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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Film Land - 7 Star Wars Spin-Offs They Should Make

Edited by Robert Beach 

Happy Star Wars Day, presumptive audience! May the force be with us all. This Star Wars Day, however, feels decidedly special as it’s the first time in nearly a decade when celebrating Star Wars felt like a celebration of tomorrow, of looking forward, rather than a nostalgic look back at the triumphs of the past. A lot of that has to do with the massive success enjoyed by The Force Awakens last year and the gathering hype for this December’s Rogue One. 

For the first time in forever, Star Wars is back as a culture force in our society as a name that’s said with pride and an eye towards the future. With that in mind, this article is going to be about the future. I mentioned Rogue One a moment ago because it is a big deal. The first ever theatrical Star Wars spin-off film to be released, and it’s got me thinking about what other spin-offs they could make. Let's jump right in then. 

This one is so obvious it hurts, but for some reason, whenever I bring it up most people wave it off. I really don’t get why. A lot of folks seem to expect Lando to show up in the already confirmed Han Solo film, but I think it should be the other way around.  Maybe this is sacrilege, but I’ve never really been a big Han Solo fan. I don’t dislike Han, for I’ve never found him as cool and compelling as so many other fans do. He's always felt like the weakest member of Star Wars trinity. No, I’ve always been a bigger fan of Lando Calrissian and a lot of that boils down to Billy D. Williams cool confidence and extreme class in the role. 

The reason I think Lando would make for a better movie, however, is his story has more progression to it. When we meet Han Solo, he’s a 2-bit smuggler on a backwater planet being hunted by a giant slug monster that he stiffed out of a deal. I know that subsequent EU material has tried to endow Han with greater history and depth, but compare that to Lando. Lando comes from a similarly illegal background as Han, yet he has now somehow become the leader of Cloud City, one of the most angelic places in the entire galaxy, and it’s just a more interesting story. How does a nobody kid from the mean starways of the galaxy rise up to run Vespen and then become the rebel general that leads the destruction of the 2nd Deathstar.  It’d be like Hamilton in space. 

This is going to sound like a weird one, but bear with me here.   Firstly, when I say “Imperial Guard,” I mean specifically the big red guys with electric sticks flanking the emperor. They might seem like an odd choice for a spin-off, though there’s a lot to be done with this character, owing to the free nature of the spin-off films.  The spin-off movies can take place whenever and are free to examine events that we simply didn’t see. In the case of the Imperial Guard, you could create a standout film about a failed attempt by the guard to assassinate the Emperor. 

One of the big problems I’ve always had with Star Wars is that we’ve never been made explicitly clear what the Empire’s plan is or why they’re evil. They just are because they are. A film about the men responsible for guarding the emperor could really dig into the evil the empire does and offer us insight into why people might actually follow the emperor with such devotion. 

Speaking of devotion, the alternate track you could take would be to focus on what happened to the Imperial Guard in the wake of the Emperor’s death. This idea has already been explored in the Star Wars EU series Crimson Empire, and it was done excellently and could easily be reworked for a film adaptation. What’s more, it’d be a great opportunity to dive into the post-Return of the Jedi/pre-Force Awakens era.  

Star Wars’ villains have always been a major source of strength for the series, so delving deeper into them in the form of a sleek, paranoid, failed assassination plot or a chaotic, post-assassination thriller would really benefit the series. Given the tone shift Rogue One looks to set, a thriller film suits the modern, non-episodic Star Wars films. And if someone did want to make the Imperial Guard into heroes after the Emperor’s Death, it wouldn’t be the first time that happened. Speaking of...  

Here’s another pair of choices that make so much sense I’m honestly pretty shocked we haven’t heard about them moving to the big screen yet. I mentioned back at the start that Star Wars spent the past decade languishing under the yoke of the prequels and audience fatigue. The one area where the series actually managed to grow in the hearts of a new fan base was the Clone Wars animated series.  

The thing people tend to forget about that fact is now, for a whole new generation of Star Wars fans, the clone troopers are the good guys. That’s part of why one of the new trinity of Star Wars heroes in Force Awakens starts as a clone trooper. And yet, this wellspring of new fans could easily be tapped for a new film revolving around the clone troopers in the separatist wars. 

I know we’re all just agreeing the prequels era is off limits. Honestly, I'm not sure it should be. The set-up of a Jedi, a warrior knight of zen peace, leading a team of soldiers genetically grown and conditioned to be murder machines, is one of the most perfect military thriller set-ups ever conceived.  

Even if you didn’t want to slip back into the prequel era for a film, it could also be interesting to focus on the shift from clone trooper to storm trooper. This idea has already been touched on in the new show Rebels, but you could easily make an entire film out of the last clone troopers being hunted by an empire that no longer wants them, or perhaps they opposed the Order 66 stuff from Revenge of the Sith. 

