It’s happening: a live-action Star Wars TV series is once again in the works, and will be released on Disney’s streaming service, set to launch in 2019. The announcement comes more than a decade after George Lucas originally announced Star Wars: Underworld, Lucasfilm’s first attempt to make a live-action series set in the galaxy far, far away. While that series never saw the light of day – for several reasons – there is hope in Disney’s new live-action TV project. There’s no release date or cast, but we do know that the series will take place seven years after Return of the Jedi, which leaves us to wonder what might the live action series be about?
Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy would be a rich setting for Disney’s live-action Star Wars show. As a way to connect the Original and Sequel trilogies and tell adventurous, all-ages Star Wars stories, a Jedi Academy setting offers the flexibility and Force lore that will keep Star Wars viewers interested, while not requiring every episode to have an exorbitant budget due to changes of setting or crazy special effects.
One of the most compelling reasons to set the live-action series at a Jedi Academy between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is to flesh out Luke’s story after the fall of the Empire. The Last Jedi shows a version of Luke that is very different from the one we got in the original Expanded Universe of novels, comics, and games in the 1990s and ’00s. In the old post-RotJ EU continuity, which was rebooted after Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, Luke went on to fight many new threats, all while creating a New Jedi Order to protect the galaxy. Luke’s Order fought the Imperial Remnant, Sith ghosts, and even Force-resistant aliens from beyond known space. In comparison, so far it seems that Luke only recruited a handful of students in the new canon — students who were eventually slaughtered.
The Force Awakens told us a little bit about the new canon’s history for Luke, mainly that his nephew, Ben Solo, had turned to the dark side and destroyed the new Jedi Academy. A television show expanding on what happened there would be a great way to explain more, especially since The Last Jedi didn’t flesh out Luke’s academy days as much as we expected. Here’s how a TV series could help:
A Jedi Academy could work well as a basis for a television show because it lends itself to episodic storytelling and offers opportunities for a large cast of characters. Like The Clone Wars, which told its stories with several multi-episode arcs per season, a series focused around Luke’s students could contain different arcs for each character, as he or she went through training and traveled to different parts of the galaxy on peacekeeping missions. Stories could involve undercover assignments, the occasional exploration of new planets with their own strange creatures (remember that budget!), day-in-the-life stories about the students and their families back on their homeworlds, or explorations of the precarious new social order of the New Republic.
The flavor of the show could differ each week depending on the character at the forefront. For example, characters made in the mold of Rebels‘ Kanan Jarrus, the “cowboy Jedi,” could expand on the definition of the Jedi as adventurer, while more traditional students could show the spiritual aspect of the Force – something hinted at by Rogue One‘s Chirrut Imwe. It’s almost like if British teen drama Skins, which told its story through the eyes of a different student each episode, were actually a less vulgar Star Wars series. Battlestar Galactica took a similar approach by switching through the perspectives of Commander Adama, President Roslin, Starbuck, Apollo, and Dr. Baltar on an almost weekly basis.
While The Clone Wars ultimately suffered from the multi-character, multi-arc pacing of each season – especially in the early years – this Jedi Academy series would have a distinct center of gravity to always return to: an older, wiser Luke and a young Ben. We could also learn more about these major characters through the eyes of the other students.
Would Mark Hamill Reprise His Role for TV?
There’s also the big question of whether Mark Hamill would be willing to reprise his role on a TV series – or whether he is even the right age to do so. After all, this series wouldn’t come out until 2019 at the earliest, meaning that Hamill will be 68 years old by that point – a pretty big jump from his character’s age in the years following the Battle of Endor. He also doesn’t do much TV work as it is – besides the occasional Trickster cameo on CW’s The Flash. We highly doubt that Hamill would want to commit to a full season’s worth of episodes.
The logical (and perhaps more controversial) solution is to recast Luke with a younger actor for the TV series. Alden Ehrenreich’s casting as a young Han Solo showed that these characters can be recast. The jury is still out on whether Ehrenreich can deliver a convincing performance as Harrison Ford’s quick-witted smuggler, but it does seem that Lucasfilm has come as close to a Ford lookalike (who also acts) as humanly possible. Sure, the age difference is much bigger in this case, but it really isn’t when compared to Ford’s first appearance as Han in A New Hope. There’s a notable difference, but does it really matter as long as the character is true in the new movie?
