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What’s next for Disney’s Star Wars films?

There are so many Star Wars films in development — how many of them will we actually get to see?

Disney purchased Lucasfilm and all it encompasses on October 30th, 2012. This week, to mark the ten-year anniversary of this momentous acquisition, AIPT will be reflecting on Disney’s impact on what is one of the most popular and influential media franchises to ever exist – Star Wars.

From the end of Return of the Jedi until the prequels hit theaters, Star Wars fans would have done anything for more Star Wars films. They found themselves in the same situation once the prequel trilogy ended and the future of the franchise was undefined. A few years ago, one could have said there was a little too much Star Wars on the theatrical horizon. Nowadays, however, the future of Star Wars on film is murky, especially with the way Disney has mishandled, we’ll say, some Star Wars stories.

We can’t talk about the future of Disney Star Wars films without first detailing the past. Over the past decade, Disney has released a sequel trilogy continuing the Skywalker Saga as well as two spinoffs, Rogue One and Solo. After Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Rogue One released during back-to-back Decembers, things seemed to be looking up for Star Wars. Fans had two more chapters in a new trilogy to look forward to as well as a prequel focused on a young Han Solo.

And then? Episode VIII — The Last Jedi divided fans, with some loving the way it challenged expectations while others derided it for its plot and character choices. Six months later came Solo, a rather average-to-good film marred down by behind-the-scenes drama and the stink of The Last Jedi carrying over. The Rise of Skywalker hit theaters in 2019 and, ooh boy, we could spend all year dissecting the poor choices surrounding that film. It was not received well at all, with a Rotten Tomatoes score on par with The Phantom Menace and a box office return that could barely match half of The Force Awakens’ haul.

So many failures in a row led Disney CEO Bob Iger to even admit there was “too much, too fast” in terms of Star Wars films. He said to expect “some slowdown,” and that certainly has been the case as we’ve now had three years – which is remarkable in today’s cultural landscape – of not having a new Star Wars film since The Rise of Skywalker ended the sequel trilogy on a painfully sour note.

That’s not to say Disney hadn’t planned for more films for the end of the 2010s and start of this decade — they just didn’t get made. Josh Trank joined and left a spinoff film before The Force Awakens even released. A couple other early film ideas, one centered around Boba Fett and another about Obi-Wan Kenobi, were folded into Disney+ streaming series. Remember when David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were set to create a trilogy of films? The first was supposed to release next month. Of course, their commitment to Netflix got in the way of that happening (but I think we know the real reason). Then there was the obvious sequel bait ending of Solo that set up plots we may never see conclude.

Fret not, however, for Disney still has many and more Star Wars films in development. Whether they see the darkness of a theater or get canned like D&D’s trilogy remains to be seen. Taiki Waititi, who’s no stranger to working with Disney and Star Wars, is reportedly working on a standalone Star Wars film – that keeps getting pushed back. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has been attached to Rogue Squadron, about a new group of starfighter pilots, since at least 2020. In April 2022 the film was slated for release next December, and only five months later it was taken off Disney’s release schedule. I wouldn’t be too surprised if either or both films get strung along in development hell for a year or two more before dying expected deaths.

I am surprised, however, that Rian Johnson still wants to return to Star Wars after the reception to Episode VIII. The director is working on a new trilogy, unrelated to the Skywalker Saga, that will get made after he spends more time working with the Knives Out franchise. Marvel Czar Kevin Feige is rumored to have a Star Wars film in the works, Sleight director J.D. Dillard and Luke Cage writer Matt Owens are reportedly working on film about the Sith planet Exogol, and Buzzfeed – of all outlets – reported in 2019 a Knights of the Old Republic film was in development, but there’s been no word on that project since (sad face).

One thing Disney has been mum on is another trilogy of mainline films – Episodes X, XI, and XII. Of course, with the way the sequel trilogy ended, I’m not even sure if fans or Disney want to keep going with the Skywalker Saga. As a company, Disney may have concluded that, for the moment, the best path towards profitability – and goodwill with fans – is the focus on side stories and spinoffs to further widen the Star Wars universe. While the theaters have had an absence of lightsabers and blasters, Disney+ has several original Star Wars series to make sure fans are never wanting too badly for new content.

When the Hollywood Reporter recently revealed Damon Lindelof is working on a Star Wars film, they teased fans with a hint of what’s to come, writing “the story would take place after the events of 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, although it would not be a continuation of the Skywalker saga. It could, however, feature some of the characters from the Star Wars trilogy made in the 2010s.” I’m sure plenty of people imagine Rey, Finn, and Poe returning, but I could also see this as indicating side characters from the sequel trilogy could in Lindelof’s film to be the connective tissue of sorts between the sequel trilogy and what Star Wars will be post-Skywalker Saga (if the Saga has truly come to an end). Films and stories set after The Rise of Skywalker could be about the galaxy rebuilding after The First Order tore it a new one and wouldn’t necessarily have to be a continuation of Rey’s journey.

Even though Disney has a handful of Star Wars films in development, your guess is as good as mine as to how many will actually get made to completion. And even if they do, the final product might turn into a miniseries on Disney+, like with Kenobi. I’m sure we’ll get more Star Wars back in theaters eventually – perhaps Rian Johnson’s trilogy will take off at the end of the decade or we’ll get some more anthology films to tide us over until Episode X drops in 2032.

I’m glad Disney is, at the very least, taking its time with Star Wars now. The company certainly slapped together the sequel trilogy without a plan and rushed them out the gate, and are now paying for those mistakes. With Star Wars taking a theatrical step back, Disney — including John Favreau, Dave Filoni, Patty Jenkins, Taika Waititi, Rian Johnson, et al. — have more time to reflect on how to make Star Wars films special again and decide what stories really need telling. After all, time makes the heart grow fonder, and Disney certainly needs its fans to grow fond of Star Wars once again.

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