Did someone else’s whole body tense when Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, told Variety that Star Wars “could go on forever”?
Waiting for the start of Obi Wan Kenobi In late May, shortly after Kennedy said that now infamous line, Disney announced a whole slew of new projects all at once: the game Star Wars Jedi: Survivor; animated anthology series Tales of the Jedi; and a February 2023 release for The Mandalorian Season 3.
All of this was released alongside the first teaser for the series’ upcoming spin-off, Andor. In the meantime, we await even more details on another, Ahsoka, and a whole new Star Wars series, Acolyteof Russian doll designer Leslye Headland. And there’s even more, not to mention these new films from Taika Waititi and others that are reportedly still in the works. It’s a list of upcoming projects that certainly seem to go on forever.
I’m a Star Wars fan, but none of this news was good news for me. Not so long ago, a new Star Wars movie was a once-in-a-decade event. Think back to 1999, when we stood in line for weeks just to get tickets to The Phantom Menace. Now, there are several Star Wars movies, TV series, movie/TV spin-offs and shorts; there’s everything we could want and more, all available instantly.
I’m willing to admit that the glut of content from not just Star Wars, but all kinds of high-profile content, especially from interconnected franchises, eventually became too much for me to keep up with. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone does it. Worse, I don’t even know why they would want to do it anymore.
When I sat down to watch the first episode of Obi Wan Kenobi, I couldn’t have been less enthusiastic. The premiere of the show was not a special moment or the culmination of a long wait for me, as it was for many other fans. On the contrary, the weight of all the content that preceded it made it a must. Kenobi Felt like it was just another oversold Disney show I had no choice but to watch for fear of being left behind and at a disadvantage in the stories that make it reference later.
Streaming services are already generating an unsustainable level of content, but Disney is pushing it to new levels of oversaturation. With that comes an inevitable drop in quality. Hear the stilted dialogue in Obi Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett’s Bookor watch the plots posed by Loki and Wanda Vision, I realize that the decline is not only evident but also ingrained. Diminishing returns are part of the fabric of every Disney-produced show, as each is driven by what feels more like a stable set of brand guidelines than varied creative choices.
It wasn’t always like that for me, just like it wasn’t always like that for Star Wars. After the disappointment of the two JJ Abrams Star Wars movies, I was excited for the series to branch out into television. It felt like an opportunity to do something new with the franchise, and The MandalorianThe western vibe in space was definitely the balm I needed when it premiered in 2019. The show wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was at least different – the rare Star Wars story that was pulled of the small world the series typically dwells in, mostly eschewing its stable of recurring characters for new ones.
The following seasons, however, fell back into old habits. It was great for The Empire Strikes BackBoba Fett will make an appearance in The Mandalorian, so Disney extended that cameo to its own series. Rather than exploring new ideas and new worlds, Disney decided to fill in the gaps from Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia’s past. Ahsoka and Andor focus on lesser-known characters, but they will still center their star relationships on existing Star Wars characters and their place in established Star Wars history. As the new steward of the franchise, Disney seems determined to eliminate fan speculation by filling in every canonical gap imaginable. The result: a huge amount of content.
If we include the various animated series on Disney+, there have been six seasons of Star Wars television in the three years since the first season of The Mandalorian. (By the way, during the same period, there have been seven Marvel TV series.) That’s a lot. Are you overwhelmed reading this? Because I’m very overwhelmed.
Watching the release of Star Wars, in particular, pile up, I wonder if Disney is in the business of media creation or reaction. Otherwise, why would each series spend so much time exploiting each plot, whether it’s the shortcomings of Princess Leia’s story in Obi Wan Kenobi or how Boba Fett survived the Sarlacc pit in Boba Fett’s Book? If the stories don’t probe those assumptions, they fill the landscape with obscure cameos in case there’s potential for spinoffs, like clone wars the reappearance of the character of Bo-Katan Kryze in The Mandalorian. These inevitably lead to moments that play well on social media, which fans and outlets can immediately skim through, frame by frame, for Easter eggs. Everywhere I look, there’s more, and it’s impossible not to engage with it. But by engaging, by responding, we’re marketing Disney to them.
The feeling that I’m watching moments made to be cut out and shared on the internet is a feeling I’ve had for a while, but I finally confirmed that hunch last year. It was watching Spider-Man: No Coming Homeone of the biggest hits from Disney’s other big hit franchise, which cemented that notion for me. In the cinema, surrounded by buzzing fans, nostalgia was made tangible and electric. But seeing Tobey Maguire walking through a portal and saying “Hi” or seeing the brief pause after Matt Murdock’s cane appears onscreen hits differently at home – they echo from reserved silence to expected applause.
This experience was like reading a word for the first time and seeing it everywhere afterwards. Whether it’s the fake exits before Obi-Wan finally lights his lightsaber in Obi Wan Kenobithe third episode of, or the way the camera hovers for a moment when Wilson Fisk appears in Hawk Eye on Disney+, I now immediately notice a moment of intentionally placed dead air pregnant with cynicism. Worse, these shows do me feel cynical for not clapping like disney wants me to
That’s all before even accessing the Disney+ platform itself. The service bombards users with banners to Obi Wan Kenobinudging us towards what Star Wars or Marvel will show next, constantly reminding us that these flagship shows are New. The app bundles everything less like TV and more like branded content, making each new release indistinguishable from one another.
I am for consistency. Indeed, having a single showrunner with a specific vision to oversee a show is important. But that extends beyond a single series to multiple entries in a franchise. By building an overarching universe that more entries can fit into, every new Star Wars content started to sound, look, and feel the same to me. That slightly washed-out aesthetic, the similar way all the characters seem to speak, the same muted music that pervades every scene: perhaps those repeating patterns wouldn’t be such a problem of space between series, but at the frantic pace that Disney releases them, they have melted into an uninteresting and suffocating mud of content. (All hail our new media overlord: content sludge.)
I feel like I need a vacation, but Disney has skin in this game too.
As I begin to question what I’ve seen and perhaps consider myself caught up in everything I feel committed to, there’s something new I need to watch to keep up to date with franchises that I’m supposed to stay on top. : a new series, a new movie, more trailers, more everything. Disney is starting to feel like that boyfriend who asks where you’re going every time you leave the room.
By never dropping new releases and never letting you forget they’re waiting for you, Disney is weaponizing FOMO in a way that feels unfair. While so many of us already feel like we’re missing out (especially as the pandemic rages devastatingly), the fact that social media is full of reactions, clips and ads is a bit unfair. This ensures that anyone who takes a moment to rest will run into spoilers and be sidelined by those who tuned in immediately. Take a moment to breathe, and you’re already late, and the algorithms that govern what we watch won’t let you forget that. It’s relentless, and I don’t want it to slow down, I want it to stop.
Star Wars brought us together. Whether it was cramming into the movies, gathering around television with our family, or in the larger communities that eventually morphed into the fandoms we know today. Characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi weren’t just popular; they were the object of great speculation and obsession, on which whole communities rested. He felt like our character – that his narrative outside of Star Wars was ours to build.
When shows like Obi Wan Kenobi take that away, part of the community dies. Instead of bringing us together like good sci-fi should, the way Disney delivers its overwhelming list of Star Wars content, including Kenobi is only the last entry – takes us further away.
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