Whether Lucasfilm would want to fill in these important blanks in the Skywalker saga with a TV series is another question altogether. Still, it’s undeniable that TV provides the space and time to really tell all of these different Jedi stories on screen. A movie (or perhaps a trilogy of movies?) could tell some of these stories, but the finer details about the characters – the stuff fans of the books and comics crave – would have to be sacrificed in name of the runtime. What the studio does know is that a Jedi Academy setting can be very fruitful in terms of storytelling and character. One only has to look back to some of the old EU stories for proof.
Looking to the Past
Star Wars media has tackled the idea of a Jedi school several times before. A couple of middle-grade book series set a few years before and after The Phantom Menace were even more firmly entrenched in the “school story” genre. A young Obi-Wan Kenobi went on adventures with his new master, Qui-Gon Jinn, in the Jedi Apprentice series by Jude Watson, while young Anakin Skywalker had his turn in Watson’s Jedi Quest series. Both sets of stories were told from the point of view of the students and explored their trials, insecurities, fears, and coming of age, while also chronicling their first missions as Jedi Padawans. These series also gave insights into the masters through the perspective of their students, which would be an important aspect of the TV series.
Kevin J. Anderson’s The Jedi Academy Trilogy gave us the clearest picture of what Luke’s own school would look like, with Force-sensitive teachers gathered from places too far away for the Empire to reach. When I was a teenager, these novels, perhaps even more than the movies themselves, were what turned me into a loyal Star Wars fan. I could imagine myself attending Luke’s school, even if I could not necessarily imagine myself fighting an evil Empire. The Jedi Academy books were welcoming and full of possibilities, catering not only to older fans who were hungry for more stories about the Force and the Jedi but also those young enough to have missed the Original Trilogy the first time around.
As far as the actual reading material goes the books were pulpy to the extreme. Besides dealing with the establishment of Luke’s new Jedi Academy on Yavin IV, the story revolves around a superweapon called the Sun Crusher, which is more powerful than the Death Star, can destroy an entire star system by making its sun go supernova, and is nearly indestructible. A Kylo-esque student named Kyp Durron, who is under the control of the ghost of Sith Lord Exar Kun, steals the superweapon in order to use it against what’s left of the Empire. On top of all of that are the antics of Leia’s toddler children, Jacen and Jaina Solo, who would one day grow up to be fan-favorite EU characters.
The Jedi Academy Trilogy was only the beginning of a much longer series of stories about Luke’s school and several generations of students. The novel I, Jedi, as well as the Junior Jedi Knights and Young Jedi Knights books for young readers further fleshed out the members of this post-RotJ Jedi Order. While not always perfect, the overall arc of these stories were remarkably designed because they eventually culminated in a storyline about a full-fledged New Jedi Order facing off against the biggest threat to the galaxy since the Empire. The New Jedi Order series, which spanned novels, e-book novellas, and comics, closed the chapter on this era of Luke’s school, as the New Republic and the Jedi Order were reshaped into different forms after the war with the Yuuzhan Vong.
In a way, this approach of telling one big story through multiple series is not unlike what Marvel TV has done with their slate of Netflix shows. Daredevil led to Jessica Jones, which led to Luke Cage and Iron Fist. All of these shows culminated with The Defenders event series, which saw all of these heroes team up to fight one big threat. Perhaps Disney, which owns both Marvel and Star Wars, would consider a similar approach for the Jedi Academy stories? We’re getting away from ourselves, though.
The Lucas Arts era of Star Wars video games also explored Luke’s Jedi Academy. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy doesn’t get as much chatter as the previous games in the series, the ones that starred mercenary-turned-Jedi Kyle Katarn which also explored bits and pieces of what was going on at Luke’s temple. Maybe it’s because the graphics are clunky now, or because of the relatively simple choose-your-path story, but the final installment of the Jedi Knight series still remains as good a representation of the post-RotJ academy as gamers are going to get for the time being. As Katarn’s apprentice, Jaden Korr, players could choose what Force powers were most important to them, customize their own lightsabers, and choose to follow the light or dark sides of the Force. While a bit watered down, that’s always been the Jedi student experience at its core – minus the spiritual aspects of training.
