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Star Wars places smart bet on its past to build its future

Star Wars: The High Republic | Announcement Trailer

The future of Star Wars, it seems, will be forged in the past.

Star Wars’ next big event, The High Republic Era, was announced a few months ago, but it didn’t make a lot of headlines. That’s probably because it doesn’t involve a movie or TV series, but even so, it offers the latest indications of where the sci-fi franchise is headed now that the Skywalker saga is over.

Return of the Jedi Knights

First revealed in February, Star Wars: The High Republic is a publishing initiative by Lucasfilm that will offer up a series of novels, comic books, and multimedia projects set within a time period before the events of the prequel trilogy. The stories will explore the characters and events that transpired 200 years before Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered Anakin Skyalker in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

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Where much of Star Wars’ big-screen saga so far has offered up Jedi heroes faced with nearly as much inner turmoil as external threats, Lucasfilm has indicated that the High Republic stories will offer a different spin on the relationship between the Jedi and the rest of the galaxy. The stories will feature the Jedi Order at the height of its prominence in the Galactic Republic, when the Jedi were the “guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic,” as Obi-Wan Kenobi described them in the original, franchise-spawning Star Wars.

In many ways, the stories seem intended to deliver the sort of unmistakably noble Jedi heroes fans have heard a lot about, but rarely seen on the big or small screens.

“[The High Republic] is a hopeful, optimistic time,” explained Lucasfilm’s Michael Siglain in the announcement of the studio’s publishing plan for Star Wars.

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The High Republic Era kicks off with August’s Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi, a novel from author Charles Soule. It will be followed by various interconnected stories expected to pit the Jedi Order against a brutal enemy force bent on conquering the Republic.

Although Disney and Lucasfilm have indicated the books “will not overlap any of the filmed features or series currently planned for production,” there are plenty of reasons to believe success in the High Republic era could lead to a leap from page to screen.

Holding out for heroes

Things have rarely been as simple as good-versus-evil for the Jedi.

Throughout the nine-film Skywalker saga, many of the franchise’s most prominent Jedi have fought an internal battle against their darker impulses. Some have lost, some have won, but for many of them, the battles they fought were simply part of a greater war between good and evil that raged within themselves.

In recent years, critics of the sequel trilogy have cited Luke Skywalker’s cynical turn in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Last Jedi as a symptom of the modern films’ unwillingness to let its heroes simply be heroes.

star wars: the last jedi review
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To many fans, Kylo Ren’s trilogy-spanning angst in the recent sequel films and Rey’s own, late-revealed links to the Dark Side only added to a diminishing of The Force — the mystical energy wielded by the Jedi — as, well … a force for good. Given all of those stories set within the gray area of Star Wars’ moral spectrum, it’s easy to see the appeal of a chapter in the saga that shows the Jedi at their best, squaring off against clear-cut villains instead of their own inner demons.

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With both a fresh take on the Jedi and a deep dive into a vast, unexplored region of the Star Wars timeline, The High Republic promises to be a smart move for Lucasfilm as far as franchise pivots go — but it’s not the only current and upcoming Star Wars project rooted in the past.

Obi-Wan, Cassian Andor, and Din Djarin

As of May 2020, there are three officially confirmed, live-action Star Wars projects in various stages of development for the screen — and like The High Republic Era, they’re all set at various points in the saga’s past.

In late 2019, the first season of The Mandalorian on Disney+ quickly established the live-action series as the flagship show on the streaming service. Set between the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the series follows a lone gunfighter on the galaxy’s outer rim after the fall of the Galactic Empire.

THE MANDALORIAN Trailer (2019) Star Wars

A second season of The Mandalorian premieres in October, and it will dive even deeper into another region of the franchise’s past — both geographically and narratively — that the movies have otherwise ignored.

Also planned for Disney+ are two, still-untitled series set in the time between Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV – A New Hope.

The first of the series will explore Obi-Wan Kenobi’s time on the desert planet of Tatooine as he attempts to keep a watchful eye on Luke Skywalker while navigating the region’s web of crime syndicates and other dangerous elements. The other series, set five years before the events of A New Hope, will follow Rebel spy Cassian Andor — first introduced in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — as he operates undercover for the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire.

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Although all three series offer a fair share of conflicted heroes, one thing they share in common is a foundation in the franchise’s past — which is rapidly becoming one of Star Wars’ most fertile fields for storytelling opportunities.

A wide-open past

Between the High Republic publishing initiative and the three aforementioned TV series, Star Wars is covering a lot of ground in the near future, and finding ways to make the old seem new again.

Prequel projects are nothing new in the modern reboot- and remake-obsessed entertainment world, but there’s something particularly appropriate about Star Wars looking back as the franchise moves forward. Back in 1981, when the massive success of the original Star Wars sent the film back to theaters, George Lucas decided to retroactively designate the film “Episode IV.”

Where many filmmakers would consider that first, blockbuster movie a starting point for stories to come, Lucas instead chose to make it the middle chapter in a larger story he had yet to tell. In doing so, he established a universe of stories to tell both before and after Luke Skywalker embarks on the adventure that would make him one of Hollywood’s most iconic heroes.

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No matter how you feel about the prequel trilogy that eventually served as Episodes I-III in the serialized story, Lucas’ decision proved to be a brilliant one — and made fans’ appetites for what came before Star Wars almost as great as for what would come after.

After completing a nine-film saga that encompassed more than four decades, Lucasfilm is teasing out Star Wars’ past once again.

And once again, Star Wars fans are getting excited about stories set in a galaxy far, far away, unfolding a long time ago.

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Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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