There was always going to be more “Star Wars” in Disney’s future. But as the company announced plans for a new trilogy of movies and a live-action TV show, it’s hard not to wonder what stories all these different media entries are going to tell.
“Star Wars” used to have a huge universe of additional stories floating around in the form of its Expanded Universe. Novels, comics and video games pushed out at the edges of what the films laid down, filling in character backstories and making sense of what these planets, governments, people, and life in general would actually be like in a galaxy far, far away. Some were goofy, others were ridiculous, but a few were pretty interesting.
None of those stories are canon now, though, and Disney’s approach since acquiring Lucasfilm has been to keep its non-film media close to the content and characters in its movies. The “Star Wars” universe feels quite a bit smaller these days than it did in the 1990s, before the prequel films arrived to tighten everything down to the ongoing saga of the Skywalker family.
But a TV show is a chance for Disney to open “Star Wars” back up in a way it hasn’t done much of so far. It could be a chance for “Star Wars” to support new and different stories, to explore its galaxy, and to be as compelling and inhabitable by adults and non-fans as it is to the die-hard and the young.
There’s even an existing template for how “Star Wars” could treat its TV offering: the 2004 reboot of “Battlestar Galactica.”
Like “Star Wars,” “Galactica” was a 1970s space opera that traded on special effects, amazing hair, and a strange world. The show was clearly an answer to the success of George Lucas’ original film, with its own space battles and spooky, robotic bad guys. Though the original “Galactica” has some cult appeal, it’s hard to deny that it’s a little goofy by today’s standards, what with its characters often sporting the names of Greek gods and its use of made-up spacey language like “frak” and “daggit” (one being an expletive, the other being a kind of robot dog).
In 2004, though, “Battlestar Galactica” was rebooted on the Syfy Channel into something more modern and serious. It still featured space battles and robots, was set in a distant part of the galaxy, and followed a group of people from various planets who worshiped a version of Earth’s Greek gods. But the show was altogether more down to earth than its original incarnation, despite being set in space. Its characters felt more realistic and relatable, and its sets usually looked more like things that might exist in our world than like they might have evolved somewhere else.
The “Galactica” reboot was a lot more like Earth than “Star Wars” has ever been. And to be certain, that wouldn’t be the right aesthetic direction for “Star Wars.” The newly announced “Star Wars” show isn’t a reboot like “Galactica” was, but an extension of the “Star Wars” universe, and aesthetic, we already know. But while the look of the new “Battlestar Galactica” changed significantly when it was reborn 30 years later, that wasn’t what made the show so exciting. What made “Galactica” worth watching were the stories it told.
“Battlestar Galactica” traded the space opera feel of the original series for a more political and militaristic story. The basic bones of the two series are the same. Both are about a fleet of spaceships, protected by a single military ship (the Battlestar Galactica, basically a space aircraft carrier), fleeing after an enemy force attacks and destroys the rest of humanity. In the 2004 series, the survivors of the attack are alone, on the run, and facing possible extinction. Through all that, though, the 50,000 or so surviving humans are trying to figure out not only how to stay alive, but how to maintain their democratic way of life — one that’s very similar to that of the modern United States.
In the 2004 series, the civilian government, led by a president who was 43rd in the line of succession before the attack that wiped out humanity, finds itself at odds with the military command aboard the Galactica. Characters have to decide whether their small band should remain democratic or fall to military dictatorship. The soldiers have to weigh their war effort, such as it is, against the lives of what may be the last remaining humans anywhere. Interpersonal conflicts take on a serious weight as war rages, and there’s literally nowhere else to go.
“Galactica” is so interesting because the show doesn’t just imagine a sci-fi scenario of spaceships blasting away at each other and heroes fighting valiantly to save the human race. It also asks questions of what it would be like to live in that world for the people involved, in the quieter moments between battles.
“Star Wars” shouldn’t necessarily abandon its action-heavy space opera roots of Lucas’ 1970s reinterpretation of the serials of his childhood. That would probably be a misstep in tone, not unlike what’s going on with CBS’ “Star Trek: Discovery.” That show is ping-ponging between trying to be true to the original “Star Trek,” and trying to be a straight-faced, militaristic modern version of the idea, resulting in a schizophrenic experience that often feels like it takes itself too seriously. It’d be easy for “Star Wars” to find itself struggling in the same way.
But the “Star Wars” franchise absolutely should try to figure out how to make its world support more than the same few kinds of lightsaber-heavy adventure stories that define the films. That means leaning into stories like the ones “Battlestar Galactica” told in its reimagining, and finding out what the world of “Star Wars” really looks like to the people who live there. The franchise has long concerned itself with war, heroes and good and evil, but it’s done a bad job of ever showing people grappling with real life in its galaxy. It has rarely dialed down to surface-level stories of people who weren’t sword-wielding magic warriors or incredible space pilots.
The TV series would be a chance to go against that tendency. With as big a world as “Star Wars” is supposed to encompass, and with so many people, there are more stories to tell than just the ones about Force users taking out untold numbers of Stormtroopers. Disney and Lucasfilm should take a page from a show that already came out of the ’70s to find new ways to be relevant, interesting and adult — without sacrificing cool special effects and awesome space dogfights.