At this point, it’s fairly safe to say that Star Wars is a pretty popular franchise. A few people are pretty fond of it, at least.
But with The Last Jedi almost in the can, and Episode IX looking to be the conclusion of the current main saga arc, the question begins to arise: what’s next for the franchise?
Will Disney, eager to sell as much merchandize as possible, push Lucasfilm to immediately begin work on another trilogy of films? Or will the studio instead take a rest from these movies in order to avoid audiences suffering from franchise fatigue?
According to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, the studio’s current plans wrap up with Episode IX, but that doesn’t mean that Star Wars will be leaving theaters any time soon:
“I certainly foresee movies past nine. Whether or not we carry on the Skywalker saga… you know, George always intended nine movies, and whether we continue that or not is something we’re talking about right now. If the story warrants it, we’ll absolutely do it. If it actually inspires new ideas, then we’ll probably head in that direction. We just don’t know yet.”
So we’re definitely getting more movies, that much is a given. But the question remains as to what form these films might take.
A lot of things are still up in the air for Lucasfilm. Last year, the studio seemed very unwilling to even commit to their Anthology movie plans, as production on Rogue One was particularly chaotic and for a while it seemed internally like the movie was going to turn into a shambolic disaster.
Having pulled a great movie out of a ridiculously complex filming process, Lucasfilm clearly seems more confident about making more spin-offs, but with the Han Solo movie still in development, there’s no doubt that Kathleen Kennedy would prefer to see a little more solid success from this side of the franchise before choosing to ditch the standard episodical format of the franchise.
There had been talk that the numbered Star Wars movies – which would likely (but not necessarily) continue with Episodes X, XI, and XII, might be put on hold, keeping them a rare, generational treat, rather than a standard experience that gets trotted out every few years.
These rumors, though, work on the assumption that audiences would eventually lose interest in Star Wars episodes. Considering that Fast and Furious 8 has just made box office history, and that Marvel’s MCU has been seeing increasing success from moving to an episodic approach to storytelling, it’s likely that higher ups at Lucasfilm are considering the merits of powering into some new adventures with Rey, Finn, and Poe, immediately after Episode IX has concluded, taking full advantage of the characters’ growing popularity.
The biggest challenge that Star Wars faces right now, though, is China. The Chinese market never received the original movies, and as such, the current crop of self-referential sequels and spin-offs simply don’t resonate with the largest cinema-going audience in the world.
Whatever Lucasfilm does next, there’ll likely be more efforts to convince Chinese audiences to bank on the series, which may mean starting afresh with an easier jumping-on point, rather than telling countless stories that follow on from one another.
For example, Lucasfilm could jump immediately to Episode XIII, and try pulling off the same kind of storytelling that we get the original Star Wars, with brand new characters and galactic politics, before a prequel trilogy fills in the gaps later.
This is unlikely, but it might help to make the Star Wars franchise more palatable to new audiences who can’t be bothered with a growing back catalogue of existing cinematic canon.
Or, most likely, Lucasfilm will tackle Episode IX, ramp up production on a series of spin-offs, and then return to numbered movies after a few years have passed.
Whatever’s coming, Kennedy states that we won’t be hearing about new movies just yet:
“I wouldn’t say this year, but certainly by next year.”
For now, there’s nothing to do but wait impatiently for The Last Jedi, and occasionally remember that the unwanted Han Solo movie is still filming, and will release just six months after Episode VIII.
Perhaps the long term plan for Kathleen Kennedy is to just make it through the next thirteen months, and then take a long awaited vacation.