Why Rian Johnson’s Star Wars trilogy should be the ultimate origin story
If you thought prequels were out of fashion when it came to Star Wars, think again. If the franchise’s most vocal fans have anything to do with it, we’ll soon be returning to the Republic — in the prequelest prequels that ever prequeled.
In the wake of Lucasfilm’s bombshell announcement last Thursday, that Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi) would direct a whole trilogy set in an entirely unexplored corner of Star Wars lore, naturally, fans set about discussing what kind of subjects Rian might think about covering.
That’s ultimately Johnson’s call, of course (if also somewhat dependent on the preferences of Lucasfilm president Kathy Kennedy, her boss Alan Horn at Disney, and his boss Bob Iger). But the fans also know that Rian (with whom they are on first-name terms) is, at heart, one of them; he’s very active on Twitter, very willing to give them a hearing.
Surprisingly, a consensus answer quickly developed: Fans wanted to go a long, long time ago and learn more about how the whole Jedi vs. Sith grudge match began. There’s one reason to believe Johnson might be thinking the same way: his upcoming movie features Luke Skywalker on the planet with the original Jedi temple, likely learning something surprising about ancient Jedi history.
You might expect Star Wars fans to be divided against themselves on this topic. You might think that nerd passions would run high, as they usually do on the question of whether Star Wars should in general look backwards (to the prequel trilogy and before) or forward (to the sequels that began in 2015 with The Force Awakens). There’s even a heated battle on Reddit between fans of prequel trilogy memes vs. sequel trilogy memes.
But the promise of finding out more about the early days of the Galactic Republic — the one that was destroyed by Emperor Palpatine in the prequels, and restored after Return of the Jedi — has piqued everyone’s interest. In articles, tweets and informal polls, it’s really all anyone is talking about.
In part, this excitement can be traced to Knights of the Old Republic, a bestselling role-playing video game from 2003 that is often cited as one of the best games of all time, Star Wars or otherwise. In time, KOTOR, as it is universally known, led to KOTOR II and an online gaming universe, The Old Republic, that is still going strong six years after launch.
What was the appeal? The Old Republic era, set around 5,000 years before the rise of the Empire had the same droids, lightsabers and spacecraft dogfights we know and recognize as Star Wars. But they had a slightly more fantasy-style flavor, with unlimited numbers of Jedi (before they became the stodgy, no-fun order of bureaucratic monks seen in the prequels) and their Dark Side opponents the Sith, an order founded by a rogue Jedi.
(Now that sounds like a great name for a movie — you can almost see the billboards for “Rogue Jedi,” a name which rhymes with the sound of cash registers in Disney stores.)
In galactic history, this was the era before the Sith instituted George Lucas’ bizarre “rule of two” whereby there would always be one master and one apprentice and absolutely no other bad guys, which, okay, you do you, Sith. But think of how much more epic it would be if we got to see entire cinema screens full of Sith at once, all swinging red lightsabers, fighting the Jedi for what was literally a thousand years.
The operative word in that last sentence is “was.” The Old Republic, or at least everything we knew about it from KOTOR and its spin-offs, was separated from regular Star Wars in 2014. Lucasfilm, now a subsidiary of Disney, wanted to clear the way for new movies, and declared that only the filmed entertainment — the movies, The Clone Wars, Rebels — was canon. KOTOR et al were not.
Going forward, new books and comics would be canon too. Post-Disney, these books and comics have been set throughout the prequel, original and sequel trilogy eras; they have never strayed into Old Republic territory. It’s almost as if they were being held back for a purpose.
Because it is mentioned throughout filmed entertainment, the Old Republic is still a thing. The thousand-year Jedi-Sith war is still a thing. Darth Bane (the Sith who instituted the rule of two) is still a thing, since his spirit appeared in a Clone Wars episode.
But otherwise the slate has been wiped clean, ready for a good writer-director to make his mark on the ultimate origin tale: the origin of Star Wars itself.
“Prequel” is hardly a dirty word in Hollywood these days, nor the streaming services that are increasingly taking over from Hollywood. As we learned on Monday, Amazon bought worldwide rights to Tolkein’s Middle Earth — and what is the first place it announced it would take us? Into the pre-Lord of the Rings era.
Middle Earth and the Star Wars galaxy have much in common. Both trade in nostalgia — not just in the sense that we get nostalgic when we think of them, but also in the sense that they are shot through with the desire to go back to a better past, whether that be the world before the rise of Mordor or the galaxy before the rise of the Empire.
“For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic,” Obi-Wan told Luke in the original Star Wars. “Before the dark times, before the Empire.”
It was his most Gandalf-like moment. There was so much packed into that statement — the sadness, the wistful wish for a better age, the desire to return to regular order — that haunts us now. Ever since we heard it for the first time in 1977, we’ve been wondering what that history looked like. In the post-2017 world, it would be particularly timely to tell us.
We’ve had one round of incredible storytelling that provided one answer. If Rian Johnson is as good a writer-director as the buzz around Last Jedi suggests, his answer to the same question (again, I offer the title Rogue Jedi for the first in the trilogy) may itself live for a thousand generations.
But he must do what he feels is right, of course.