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What does Star Wars: The High Republic tell us about the future of the movies?

Star Wars The High Republic
(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

It’s a strange, uncertain time for Star Wars. The sequel trilogy is done and dusted. The anthology films, like Rogue One and Solo, appear to be dead and buried and Disney chief Bob Iger has declared that the franchise’s near future lies on the small screen with The Mandalorian and the forthcoming (at some point…) Obi-Wan series.

That doesn’t mean there will never be another big screen Star Wars film, of course. Even accounting for the comparatively muted box office for The Rise of Skywalker, this is still a mega-franchise and one that both Disney and Lucasfilm have big plans for, with the next movie due in 2022. What it does need, however, is a change. A refresh. Something to give it a new look and feel, while still retaining elements of the past. A new era, perhaps?

Welcome to The High Republic

Handily, that’s precisely what’s happening – in the books and comics at least. Lucasfilm has revealed the details of its long-teased Project Luminous, a codename for a cross-media publishing initiative that’s now formally titled Star Wars: The High Republic.

This book and comic series, launching in August, takes the saga back in time by some 200 years to a period of peace and prosperity in the galaxy. The Republic is at its height (you see what they did there?), the Jedi are in their pomp and the Sith are, uh, in hiding. But an event, imaginatively-named The Great Disaster, will change everything... 

The series follows various Jedi characters (including a Wookiee!), plus other Star Wars archetypes like smugglers and bounty hunters, as they deal with the threat posed by a deadly new enemy – a group of “Space Vikings” known as the Nihil.

“Star Wars: The High Republic features the Jedi as we’ve always wanted to see them,” Lucasfilm publishing creative director Michael Siglain explained in the rollout. “As true guardians of peace and justice. This is a hopeful, optimistic time, when the Jedi and the Galactic Republic are at their height. But of course, into this glorious new era something wicked this way comes.” 

Star Wars big boss Kathleen Kennedy also got in on the announcement, saying: "We are so excited to be opening up such a rich, fertile era for our authors to explore. We'll get to see the Jedi in their prime." 

Wars and rumors of wars

(Image credit: Disney Lucasfilm Press)

Sounds pretty cool, huh? But is this really just a publishing initiative? Rumors have abounded for some time now that the next Star Wars cinematic saga may also take place in the past – and specifically this hitherto unknown era. It all started on January 4th this year, when Jason Ward of MakingStarWars.net, tweeted:

“The next Star Wars film saga to be set during the High Republic era!” 

Now, fans are always coming up with rumors of dubious authenticity (remember when Revenge of the Sith was definitely going to reveal that Obi-Wan was actually Luke’s father?), but both Ward and MakingStarWars have a pretty good track record with this sort of thing. 

That the Star Wars comics in January suddenly started dropping in references to the High Republic era lent further credibility to it. In hindsight, that was likely teasing the new books and comics, but it does feel like this could be the start of something much larger. James Waugh, Lucasfilm’s VP of Franchise Content and Strategy says in the announcement video, “What if publishing was more of an incubation place?” That's an interestingly specific turn of phrase and leaves one obvious question: incubating what?

That said, Lucasfilm were quick to point out that, "This period on the Star Wars timeline will not overlap any of the filmed features or series currently planned for production," which rules out movies set in this period for the time being. 

What the trailer makes really clear is that Lucasfilm have gone all in on the project. As well as gathering their core group of creatives (Claudia Gray, Charles Soule, Cavan Scott, Daniel José Older and Justina Ireland), they've employed concept artists to fully flesh out this new period of Republic history, including Iain McCaig – the man who came up with the iconic look of Darth Maul. That's a lot of trouble to go to just for some spin-offs.

Unclear, the future is

The High Republic initiative will introduce a lot of new Star Wars lore at once, and even if there's no plan for a movie set in this era right now, it lays the groundwork for filmmakers to give it some consideration in future. Star Wars has always benefited from its richly detailed backstory and its sense of history. Doing it this way also gives the fans something new to get excited about. 

Matt Martin of LucasFilm’s Story Group has since confirmed on Twitter that the project was developed independently from the films, TV shows, games and other parts of the franchise. He did also, however, go out of his way to point out, “That’s not to say the era wouldn’t be available to storytellers in other mediums, but it was developed or [sic] publishing.”

The next Star Wars film has a release date of December 16, 2022. That's really not very long! We would expect a formal announcement of whatever the next movie is relatively soon, though a safe bet would be at this year's Star Wars Celebration in August. 

Of course there are numerous other options currently swirling around about what that might be: Rian Johnson's apparently still alive trilogy, whatever it is that Kevin Feige is working on, and the recently rumored project involving Sleight-director, J.D. Dillard. Where and when those movies are set is still a mystery. 

Regardless of what happens, exploring a new period of Star Wars lore is certainly an exciting thought. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, though we wouldn’t be too surprised if a few familiar faces show up. After all, Yoda and Maz Kanata were both alive and kicking 200 years ago. And while the Jedi’s traditional enemies are deep in hiding at this point, one of the phrases written on a whiteboard in the High Republic trailer simply says “Sith Empire”. Intriguing...