Knights of the Old Republic turned the story of a young Jedi student upside down by presupposing that a Sith Lord lost his/her memory and had to start training all over again. Things like what color and type of lightsaber your character would use were still aspects of the Jedi Academy experience (this time on Dantooine), but what made KotOR truly special is the way it captured the gravity of being a Jedi. Throughout the game, you meet Jedi who have fallen to the dark side and joined the Sith, students who are on the verge of turning to the darkness due to the terrible war being fought across the galaxy, and masters who are broken by the loss of students or the destruction they’ve witnessed at the hands of the resurgent Sith Empire.
The game also explored the different schools of Jedi teachings. Once you passed your trials and were anointed a Jedi Knight, you could choose to become a Guardian, who focused on battle techniques; Consular, who used diplomacy as the tool of choice; and Sentinel, who blended both combat and diplomacy with a more vocational approach by specializing in tech, medicine, and the like. Choosing one of these schools didn’t mean that you were on the straight and narrow. In fact, these different schools (which in video game terms are actually “character classes”) only amplified the complexity of the moral choices. For example, if you chose to be a Guardian, there were times when it felt almost more beneficial to cut through enemies to complete your objectives than persuade them to get out of your way, even if it meant taking few steps closer to the dark side. The lesson that KotOR taught gamers was that no choice is so clear cut when you’re a Jedi.
Beloved for its writing, characters, and the complexity of its moral choices, KotOR remains one of the best Star Wars games ever made. It’s also a good example of how a well-constructed Jedi Academy story could hit familiar Star Wars beats (e.g. choosing the light or the dark side) while introducing tons of new ideas about the Jedi and the Force. Surely, the live action TV series would have the necessary space to flesh out the teachings of the Jedi in the same way – with a Luke twist.
A TV Series for a New Generation of Fans
Even though Star Wars fandom has changed so much through the decades, I’m still fond of the idea of kids being introduced to the franchise through this idea that they too could become Jedi, that there is a place for them in classrooms carved out of old stone, and that if they look just to the side of Luke Skywalker’s academy photos they might find a face that looks like their own. The characters introduced by way of Luke’s pre-Disney academy were relatable to me. I could connect with them through the shared dream of becoming a Jedi and fighting alongside the greatest heroes in the galaxy far, far away. A new version of these stories would be a great way to get fans invested, as well as to tell tales about different aspects of the Force.
Jedi adventures set in Luke’s era, between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, could provide fans with tons of stories without contradicting the movies. There are already some stories in the new canon that show bits and pieces of Luke’s story in between and after the movies, hints at what might the hero might have gotten up to when it was time to bring back the Jedi.
The novel The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry shows Luke investigating a ruined Jedi school. He vows to rebuild the Jedi Order and to return to that place, to see what mysteries it holds and what else he can learn about the Jedi of the Old Republic. Star Wars Battlefront II also shows how Luke eventually found the first Jedi Temple on Ahch-To. If you’re comfortable with spoilers, we have a more detailed explanation of that here. And then there’s that short story from Marvel’s Shattered Empire, which shows Luke retrieving a Force-sensitive tree from the Empire – a tree that might, in fact, make an appearance in The Last Jedi in a much older form if the latest trailers are to be believed.
There is precedent for stories about Luke’s academy, which could be updated for the tone of today’s Star Wars canon and fit nicely in the space between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. A Jedi Academy TV show is a great opportunity to add more Jedi characters to the story without contradicting existing canon, too. In fact, it should incorporate what we’ve already learned from The Weapon of a Jedi, Battlefront II, and Shattered Empire. And it’s a chance to show Luke, a beloved character, at the height of his powers — something which the new canon clearly has interest in doing. It might be a while before all of his secrets can be revealed, as Episodes VIII and IX make their way to theaters in the next few years, but a TV series would be a good way to flesh out those revelations once the Sequel Trilogy is complete.