May the 4th Be with You: Star Wars, X-Men, and the Churn

Dept. of Journalling the Whills


It’s been almost 6 months since “The Skywalker Saga” came to an end with Rise of Skywalker. The Clone Wars comes to a delayed end today, Star Wars: Resistance ended 4 months ago and Star Wars: Rebels ended 2 years ago (What!!?). With “just” seasons two and three of The Mandalorian confirmed to look forward to, this “Star Wars Day”, I’m wondering more than ever, what’s next for Star Wars?

Sure, there are the long rumoured TV shows based upon the exploits of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Cassian Andor, as well as films from Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Rian Johnson that are supposed to be coming, but a lot of things can change in Hollywood, especially in these days of COVID-19.

After Rise of Skywalker I hope that the keepers of the Star Wars flame take this time to reflect on what should be next for Star Wars.


Look, I enjoyed The Mandalorian a lot. It started off hella weird with it’s odd theme tune and masked protagonist. It did, however, seem like a somewhat different, while occasionally slow, take on that galaxy far, far away.

I had hoped to see some truly different stories just set in the Star Wars universe, and The Mandalorian mostly delivered, introducing what might quite possibly be my favourite characters in the entire canon along the way. That being said, I was slightly disappointed that the series revolved around another young force user. Despite the weaponized cuteness of “The Child”/Baby Yoda and the fact that I’m still slashing my way through Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on my Xbox, I’m a little tired of the Jedi and the Force.

LOVE these guys.

When it comes to the films, my feelings are clearer. I wasn’t enamoured with Rise of Skywalker. I’ve only seen it the once, last Christmas, and the slow drip of justifications for why it doesn’t ignore The Last Jedi or why it might, but that’s okay, because Rian Johnson did it first, or all the explanations for things that just don’t make sense or aren’t explained in the actual movie, haven’t made me look on it any more fondly, or want to watch it again.

When The Last Jedi came out I disagreed with some things in the film (mostly the “humour”) but I really liked how it opened up the universe. Rey didn’t have to be a scion of a bloodline to be special. There could be force users everywhere. Jedi and Sith might not be the only ways of the Force. The cycle that has persisted since The Old Republic and before might one day be broken.

I think, on reflection, that was my biggest problem with Rise of Skywalker. As twitter user Naomi Higgins put it:

Yes and…?

If you’re not familiar with comedy improv, “yes, and” is a loose rule that you use to build upon whatever your improv collaborators have come up with, in order to keep the “bit” going.  So whatever crazy stuff they come up with, you add “yes, and…” then add your own funny stuff.

If you don’t “yes and..?” then the story building stops dead in its tracks and you can kill the bit.

Despite all statements to the contrary by the filmmakers, Rise of Skywalker felt like a planet sized bit killer. The reveal of the Emperor shoehorned into the opening crawl, the relentless pace, Rey’s Palpatine heritage reveal, it all felt like someone frantically trying to build up their own “bit” after forcefully murdering the previous one.

Enter “The Churn”

My feelings on the film were greatly clarified by reading “another obligatory “star wars” think piece…” by The Middleman creator, Star Wars fan, and TV cool guy Javier Grillo-Marxuach, ironically talking about why he had no opinion on The Last Jedi.

For him, The Last Jedi reminded him of a showrunner’s feedback on a story he once pitched:

“It’s not that it’s not a story, it’s that I only see the churn.”

What is the churn, you might ask? He goes on:

“The churn is what must happen for comic books, soap operas, and the works of countless fantasy novelists to exist. The churn is the river into which those who want to make a fortune from narrative storytelling must wade… and the rapids which they must survive.”

For Star Wars this means

There will always be another rogue Jedi who has been in hiding, another bounty hunter with strange powers that boggle those of the Jedi, another brilliant officer of the Galactic Empire with a plan so dangerous (usually involving a heretofore unknown planet killing weapon hidden by the Emperor before his death) that it could mean the fate of the galaxy (or – on at least one occasion – a double of a brilliant officer who was propped up by other brilliant officers in order to use his PR value as a brilliant officer to revive the Galactic Empire).  

In short… the churn.

Star Wars has a long history with the Churn. The Star Wars Extended Universe is pure churn, but that’s no bad thing.

I didn’t mind the churn in The Last Jedi, because it didn’t feel so obvious. How Rise of Skywalker handled the The Emperor’s return, not as some big reveal but as a “previously on…” segment, and with a ready-made fleet, made the churn, and the wires holding the whole enterprise together, visible and unbearable to me.

