Is there a writer out there who can do for the Sequel Trilogy what Dave Filoni did for the Prequels?
Watching what Dave Filoni has done for the Clone Wars, I have to ask myself, could anyone perform the same miracle for the Resistance Era? Is the setting of the Sequel Trilogy redeemable? The issues are nearly opposite. The prequels had an excellent setting, an era with a distinctive look, new ships, new characters, and therefore a much more interesting playground for the imagination. The movies failed because they lacked character, story, and heart. These problems were so completely solved in the cartoon series that it is almost impossible to remember how little I once cared about the fates of Anakin and Padme. A good writer came in and told compelling stories, breathing life into a setting that George Lucas deserves credit for creating but failed to utilize.
It took me a minute to get around to finishing The Clone Wars. To be honest, there are too many episodes. The whole story about Ahsoka running around in the underworld of Coruscant went nowhere. Filoni isn’t perfect. But once I’d watched The Mandalorian, I was inspired to go back. The episodes where Ahsoka participates in the siege of Mandalore, gets her lightsabers, faces Darth Maul, and then survives Order 66 were some of the best Star Wars there is, animated or otherwise. I began to wonder, were the prequel movies better than I remembered? A quick perusal of some Revenge of the Sith clips on YouTube reminded me that no, they were just as bad as I thought. The acting is flat, the characters unmotivated and uninteresting. Villains like General Grievous and Count Dooku were dull and unused, nothing like the fleshed-out, fully breathing personalities of the cartoon. The actors all look they are waiting to get paid so they can go home, only slightly more lifelike than Boris Karloff in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Filoni’s work had been alchemical, taking George Lucas’ leaden world and spinning it into gold.
As I said, the sequels had a completely different problem. The movies, even the worst ones, were fun and funny. You were made to feel something for the characters in a way that never happened in the prequels. For myself, it was only after thinking about the movies afterwards that I realized what a mess they were. The story and setting were at best knockoffs of the Original Trilogy and at worst completely unintelligible. Just as a trivial example, why were Han and Rey able to see the Starkiller’s beam from another planet? What the hell was supposed to be going on there? Why were characters like Finn, Rose, and Poe, even in the story? What idiot came up with the Palpatine storyline from Episode IX? I’ve talked about these problems before, but the real problem for any redemption is the setting. You can retcon technological issues and flesh out dull characters to make them more sympathetic. You can take a dumb idea and repurpose it. If The Mandalorian can refer to Midichlorians without provoking a gag response, anything can happen with bad ideas. But what can a writer do with a dull setting?
The place to start when rebuilding is to ask what was good. For example, a strength of the prequel era is the existence of the Jedi in full flower. The exploration of a world with many Jedi is a major part of the Clone Wars. The rubber masked knights of the prequels have no more story impact than the aliens in the Mos Eisley cantina. In the cartoon, Plo Koon, Ki Adi Mundi, and Luminara Unduli get whole episodes and backstories. There is one part of Revenge of the Sith that works better now. Now that I know who these Jedi are, their deaths hit harder when Order 66 comes down. It’s as if you watched Avengers: Endgame, then watched all the individual films to get context. You’d be left saying, wow, this could have been great!
So, what is worth saving from the Resistance Era? I think one critical thing to remember (and this was only vaguely stated in the films) is that whole conflict between the First Order and the Resistance takes place in a small corner of the galaxy. The Empire isn’t resurgent everywhere in at least Episode VII. There is a New Republic ruling from somewhere called Hosnian Prime, but they aren’t involved in the Resistance. So, one thing to note about the galaxy in the Resistance is that it is fractured, with probably more centers of power than just the New Republic, the Resistance, and the First Order. That could be interesting. Maybe the Hutts are resurgent, maybe the Chiss, who knows? There’s a lot to work with. Inevitably, this would lead to conflict and disorder. It would be easy to paint imperial sympathizers as sympathetic in this situation. There would be espionage everywhere, arms races, and potentially a multipolar version of our world’s cold war. One element of the setting that is effective is the ubiquitous wreckage of the Galactic Civil War. Timothy Zahn had some good ideas along these lines as well, with familiar vehicles repurposed into interesting new combinations like Lando’s mobile mining facility attached to the back of AT-AT walkers.
The Mandalorian shows some signs of existing in this world, that the writers are fumbling toward a more intriguing version of the post-Endor galaxy. The imperials have changed. They are simultaneously more fanatical, more flawed, and more diverse. Will we see aliens among their ranks at some point or will Thrawn remain one lone non-human? The chaotic galaxy I envision would certainly drive more than just humans into the ranks of an entity devoted to order, but will they be welcome? Perhaps there are more than one imperial remnant, perhaps one faction of imperials has different views on aliens than the others. The more I think about the task of building something out of the wreckage of episodes VII-IX the less unenviable I think it is. I think I could have fun with it.