The pair are set to write and produce a new group of films that are separate from the both the main episodic Skywalker saga (which concludes in late 2019 with the untitled Episode IX) and The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson’s own spin-off trilogy, which is similarly shrouded in mystery.
This is, truly, a completely bananas state of affairs. We are now clearly at a point when Star Wars films could continue for decades, spinning off into wilder and weirder corners of the galaxy and carrying on until the franchise continues past even its youngest fans’ lifetimes.
But are more Star Wars films necessarily a bad thing? Some initial reaction to this news would suggest so, with fans unnerved by the lengthening list of Star Wars projects (and, you know, the fact that now 96% per cent of all past and future Star Wars films are written and directed by white men) as well as expressing concern about whether Benioff and Weiss will actually be able to pull off the trilogy.
And to some it’s hard not to see parts of this enterprise as a cash grab, an attempt by parent company Disney to keep raking in revenue from the Star Wars franchise it bought from George Lucas in 2012 and meeting a certain quota rather than satisfying an artistic desire to tell stories.
Pumping out Star Wars films at such an accelerated rate, one could argue, can only compromise the quality of the films themselves, and even if they do turn out to be enjoyable enough, for some people the cynicism of the move tarnishes any genuine creative accomplishment these hypothetical films could offer.
There’s almost certainly some truth in these arguments – I was genuinely horrified for exactly these reasons when more Star Wars films were announced in 2012 – but today, I’m not entirely convinced. The clearest analogue for what Disney seem to be trying to do with Star Wars is the company’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, which it launched in 2008 with Iron Man. Like modern Star Wars, it got off to a slower start – two films in 2008, none in 2009, one in 2010 – and now it dominates the multiplexes with a few releases each year.
Let’s say Rian Johnson’s trilogy is like the Captain America films, while Benioff and Weiss’ is like the Thor series – parallel but separate stories that may or may not overlap, but can continue within their own narratives regardless. It seems strange at the minute because we’re not used to it, but to be honest 10 years ago the idea that we could have a living, breathing cinematic version of the Marvel universe would have seemed fantastical to my young, comic-book reading self. Hell, a decade ago not even everyone who read comics knew much about Iron Man – now he’s a cultural icon.
And despite thinkpieces that wonder if the whole superhero thing is getting a bit old, these days the MCU goes from strength to strength even with the sheer volume of films it pumps out. Black Panther is set to have one of the biggest superhero film openings of all time when it’s released next week, the trailer for Avengers sequel Infinity War broke all sorts of viewing records and pretty much every Marvel film still gets rave reviews (just look at Thor: Ragnarok a few months back). Few of the films are bad – so who’s to say a similar Star Wars model couldn’t keep up the quality as well?
Of course, the model can’t be perfectly transferred, as the Marvel films all (for the most part) exist inside roughly the same time period and reality, while it seems like Johnson and Weiss/Benioff’s trilogies will be completely separate from one another, making crossover “event” movies like the irregular Avengers films trickier.
But maybe at least attempting to ape this model is the ideal way for Star Wars to survive in a very different media landscape than the one it entered in the 1970s – and if Disney are genuinely trying to replicate that success, perhaps we should expect yet more film announcements in the coming months and years.
But what about those people who don’t care how good the films are if they expose the naked corporate greed of the puppetmasters behind them? Well, it’s hard to take that viewpoint too seriously when it’s focused on a film series that has almost always at least partially revolved around its ability to sell toys. This isn’t like Martin Luther King being used to sell cars at the SuperBowl. Star Wars is a wonderful pop cultural artefact, but it’s always been a business – and when business is good, there’s a tendency among audiences to feel a little squeamish, a little tricked, like we’re being taken advantage of.
I find that attitude frustrating. As a sci-fi fan, I’d rather a film I liked was successful, like the modern Star Wars films, as opposed to critically loved but a commercial disappointment, like Blade Runner 2049.
And if we’re enjoying the films, does it even matter why they were made, or how many came before it? To return to the Marvel example, Black Panther has already become a critical darling – so would all the same commentators now loving Ryan Coogler’s Afrofuturist tale who previously complained about the “tired’, “oversaturated” superhero genre have preferred it if we’d knocked the whole thing on the head roughly the time of Age of Ultron?
And finally, there’s the big question. What if the new Star Wars films are, you know, not awful?
Given the lack of information about the content it’s impossible to know at this stage whether Weiss and Benioff’s new trilogy (or, indeed, Rian Johnson’s) will be any good. Equally, though, it’s hard to know whether they’ll be bad – the pair have made the most successful TV show on the planet, true, but they have little film experience, and have often been criticised for the parts of Thrones they invented once the source material ran out. This new trilogy will presumably be all original with no source material, so it’s easy to see why people are worried.
But until we get more information, I think we should keep an open mind. Back in 2012, I wrote a piece confidently predicting my horror at the new trilogy, the commercialisation of the franchise and how it was all going downhill – but in just the last couple of months I found myself transported by The Last Jedi, a fresh new take on the Star Wars mythology that would never have happened if I’d had my way back then and left the Skywalkers in the rear-view mirror.
And if both these trilogies do explore new and different corners of the Star Wars universe, as they’ve been pitched to do, all we’re really doing is complaining about having some high-concept, high-profile sci-fi films every few years. It’s fun to moan about there being too much Star Wars, or feign exhaustion over it, but at the end of the day, if it just ends up meaning some people make some films that some other people like, who really cares about why they made them?
Black Panther is released in UK cinemas on the 12th March, while Solo: A Star Wars Story will be released on the 25th May