And it's official…. The rumors have been kicking around for a while, ever since it was announced that "The Empire Strikes Back" writer Lawrence Kasdan and "Sherlock Holmes" scribe Simon Kinberg were developing "Star Wars"-related projects, but Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed yesterday that, aside from a new "Star Wars" trilogy, the first of which will be directed by J.J. Abrams, the studio is also working on stand-alone films set in George Lucas' universe that will be "derived from great 'Star Wars' characters that are not part of the overall saga."
There seem to be at least two movies in the works, one being developed by Kasdan, the other by Kinberg (with the pair also consulting on "Star Wars: Episode VII," probably to make sure all the pieces fit collectively), and surely more to come down the road. Iger suggested yesterday that the films should arrive sometime between 2015 and 2021. But what's their value for Disney? What kind of films can we expect to see? And which characters are we likely to see leading their own films?
The first of these questions should be relatively easy to answer: they'll make a bunch of money. Disney have been upfront about their plans to release a "Star Wars" movie every two years or so, and the idea of stand-alone films means that more time can be taken between fully-fledged "episodes." It's essentially a smaller-scale version of the same game-plan that Marvel have been moving towards; an "Avengers" movie every three or four years, with films focusing on individual characters coming in between.
In theory, it helps keep interest (and more crucially, merchandise sales) consistent, expands the universe, and turns "Star Wars," like Marvel, into less of a franchise, and more of a sort of mini-genre, with multiple filmmakers able to work simultaneously, and in different styles, without diluting the brand. It's easy to see "Star Wars"-themed gangster films, war movies, romances, younger-skewing comedies, all focusing on different characters. There's always a risk of diminishing returns, but so long as they keep the quality, and variety, high enough, it's likely to be more than sustainable.
But the question is, what will these films actually look like? While Kasdan and Kinberg (and other filmmakers) have an entire universe to draw from, there are serious pros and cons to almost any approach. Actors like Harrison Ford are probably too old to kick off their own new sub-franchise, but recasting their roles as younger actors could verge on blasphemy. Picking up on non-human characters is easier, but there's very little precedent for live-action movies carried single-handedly by CGI characters, beyond something like "Alvin & The Chipmunks." Going with a prequel approach risks conflicting with the timeline of the new trilogy, sending out mixed messages, not to mention it threatens to further rob the series of more of its mystery (think midichlorians and generally, too much linear explanation of how everything came to be). Meanwhile, spinning-off a new character from 'Episode VII' is risky — what if the fans don't respond in the way that Abrams and co hope?
And, it's weird for us to quote him given our meh feelings about "Prometheus," but Damon Lindelof's comments about prequels in general are something that deeply resonated with us, and we hope the new "Star Wars" team are listening closely (and/or Lindelof is elbowing his former "Lost" boss and and goes, "Psst, don't forget this.")
"With all due respect to anyone who makes a prequel, but why would you ruin the greatest twist in the history of cinema, 'Luke, I am your father,' by showing me three movies which basically spoil that surprise. You can do movies which take place before 'Star Wars' but I don't need to see the story of the Skywalker clan. Show me something else which I can’t guess the possible outcome of. There is no suspense in inevitability."
It's a tricky conundrum to be sure, and on the next page, we've suggested five of the more likely routes these spin-offs could take, and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Which would you most like to see? Let us know in the comments section. Personally, we want an "Anvil!" style documentary about the Cantina Band. Update: Obviously some of these spin-off films have now been announced. Though some claim they are still in the early stages and anything could happen…
The upside: Pegged by Harry Knowles as the likely first spin-off (and his sources during the prequels were generally on-the-money, for what it's worth), it makes a lot of sense that a "Yoda" movie would be first up. After all, the diminutive muppet is one of the saga's most iconic and beloved characters, and perhaps more importantly, the most merchandisable. Having been killed off in "The Return of the Jedi," he's unlikely to figure into the new trilogy as anything but a ghost, so a stand-alone Yoda movie is easily the best way of keeping the character's profile high. Given that he's 900 years old when he passes, there's plenty of time to take the character to new places, and he's one of the few original trilogy characters who remains something of a blank slate; very little's been revealed about his past. Kasdan, essentially the character's creator as the writer of 'Empire,' would be a natural choice to write the script too, and it could well be the project he's working on.
The downside: That said, our gut is that Yoda is a character who works better on the fringes of a story than at the center, particularly as he would be a CGI creation. And a look at a younger Yoda ("Yoda Begins," as it were) would seem to rob him of some of what made him so special in the first place (though this seems to be de rigeur for "Star Wars" characters in general these days).We've already seen him be "bad-ass" in "Attack Of The Clones." What possibly could they do next? Show him training Jedis and then explaining why he had to take refuge on Dagobah? Isn't the over-explaining/mystery robbing conceit we're all hoping they avoid? This is a case where we can see why Disney would go down this route — we just hope that they pick another one.
The upside: Thanks to only a handful of scenes in "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return Of The Jedi," helmeted bounty hunter Boba Fett became one of the most obsessed-over of all the "Star Wars" side-characters — he looked cool, had a jet pack, and was morally inscrutable and mysterious enough that fans could fill in the blanks. As such, he'd be a natural pick for a spin-off, especially one that appealed to the slightly older audience that made him a cult favorite. A Boba Fett movie would be an excuse to delve into the darker recesses of the "Star Wars" universe — an action-thriller as Fett tries to track down his quarry through wretched hives of scum and villainy. It'd lend a certain "cool factor" to appeal to a more PG-13 audience, leaving Abrams' film and its sequels to stay more family friendly. And while Fett was seemingly killed in "Return of the Jedi," the spin-off books have him surviving the Sarlacc pit and going on to further adventures, so it's not a definitive demise.
