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Why hasn't Star Wars really embraced horror yet?

Star Wars

Why hasn’t Star Wars really embraced horror yet?

Star Wars has toyed with horror in the past, but maybe it’s time to for a full-fledged Star Wars horror story.

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Mythical wizards using their magic to save a princess, topple a brutal regime, and redeem their lineage — Star Wars has all the trappings of a classic fantasy story. Over the last 45 years, though, the franchise has evolved past genre restrictions to become a playground for all kinds of storytellers to explore any genre they like. Except horror, for the most part. 

Sure, the sequel trilogy, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the upcoming Ahsoka show all feature more traditional Star Wars tropes and genre stylings. That doesn’t mean Disney is unwilling to examine Star Wars through a new lens. Lately, more projects are getting the freedom to maneuver through genres while still maintaining that Star Wars feeling.

Solo is essentially a heist movie; The Mandalorian is a full blown western; Rogue One is a war movie; Visions is an anime that in its own way explores a variety of genres; Andor is a slow burn spy-thriller; and The Book of Boba Fett is, uh, a crime show? I guess? Whatever it is, it’s different, and it upholds Star Wars’ newfound comfortability with testing new genres.

The same can be said for Star Wars games, comics, and novels, all of which run the gamut from action and science-fiction to traditional high fantasy and even romance. But the one genre that Star Wars has largely avoided still is horror. And that’s just sad.

A Brief History of Star Wars Scares

Of course, it’s not like Star Wars has never dabbled in horror. Before the Disney acquisition, there were the Death Troopers and Red Harvest novels that leaned into horror with a terrifying ease through their zombie-infested tales. There was also the young-adult series Galaxy of Fear, which finally answered the question, “what would R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps look like with a Star Wars paint job?” Aside from those titles, though, there wasn’t much in terms of Star Wars horror.

Things haven’t gotten much scarier under Disney, even though there has been slight willingness to introduce some spookiness to the franchise. Tales from Vader’s Castle, its subsequent sequels, and LEGO Star Wars: Terrifying Tales are the most obvious examples of horror in the Disney era, but they’re geared wholeheartedly towards children rather than actual adult horror fans so I am not sure those really count. Then there’s the Screaming Citadel comic arc that is certainly more adult and is definitely horror, but is more gothic horror than your traditional outright scary story. As for full-fledged, scary horror stories, there’s nothing to be found.

Why hasn't Star Wars really embraced horror yet?

Screaming Citadel was a fun gothic horror story, but still failed to be traditionally scary.

There are plenty of horror elements that have infiltrated non-horror Star Wars stories, though. The most popular example is the iconic hallway scene in Rogue One, which showed viewers just how undeniably terrifying Darth Vader is.

There are plenty of small-scale, lesser-known horror bits too — the Dathomir-focused episodes of The Clone Wars, Star Wars The High Republic: Into the Dark’s introduction of the Drengir, and The Mandalorian’s creature-feature second episode of season two all bring their own moments of terror and fright to Star Wars. So it’s not like Star Wars has completely ignored the horror genre over the last five decades, but there hasn’t been enough to say they’ve really given horror a shot either. 

Is There Reason For Disney to Be Apprehensive of Horror?

There may not be a better time than now to embrace the horror genre. Any horror fanatic will tell you we’re living in something of a renaissance of horror storytelling. Films like Hereditary, The Witch, Midsommar, and Get Out have brought a newfound legitimacy and standard to the genre, while the comic market gets flooded with horror hits like Infidel, The Nice House on the Lake, Gideon Falls, and Something Is Killing the Children. Horror stories in both mediums are critically acclaimed and commercially successful, so what’s holding Disney back?

Let’s start with the obvious answer: Disney, and Star Wars specifically, is a family brand. Though Andor and The Mandalorian have shown more violent tendencies that might cause a parent to take pause, the vast majority of Star Wars stories are still built for all ages. Hardline horror and family friendly aren’t exactly a match made in heaven, so it makes sense Disney avoids the genre. 

The Mandalorian (Disney+)

The Mandalorian had an episode that terrified anyone with arachnophobia.

