The last few years have been very good for Star Wars fans. There are new movies, an amazing TV show, books, comics, the works. Then things got even better with yesterday’s announcement of another trilogy of movies and, finally, a live-action TV show.
A live-action Star Wars TV show is something that has been in the works for years. George Lucas himself lead a team that reportedly wrote 50 scripts for a prospective show that was ultimately deemed too expensive to produce. Now another show is back on the table, aiming to debut in 2019 on Disney’s new streaming service—and this time, it has a really great blueprint to work from.
That blueprint is Star Wars Rebels.
Star Wars Rebels, the Disney XD animated show set between Episodes III and IV, is currently in its fourth and final season (which is pretty coincidental considering this new venture is just starting to gear up, but more on that in a moment). For the most part, it’s told a semi-tangential story that always felt like Star Wars but never crowded too closely against the movies. It was, or at least has been so far, a near-perfect balance of familiar and new, and it’s a formula we hope the live-action show, whatever it may be, follows.
The best decision Rebels made was to focus on all-new characters, a strategy you have to think the new show will do as well. And if not “new” characters, at least characters we know very little about. Throw 4-Lom or Yakface in there, fine, but not Chewbacca or C-3PO. By focusing on new characters, Rebels was able to blaze its own path. It always focused on these characters. Their goals. Their flaws. Their pasts. It was fascinating and exciting to discover more about them, and by the time the story started to link closer to the movies, we felt a deep connection to them. Plus, they were diverse as hell, spanning almost every distinction we have as humans, as well as the weird Star Wars ones too. The show realized that Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader aren’t what makes something Star Wars. It’s the attitude, technology, look, music, and galactic setting. Run almost any archetype through a few simple checklists and it can come out feeling “Star Wars-ish.”
However, while Rebels was always about its new characters, it never shied away from the familiar. This show shouldn’t either. Connecting to the popular stories people love, even in very small ways, only makes each one better. So, for example, when Ezra Bridger has a vision of Yoda early on in Rebels, it instantly connects to everything else. We only see Yoda, but Yoda means Luke, Luke means Vader, and so on. It said everything by saying very little, and it expanded Ezra’s story potential exponentially. Then, when we see Yoda later, we also think about Ezra and Rebels. Granted, Rebels had the advantage of being set in a familiar Star Wars time period with plenty of popular characters around;we don’t know when or where the new show will take place. However, tiny, believable connections that don’t convolute each other are a must.
And yet, the connections must never be a crutch. Without any familiar faces, places, or things, the show still has to be Star Wars-y. It can’t spin its wheels waiting for the next cameo. Unless, of course, that cameo is the Force. A level of mysticism is crucial and, in Rebels, that centered on an aspiring Jedi. I hope the new show doesn’t go the “aspiring Jedi” route, as that’s well-travelled territory, but hopefully it can deal with the unique powers characters can harness in the world of Star Wars in surprising ways.
Another must for this show is to present as large a canvas as possible. While it would be easy to do a very focused show set in a Cantina or with one specific character on one planet, Star Wars is about scope. Whatever the show focuses on should include lots of places to go, both narratively and literally. Rebels is a sweeping adventure across the galaxy and that’s a tried and true method.
The problem with that, among other things, is this show is not animated. It’s live-action and that creates huge logistical issues. Lots of things Rebels could do with different connections and places might not be possible for this show. It won’t be able to tell stories of characters whose actors have aged or passed away, for example. Rebels did episodes on Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, and Lando Calrissian. That’s probably not in the cards here. Plus you have to think there will be some level of repetition to the setting of the show, which will likely have familiar bases and places which can be built as practical sets and reused over and over again, season to season. Even the biggest live-action TV shows, with budgets that rival major movies, cut down costs by telling stories that occur at the same place. Then again, with Star Wars, throw a green screen around the set and you can be almost anywhere. Its live-action incarnations are fluid like animation in that way... if they’re within the budget, of course.
Remember how Rebels is ending just as this new show is starting up? Well, that means the best thing the new show can do to be like Rebels is actually possible. That’s to hire Dave Filoni. Filoni is a Lucasfilm staple, having served as showrunner on both Rebels and The Clone Wars. His background is primarily in animation, but his talent really lies with storytelling and character development. Now, those talents are a little underrated because they’ve primarily been seen in animation; many Star Wars fans don’t even know Rebels exists, let alone watch it on Disney XD. There’s a huge population out there who has never experienced his work.
Filoni’s involvement could be crucial on the show because he’s the one who wrote the blueprint I’m talking about in the first place (or, at least, learned it from George Lucas). He knows how to make Star Wars “Star Wars” while easing up on the bells and whistles. And in order to produce a TV show set within that framework, that is going to be imperative.
No matter what the new live-action Star Wars show ends up being about, there’s no doubt it’s going to be highly scrutinized and analyzed. The fact that Rebels was such a success, though it drew a much smaller audience than the movies, works in its favor. The show can retread some of its better parts and still feel new, in the true spirit of Star Wars. And we hope it does just that.