It only took Disney ten years to kill Star Wars—Star Wars, one of the most legendary franchises of all time. Imagine telling your eight–year–old self that one day, a new Star Wars TV show would be released every couple of months, and not only would no one care, but the shows would be mocked and reviled. This summer’s release of Ahsoka, the latest Star Wars TV show, demonstrates just how far the once–great franchise has fallen.
Now, you may be asking, “Doesn’t the fact that there is new Star Wars content every few weeks mean that the franchise is far from dead?” This is exactly the problem. Disney has turned Star Wars, like many other of their properties, into content, packaged and produced in total disregard of artistic value. Star Wars, at least the original trilogy, used to be about something.
Take A New Hope as an example. It’s about the universal feeling of wanting to leave home in search of something greater, the natural forces that unite all living things, American imperialism during the mid–20th century and especially the Vietnam War, George Lucas’ love for the films of Sergio Leone, John Ford, and Akira Kurosawa, how political revolution can be sparked through small actions, and, finally, the idea that no matter how strong and powerful evil seems, good will always prevail in the end.
Conversely, if we look at basically every Star Wars TV show or film since then, it’s hard to read any greater theme into them. Star Wars stopped being about larger ideas but simply Star Wars itself. Do the prequels have any larger, coherent themes other than George Lucas satisfying his own ego? Unless you care deeply about Midi–chlorians and how exactly Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, they do not. Similarly, The Force Awakens does not have anything new to say other than getting a new generation interested in the franchise again. The two spin–offs, Rogue One and Solo are simply filling in the gaps between films. At least The Rise of Skywalker provides young filmmakers with a very important lesson: what not to do when making a Star Wars movie.
The two exceptions are Andor, a show about what revolution needs to do to operate under a fascist system, and The Last Jedi (fight me), a film about how holding onto the past too tightly only leads to trouble. And yet, how did Star Wars fans react to them? They had a meltdown. And another one. This stance is fundamentally anti–art, opposed to any kind of creativity and innovation in the name of keeping their favorite story comfortable.
This brings us to the real problem Star Wars is facing. Star Wars fans don’t want new stories, they just want to feel like their childhood obsession with a fake universe was worth it. They have a very specific preconception of who, for example, Luke Skywalker is, most likely formed when they were playing with their action figures as a kid, and any challenge to that is perceived as an attack on the franchise. If you're obsessed over a set of characters, and then someone comes along and takes those characters in a direction that you personally disagree with, you are bound to harbor some resentment. So, when Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi, posits that Luke Skywalker becomes a Colonel Kurtz–like, ascetic monk after his experiences in the original trilogy (something even George Lucas saw as the natural progression for his character), it becomes heretical because it is not the outcome fans have envisioned.
This all sets the scene for the immense failure of Ahsoka. Even before discussing the quality of the show, its entire premise only caters to these same fans who rejected fresh Star Wars. Ahsoka is a sequel to the animated show Star Wars Rebels, which itself was a sequel to the animated show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Combined, these two shows, both created by Ahsoka writer–director Dave Filoni, ran for 11(!) seasons. What makes it worse is that Ahsoka picks up exactly where Star Wars Rebels leaves off, to the point almost no one could understand without having some knowledge of the show. While you need to know absolutely nothing going into the original trilogy, now you have to watch nine movies and 11 seasons of animated TV shows spanning 46 years to even grasp what’s going on.
But how do the same Star Wars fans that trashed the originality of The Last Jedi and Andor react to this? They love it, of course. The same way these fans need their exact take on every character to be fulfilled, they also like the fact that Ahsoka is rewarding them for doing the homework. If you spent most of your childhood watching animated Star Wars shows that the wider Star Wars community treated as an afterthought, only to grow up and find that now they are core to everything Star Wars is doing and will do, you’re bound to be thrilled, no matter how bad the show actually is.
And trust me, the show really is that bad. The writing is bland and contrived, the acting, particularly from Rosario Dawson as the titular character, is emotionless and wooden, and the visuals, aided greatly by (or over–reliant upon) The Volume are cartoonishly awful. It is abundantly clear that in crafting Ahsoka, Filoni took ideas meant for animation and translated them over to live action, which ultimately begs the question: Why is this a live action show?
The answer, of course, is to give these animated shows legitimacy. While unfair, our culture still takes live action more seriously than animation. By making Ahsoka live action, Filoni is seeking to legitimize his vision of Star Wars and cater to the animation show fans. The decision to make the show live action was not a creative choice, but one cynically rooted in optics and legitimacy.
Is there any hope for the future of Star Wars? It’s hard to have hope in a time when there hasn’t been a Star Wars movie in four years and the list of canceled Star Wars films continues to grow. Star Wars TV was supposed to fill the gaps between Star Wars movies, but their last few offerings (The Mandalorian season 3, Obi–Wan Kenobi, and The Book of Boba Fett) have ranged from bad to god–awful.
And yet, it’s still Star Wars, the franchise that has symbolized hope and goodness for so many around the world and spawned some of the most famous characters in history. At this point, after 11 movies and nine TV shows (the majority of which are bad) part of being a Star Wars fan is experiencing the disappointment of new Star Wars. Nevertheless, it’s still the franchise that I will keep watching until it eventually runs its course, no matter how bad it gets. But if Ahsoka is a preview of what’s to come, that may be sooner than any of us expect.