But Disney has shown a willingness to make, or at least accept, more adult content lately. Hulu’s Prey is a Disney release, Kevin Feige has outright said that Deadpool 3 will be the MCU’s first R-rated film, and Disney+ has added the very violent Marvel Netflix shows to its library. Despite its ironclad branding, Disney is clearly open to shows and movies that cater to more mature audiences, so it’s not too crazy to imagine Disney at least entertaining the idea of a scary Star Wars story. 

Let’s be real though, branding isn’t Disney’s main concern. Money is. Cold hard cash. We are talking about a company that considers Solo a box office bomb — the movie that made $393 million dollars (albeit, against an estimated $250 to $300 million budget). Horror movies are certainly more critically appraised than ever before, but are they cash cows that can rival typical summer blockbusters? Oh, yeah.

2017’s It, based on the beloved Stephen King novel of the same name, grossed more than $700 million against a $35 million dollar budget while its 2019 sequel grossed more than $470 million against a $79 million budget. Even original IP horror movies rake in dough — A Quiet Place hauled in $340 million against a slim $17 million budget, while Get Out pulled in $255 million on a miniscule $4.5 million budget. Horror movies are typically cheap to make and easier to attract an audience to, making them low risk, high reward projects.

Why hasn't Star Wars really embraced horror yet?

Jordan Peele’s Get Out was a critical and commercial mega-hit

Star Wars films aren’t known for their small budgets. Since taking the reins in 2014, Disney has produced five Star Wars films with an average budget of $292 million. These films have routinely grossed over $1 billion worldwide (Solo withstanding). Disney isn’t in the business of small budgets and strong returns. They’re in the business of massive budgets and gargantuan returns.

With diminishing box office numbers for the behemoth MCU franchise showing that even the largest brands wane over time and a Star Wars fanbase that is exhausted by toxicity and inconsistency, a big-budget horror entry in the franchise might be too much of a risk for Disney to take. After all, Disney doesn’t gamble. They make strategic, calculated decisions. 

Why Should Disney Give Horror a Home in Star Wars?

Both Andor and The Mandalorian are so successful because they show us sides of the galaxy we’ve merely glimpsed before. We see how everyday people turned to violent revolution under the vice grip of the Empire. We get a detailed look into the bounty hunter-fueled underworld while exploring the intricacies of Mandalorian culture. A horror movie, show, or special could add a similar fresh perspective or feeling to the universe. It’s not like there’s a shortage of opportunity, either: Star Wars is brimming with terrifying monsters, occult groups, and the literal personification of evil and darkness, the Sith, that would make for great horror stories.

Disney could tell the story of a monster hunter, perhaps Ty Yorrick, struggling to take down a mighty beast in a classic creature-feature. You could have an archaeologist, like the incredible Chelli Aphra, exploring the mysterious ruins of a long-extinct civilization only to discover their unnerving, sinister demise at the hands of a long lost bloodcult that now threatens the intrepid scholar’s team. 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #2

Any sort of Doctor Aphra movie or film could serve a great vehicle for Star Wars horror.

Or, and this is something I’ve been dreaming about for years, imagine a full-blown slasher film that sees a group of marooned survivors crash land on a remote planet that is teeming with a dark energy, only to be slowly picked off one-by-one by a terrifyingly brutal, crimson saber-wielding entity. The big reveal? They crash landed on Moraband, the home world of the Sith, and they were never going to get off-world alive.

A horror movie doesn’t even need to be that complicated, actually. Just do the Rogue One hallway scene with Darth Vader for two hours and you’d have the scariest movie of the decade on your hands. 

The fact that Star Wars has yet to release a bonafide horror story might not be that surprising, but it is surely disappointing. The few flirtations Star Wars has had with the genre have been tantalizing to say the least, heightening the disappointment even more. Even the most positive, optimistic Star Wars fan (which I consider myself to be) agrees that the franchise is in need of something fresh, something exciting. What would be more exciting than suddenly taking the most beloved saga in history, flipping it on its head, and making something absolutely terrifying? 

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