I was already excited to play. What I got, instead, was six minutes of purely excellent Star Wars storytelling that felt like it could be a piece of something larger. I instantly wanted to see that story expanded to 90 minutes in animated form.
But while the story of a Tie Fighter pilot at odds with the Rebellion that provides a sympathetic view of the Empire may not be something that could be justified as a theatrically released feature, it is precisely the type of story that can help expand the scope of what cinematic Star Wars storytelling can be. Sure, it would probably be irresponsible for Disney to invest $150 million or more to produce a movie like that in live-action. But animation? It can be done far more affordably and could allow for all sorts of stories that might not have a place elsewhere.
There are two primary examples that make me curious as to why Disney hasn’t explored this option with Star Wars. Or Marvel for that matter, but that’s a discussion for another time. First and foremost, some of the greatest and most cherished stories from the franchise during the Disney era have come via animation. Specifically, Star Wars Rebels was four seasons of arguable excellence that, at its peak, represents the best the series has to offer. Specifically, the season 2 finale, Twin Suns and A World Between Worlds come to mind. We also recently got the final season of The Clone Wars which was, for fans who had been following that journey for many years, a true gift.
The overall point, even if Star Wars: Resistance wasn’t perhaps what many hoped it would be, is that animation has been hugely successful within the franchise. But it has been contained in episodic storytelling. However, there are examples from other franchises that Star Wars could take a cue from to bridge the gap from episodic animation to features.
Warner Bros. has, over the years, made a true cottage industry out of its animated DC movies. While the studio has a great track record with animated shows as well, they regularly produce several animated DC features annually, many of which go on to garner a great deal of acclaim from critics and fans alike. They are produced for reasonable amounts of money and provide rabid fans with content that they couldn’t possibly hope for elsewhere. Case in point, we got Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last year. Batman: Under the Red Hood, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, Flashpoint Paradox and, perhaps the best example, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, just to name a few, represent other examples of animated features that worked out very well for Warner Bros.
These are not aimed at everyone and their mother like a live-action blockbuster movie. They are made for hungrier DC fans and produced in a way that allows them to find their audience while still finding their audience. Needless to say, there are an awful lot of Star Wars fans out there.
I can think of no reason why Disney and Lucasfilm couldn’t do something similar with Star Wars. It seems like a no-brainer to me. With animation, no character or storyline would be off-limits. Different parts of the timeline. Classic characters. Even Legends tales from the old canon could be produced as animated features, perhaps billed as alternate reality scenarios. I imagine I’m not alone in thinking it would be cool to see Shadows of the Empire or the Heir to the Empire trilogy get an adaptation, even if they don’t fit into the current canon. Plus, Dave Filoni, Lucasfilm’s animation guru, has cemented himself as a man who knows his way around this universe in a way like no other. Why not further utilize his talents?
The world, as it exists, has also presented new reasons for Disney to consider animated movies as a viable option for the franchise going forward. 2020 has hit Hollywood in a big, bad way. It has proved to be incredibly difficult to get live-action productions up and running with looming health and safety concerns. Yes, The Mandalorian‘s groundbreaking technology could be a path forward for blockbusters but it could be a while before something as massive as a Star Wars movie can happen without compromise.
With that, animation is expected to boom in the next couple of years. Animated projects can be produced remotely and that’s why many animated shows have managed to soldier on amidst the shutdown. Why not use this as an opportunity to explore animated Star Wars movies? The timing is, in many ways, perfect.
The sequel trilogy proved to be divisive and left much to be desired by the end of it for a lot of fans. Meanwhile, The Mandalorian reinvigorated the fanbase in a way not seen since perhaps opening night of The Force Awakens. The point is, Star Wars has a whole lot of gas left in the tank and Disney has no intention of slowing down. We have more live-action shows on the way. A massive new publishing initiative is coming our way next year with The High Republic. A Clone Wars spin-off is already happening. The scope of the franchise is expanding in new, exciting ways. We could be at the dawn of a new era for Star Wars. It seems like animated movies are maybe the only thing missing from the equation. As a fan, and looking at it from the business side, it just seems hard to find a reason not to at least test the waters with these kinds of stories. Your move, Lucasfilm.
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