If You Want New Star Wars Films, Give Star Wars Films Up

Late Monday night, a website named Above the Line reported that writer Damon Lindelof had “exited” the untitled Star Wars film project he’d previously been reported to be working on alongside Justin Britt-Gibson and director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

I’d never heard of Above the Line before this week but they style themselves as a “trade”, akin to much more established publications like Deadline or Variety. I don’t know if they’re anywhere near as reliable as the more familiar trades, but I do know that their Twitter account only dates back to October and as of this writing they have exactly 898 followers. Just last week Lindelof himself openly expressed doubts about his desire to move forward with the project at the South by Southwest festival, so for him to have officially stepped away now is certainly a plausible notion.

But I’m not here to raise any doubts about the report—one that, by midday on Tuesday, had been backed up by Deadline itself. What’s interesting to me about this news is that, Lindelof’s own comments notwithstanding, he was never actually announced to be writing a Star Wars movie in the first place.

No, this saga began in the trades and was developed further by the trades, so I suppose it’s only fitting that a trade should end it. My question for you, beloved reader, is: did all this reporting produce anything of value for us, as fans, in any way?

For a long time now, myself and others among the oldhead Star Wars news blogging community have reiterated the refrain that “it’s not official unless it’s on StarWars.com”, and while that remains technically true, even an official announcement is no longer a guarantee that a project will actually come out.[1]I would certainly stress, though, that nothing other than an article on the official site or a statement at Star Wars Celebration is qualified to be described as an “announcement”. … Continue reading But what that policy does provide, if not a foolproof sense of what will eventually happen, is a much more peaceful life.

I’m excited for the next film(s) as much as anyone, but let me explain why I’m content to operate on the assumption that all trade reporting—to say nothing of fansite reporting—is false. Not because of their inherent unreliability, though that is a thing, but because I don’t need to know that stuff yet. In the best-case scenario, any film that actually gets produced will have no shortage of both official and unofficial reporting throughout its production, and in all likelihood, for years after its release. But when a project is too far off, or for whatever reason too uncertain, to have received any official comment whatsoever, all the trades can do is rile us up with partial and/or secondhand information. Sometimes it’s awesome news that doesn’t end up working out, like Damon Lindelof writing for Star Wars. Other times it’s terrible news that casts doubt on the future, like Damon Lindelof writing for Star Wars. Either way, it’s an experience Lucasfilm saw fit to save you from and you have only yourself to blame.

Because I followed this policy during the sequels, I didn’t mourn the loss of Duel of the Fates—and frankly, the more I did inevitably learn about what that movie might have been, the less I mourned it. Because I follow this policy, I was able to judge Obi-Wan Kenobi as the TV show it actually was rather than the movie it—reportedly—began life as. I will never know the sting of losing the Boba Fett movie, the Tatooine movie, or whatever the hell Kevin Feige was up to. Which is great for me because I’ve got my hands full trying to summon the Rian Johnson trilogy back into existence.

Side benefit? Maybe these people would get different jobs.

Did I still hear about all those projects, to some extent? Sure, I’m on Twitter. Unless you remove yourself from social media entirely no block or mute list is strong enough to completely tune the trades, or the ensuing cheers and jeers, out entirely. But what I’m here to preach is that, where secondary sources are concerned, you try just not caring.

I don’t mean not caring about Star Wars altogether—just about what Lucasfilm is or isn’t doing behind the scenes at this particular moment. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Destroyer classes or the patrons of the Mos Eisley cantina may not be what most would call useful information, but at least it’s grounded in an objective reality that can be sourced, analyzed, and discussed with other fans in a way that won’t all be moot later (except, uh, that one time). Constructing an entire mindset from the minutia—reportedly—of movies that effectively don’t even exist yet and that have less than 50/50 odds of ever existing is like trying to build a sandcastle in a bounce house. And from the tone of the responses to, well, just about any new piece of reporting, about as much fun.

Lucasfilm is a temperamentally tight-lipped company, and when production is actually ongoing it’s fair to argue that they should be more open about sharing details and updates with the people who crave them the most, if only to lessen the appetite for those details from less-reputable sources. But “development hell” is a concept that permeates the film industry, and that existed long before Star Wars—so when a project is in the earliest stages of development it’s not that unreasonable to plan for the possibility that it might never happen, or at least that it could evolve significantly. Which I would say is exactly why Lucasfilm doesn’t announce things early anymore, and I’m content to respect their decisions on that. Not because I trust them utterly and without reservation, but because at the end of the day, what I want is more or less what they want.

As I say on our Submissions page, Star Wars isn’t public policy; if you’re reporting on politics and governance and international relations and so on then there’s a strong public-interest argument to be made that regular people have a right to know all the backstage editing and infighting that goes on, because the outcomes affect our real lives and well-being. The outcome of the next Star Wars film does not. What the two subjects do have in common, with each other and basically everything else these days, is that we’re absolutely drowning in information about them. And almost all of that information is being sold to us—or if it isn’t, as the saying goes, it’s because we are the product ourselves. The trades want our attention more than they want us to enjoy ourselves, and I think they do fandom a disservice by giving us just enough information—reportedly—to develop preconceptions, and theories, and biases, about projects that the people who are actually responsible for them, who do want us to enjoy ourselves because that’s their product, aren’t ready to talk about.

Whatever’s happening with the Obaid-Chinoy film, or the Taika Waititi film (or, hell, Rogue Squadron), it seems like a fair bet that Lucasfilm will actually announce something at Celebration London in a couple weeks. If they don’t, I think it will be a considerable balm that I know next to nothing about what could have been announced. But if they do? I’d just as soon be surprised.

1 I would certainly stress, though, that nothing other than an article on the official site or a statement at Star Wars Celebration is qualified to be described as an “announcement”. Anything else, no matter how correct it turns out to be, is reporting.