I don’t like seeing the authors “unseen hand” in my stories. The best writers distract you from it at every turn.

It would have been hugely interesting to see what Kylo Ren would have done as the head of the First Order, embracing his role as a villain. I would have enjoyed seeing how Rey, Finn, Poe, and everyone in the resistance would have reacted to that, instead of futzing around with nonsense fetch quests that revealed nothing interesting about these characters  

As audiences we crave novelty and for these bigger franchises it seems harder and harder (or is it just riskier?) to create that sense of the “new”. Bringing back old villains and undoing meaningful moments from previous movies doesn’t feel “new”.

So what should Star Wars do?

Well, around the same time I read that article on the churn at Christmas, I also had some time to catch up on what was going on in X-Men comics of late. (I’ve been ruminating on this for quite some time.)

OK Yoda

If you haven’t been keeping up, after decades of battling amongst themselves, while trying to defend mutants from humanity, and defend humanity from their less enlightened mutant brethren, the X-Men have finally had enough.

In Jonathan Hickman’s excellent House of X/Powers of X series he reveals what happens when all mutant-kind, heroes and villains, comes together to form a new mutant state, Krakoa.

Thanks to one mutant’s power of reincarnation all the major players in the X-Men universe are shown what happens in possible futures. Whether by trying to cure mutants altogether, assassinating anyone who works on anything resembling mutant hunting sentinel technology, or rallying under the banners and ideologies of villains like Magneto or Apocalypse, eventually mutantkind is destroyed, if not worse.  

So all mutants, except Sabretooth, try something truly new.

To Me My X-Men!

Their new state of Krakoa involves pretty much every mutant with prominent roles given to former enemies such as Apocalypse, Magneto, Sebastian Shaw of The Hellfire Club, and  Mr. Sinister. Krakoa’s safety is also built upon numerous elements already introduced throughout decades of X-canon, and pretty much negates the telling of many types of traditional X-Men stories.

It’s the biggest shake up of the series ever.  

It’s bold and it may be going some dark places, but above all it’s interesting and provides plenty of grist for new types of stories for Marvel’s merry band of mutants. At least until Marvel resets everything again, as is their wont.

I want Star Wars to feel the same.

You may say that this is just me getting old but I’ve been through this before. I lived though The Clone Wars the first time around.

Let the Past Die, Kill It If You Have to

The Force Awakens reawakened that love of Star Wars for me, being a great mix of the old and new. They did the seemingly impossible. Bringing back old heroes in a new story and creating new heroes and villains for audiences to cheer for and boo at. Although they also brought a dumb planet killer and J.J. Abrams’ tired mystery box plotting along, it did a fine job setting the table for a new generation of heroes.

I was more interested in the characters of Rey, Finn, and Poe after The Last Jedi than I was after Rise of Skywalker. Where are their spin-off’s or continuing adventures by the way (and don’t just say comics as there’s far too many to keep track of.)

Star Wars doesn’t have to go to the extremes of the X-Men, or even that of their distinguished competition Star Trek. It was J.J. Abrams himself who revitalised Trek in the 2009 reboot with a clever time travel plot that meant the old stories were still “real” but also opened up a new timeline for fresh adventures with familiar faces.

Star Wars really doesn’t need time travel. It already has an entire galaxy of opportunity out there to play around in. It just needs to trust in that Galaxy. And explore it.

The pitfall in trying this approach is already in Javi’s article:

Both within the story and without, those of us who care enough to stand under the bombs have been dutifully shelled with promises that each forthcoming novel/book/comic/e-book/TV movie/animated series/animated series pilot turned theatrical release/series of animates shorts/movie is a Bold Reimagination of our beloved franchise, that each new creator has brought to it Something Remarkable, and that we will be blown away.

As long as Star Wars makes money, there will be the churn, but maybe we could have some smaller churns (churnettes?). It doesn’t have to be touted as galaxy changing. It just has to be a little experimental.

Give us smaller stories with beginnings, middles, and ends that don’t take place in the existing timelines or with existing characters. Try out more genres within the Star Wars framework. But do so with care.

Don’t rush a Star Wars movie to meet a date. It’s better than that.

I want to be wowed by Star Wars again. I hope someone sees the churn and, as with the X-Men, upsets the galactic milk cart, at least for a little while.

Until then… may the force be with you, always.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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