The downside: Like almost everything about the "Star Wars" prequels, Boba Fett and his father Jango Fett were really anything, but cool in "Attack Of the Clones." Was he a man, a robot? A disfigured psycho? All that mystery was instantly killed. Jango was killed off rather easily and Boba was shown as a whimpering little child. And while we've seen him mostly helmetted in the past, these prequels also set a precedent for showing his face (though presumably it would mean recasting Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett, given that Boba was meant to be a clone?). There's even a director in waiting, as one time "Star Wars" effects whiz Joe Johnston ("Captain America") pitched the idea of a Boba spin-off, and again, Kasdan created the character and is natural choice to write such a film. That said, there's a degree of fanboy pandering that this idea would reek of, and furthermore, a badass with only a few scenes could be less than fascinating when he becomes a lead. It's like the "Deadpool" movie idea all over again, essentially. Skip this one, please.
The upside: Of course, there's one other character from "The Empire Strikes Back," introduced in part by Kasdan, who could sustain their own movie — Lando Calrissian, as played by Billy Dee Williams in the original films. An old friend of Han Solo, who owned the Millennium Falcon before him, Lando is a gambler-turned politician, morally ambiguous enough to betray his old friend, but good-hearted enough to change sides again, proving instrumental in both the rescue of Solo, and the destruction of the second Death Star. It's a pretty great arc — from scoundrel to leader of an entire floating city to disgraced collaborator to galactic hero — and one of the few cases where we feel there's more fleshing out to do (he was lucky enough to escape the prequel trilogy entirely). There's a long history in the extended universe of Lando's adventures both before his first film appearance and after the end of "Return of the Jedi," so there's a precedent there, and you could include other fan favorites like Han, Chewie and Boba, plus it'd give some diversity to the franchise.
The downside: That said, there are still hurdles. For one, if we're ten films into the Marvel movies (if we go up to "Guardians of the Galaxy") without a "Black Panther" film getting any closer, we're not holding our breath that Disney will break the cinematic color barrier. Then there's casting and chronology, as Billy Dee Williams is clearly too old to play the character, so they'd either have to recast or go the Young Lando/prequel route. Still, there have already been rumors he's set to return for the new films, and there are ways to approach it creatively to make it work, so we could dig it.
The "Seven Samurai" Project
The updside: Weeks before the confirmation of the "Star Wars" spin-offs, Vulture reported that "300" and "Man Of Steel" director Zack Snyder was developing a film set outside the new trilogy, along a parallel timeline, inspired by Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai." Snyder's reps denied it at the time, but Vulture is standing by their story, saying Snyder had met with Lucasfilm to talk about the project. It was greeted with some skepticism at the time, but makes a lot more sense now that the reports of stand-alone projects are concrete. It's the kind of conceit that would only make sense as a stand-alone movie, rather than as a new episode, and strikes us as the project that Simon Kinberg, given his skillset, could be developing. Whether Snyder is involved or not, there's no smoke without fire, and it seems likely that such a project is in development at Disney. Certainly, the idea of a film taking place alongside the new trilogy would seem to make more sense than a Yoda-centric prequel, in terms of Disney's game-plan. And while that would seem to indicate that it'll center on new characters, it doesn't rule out, say, a young Mace Windu being one of the seven central Jedi characters. We feel fairly confident that a version of this project is in the works, but we'd also wager that it probably wouldn't be the first stand-alone film out of the gates, so it's likely to be several years before it's in theaters.
The downside: Not much of one. We're all for new characters and new stories. However, if it didn't take for some reason, Disney would have a dud on our hands, but we believe they have to trust the audience and creators that there is a thirst for greater stories within this universe that aren't six-degrees-of-separation connected to what we've seen already.
The Jedi Academy
The upside: We've said before that given the ages of the principal cast, the new trilogy should predominately focus on new characters, with, at the most, cameos from the older actors. But that doesn't mean that they don't have a place in the franchise going forward. And one such place could be at the Jedi Academy. In the Extended Universe, Luke spends much of his time rebuilding the Jedi order, and training up new Jedis to take his place, most notably in the "Jedi Academy" trilogy of novels by Kevin J. Anderson — "Jedi Search," "Dark Apprentice" and "Champions Of The Force." While we doubt the new films will be following any Extended Universe plots particularly closely, the option is certainly there for a "Star Wars: Jedi Academy"-style spin-off, which would see Luke as a wise sensei training up a new cast of characters who could theoretically take over past "Episode IX." Yes, it's essentially "Star Wars: First Class," but the way that the "X-Men" movie has been able to sit alongside (and in "X-Men: Days Of Future Past," be absorbed into) the main franchise, could be a good guide as to how Disney could move things forward.
The downside: That said, while we expect a Jedi Academy, and Luke, to be part of the franchise going forward (rumors, albeit incorrect ones, have already suggested that was the case), we think it'll probably be as an element of the new trilogy, rather than as a stand-alone project — it could seem to be crossing the streams too much to make this a side-franchise right out of the gate, especially as young Jedi Knights are bound to figure into "Episode VII," unless Michael Arndt has gone in a very surprising direction with the new trilogy. Still, the option is always there, and this could maybe come to pass after "Episode IX." Or maybe it's a potential teen-friendly TV series? (And given Marvel's move to the small screen with "S.H.I.E.L.D." it's probably only a matter of time before Disney figures out ways to bring the property to cable as well).
And of course, there's plenty of other options out there: a film set thousands of years before the existing movies, in the days of the Old Republic; a "Star Wars" mob movie, focusing on the rise of Jabba The Hutt; a sort of space "Top Gun," with Luke's old pal Wedge Atilles training up new X-Wing pilots; explicit pornography starring suggestively-named octopus-headed Jedi side-character Kit Fisto… Let us know what you'd most like to see in the comments section — you never know who's reading…