Conversely, you could easily make a workable war movie out of the adventures of the X-Wing squad during the rebellion. Like the clone troopers, the X-Wings have the advantage of featuring a handful of well-like characters remembered as the supporting cast from A New Hope. It's not like audiences would be coming in cold.  

Something to remember about Star Wars overall is the original film very much wanted to emphasize the WAR in its name. The whole series was a space fantasy certainly, though it was also meant as a fantasy of a glorious and honorable war in the style of an idealized World War 2, informed by a generation whose entire experience with war was Vietnam. Getting back to that particular identity would not be without merit. 

This is, admittedly, less of a single character adaptation and more of a pitch. It's still worth mentioning and would fit perfectly into the Star Wars oeuvre. In case you didn’t know, a heavy influence on Lucas’ development of Star Wars were samurai films and westerns.  This manifests itself in character design and introduction, the mysticism of the force, and a lot of the cinematography. It's also made these two genres a secret weapon for the series that could easily be drawn upon to create more films. This ties in to what’s so unique about Rogue One and the precedent it sets by adapting a conceivable storyline rather than acting as a character-centric spin-off.

If you’ve never heard of either of these films, the plot is mythically simple: a village is under attack by bad dudes, so they hire a league of 7 good guys to come protect them. The actually interesting aspects of the story arise from the plethora of unique personalities and skill sets that emerge out of this situation. In the case of Star Wars, you could conceivably tell this story with just 7 Jedi protecting a single settlement. Personally, I think it’d be better to have 7 unique individuals.  

A big part of Star Wars’ appeal has always been that every role within its universe is a valid one. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a Jedi, a smuggler, a bounty hunter, a fighter pilot, or a soldier, all roles are heroic, and all roles have a hero in them. Emphasizing that validity and strength of diverse identity through a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven-type premise would be a perfect way to draw on the series strengths and stylistic roots.

Firstly, let’s all just agree that Poe Dameron is the best new character to come out of The Force Awakens. There’s no point in debasing ourselves by arguing this fact. A big part of that was the acting of Oscar Isaac, a talented actor who’s emerging as a superstar right in front of our eyes.  Given that and the massive fan love that’s already begun swirling around Poe and his sidekick BB-8, giving him a spin-off movie is really a no brainer. We may not have much of him in the future. Earlier drafts of Force Awakens had Poe dying, so there’s no guarantee there. 

Much like the X-Wing squadron or Imperial Guard pitches, a story revolving around Poe would best be set during the interim period after the fall of the Empire and before the development of the Star Killer Base. It’s a compelling time period and one that’s been given no development outside the Marvel Shattered Empire comic series. Even then, that was a comic set before Poe’s birth. A story revolving around how Poe came to be a fighter pilot in the new Resistance, perhaps touching on what the new Resistance is and where The First Order actually came from would make for a very compelling series. 

Poe already exists as the living embodiment of Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers "swashbuckler in space"-type archetypes, so just giving him a tale of space adventure in a time of danger is really ALL this film would have to do to succeed. Additionally, it’d be a chance to get a little more action out of the classic actors, especially Carrie Fisher. It’s already been confirmed the origins of The First Order aren’t really a secret as they’re going to be revealed in the novelization of The Force Awakens, so there’s really no reason not to give Dameron his own movie other than you wouldn’t be able to have him hook-up with Finn.  

And we save the craziest idea for last. This pitch, again, comes from the EU and in a very weird part of the EU fixation. During the opening act of The Empire Strikes Back, there’s a scene where Han Solo is getting his tauntaun saddled up to go look for Luke on Hoth. As Han is about to leave, some nameless rebel attendant advises him against going to which Han snaps back “I’ll see you in Hell.” 

This one line has always plagued the fan and EU communities as "Hell" is exclusively a concept that emerges from religion, in particular the Christian faith. Other religions have ideas like unto hell, but we only call them “Buddhist hells” or the like because of the Christian standard for the concept. So how does Han Solo know what "hell" is?

This has spawned a whole series of religions and ideas about Hell existing in the galaxy far, far away, but what I’d most like to see is a film actually set in the "Hell" of the Star Wars universe. The whole series has always been a fantasy affair involving knights and wizards, so it’s not like it’d be that far beyond the pale to have a story involving some space conception of the infernal. What’s more, hell in space is hardly a new concept as films like Event Horizon, and Disney’s own The Black Hole have already touched on it.  

A Star Wars film set in some conception of their realm’s idea of Hell could be set on a planet, a parallel dimension, or any number of possibilities, and it’d be a chance to bring back several deceased characters for a new story. Even the idea of modern characters somehow ending up stranded in Hell could be worth exploring as that story concept has been done with great effect in comics like Human Defense Corp and Hellbreak. It’d be a tricky undertaking and no doubt a controversial one. As I said at the start, this is a time for Star Wars to look ahead, to innovate and take chances rather than just playing it safe. 

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