Will the live-action Star Wars TV series be worth the wait?

How many of you were aware that George Lucas is planning a live action Star Wars TV series? While I can just picture the geekiest of you eagerly raising your hands, it still might be news to some. Over the past six years (that’s right, SIX) Lucas has been teasing die-hard fans with the possibility that we might get more live-action Star Wars material. In a pair of recent interviews, Lucas and his longtime producer partner Rick McCallum revealed that the show may not be possible for another few years, but committed themselves to bringing the property to the small screen.

Read on to find out what’s keeping us from returning to our favourite space opera universe (HA! I avoided a “galaxy far, far away” reference!) and why I think the proposed series might be a case of the Star Wars franchise overstaying its welcome. Since this is probably a key issue for Star Wars fans, let me know what you think in the comments!

News about the show has been popping up on movie and TV blogs for several years now. At one point in 2009, it was revealed that the casting process had started on the series. But the trend has been for positive news about the live-action show to be followed up by a story stating that the production has halted for one reason or another. The chief problem is money: the most recent Star Wars films were produced on hundred-million-dollar budgets, with exotic shooting locations and thousands upon thousands of digital effects shots.

That sort of expenditure is simply not sustainable on TV. Shows like Lost, Boardwalk Empire or The Pacific have broken records for being some of the most expensive on TV, but individual episodes rarely exceed several million dollars to produce.

The reason the Star Wars show would rack up a high production cost is that Lucas and McCallum want the show to have the same look as Episodes I-III. They don’t want the show to gain a reputation for being a low-rent version of the beloved film series. That means having all the digitally-animated space dogfights, fanciful planet landscapes and energetic lightsaber battles that the films are known for. What’s a billionaire filmmaker like Lucas to do?

As a first step, Lucas wants to fund the live-action series entirely himself, through Lucasfilm. He did this in the past with some of the Star Wars films to avoid studio intervention during the creative process (Lucas has spoken at length about how frustrated he became while negotiating with the studios for more money). But Lucas doesn’t simply want to part with millions of dollars and not make any back; in fact, he’d like to turn a profit.

Both he and Rick McCallum have explained that the solution is to wait until digital effects become less expensive. Since FX would take up much of the budget, it makes sense that Lucas would want to wait for technology to improve to truly begin the Star Wars TV series. After all, he waited sixteen years after finishing Return of the Jedi to start the prequel trilogy, mostly because he was waiting for the special effects to catch up with his vision.

My question is: do we really need another infusion of Star Wars? Don’t underestimate my fandom – Star Wars is the first series I can remember being a true fan of. I’ve poured hundreds of hours of my life into the movies and the “Expanded Universe”: video games, comics, the Wikipedia-style databank, even Star Wars Monopoly, for heaven’s sake.

We’re also talking about the same franchise that literally gave birth to the summer blockbuster; whose characters now pop up in new rides at Disneyland, in Volkswagen commercials and are on every toy store shelf in the known world. What’s more, the current Clone Wars animated series has proven that the universe can work in a lengthy TV format – in fact, Clone Wars consistently impresses me with the quality of the storytelling and their willingness to go to the darker places in the Star Wars mythos.

But how much is too much Star Wars? As with any series, where do we draw the line between loving Star Wars and becoming increasingly annoyed by it? Lucas and McCallum said that the new show (for which they already have 50 hours of scripts written) will be set between Episodes III and IV, and would not feature any of the major characters we know.

There might be an occasional cameo (by a young Han Solo, say) to thrill fans, but Lucas is hoping the show will flesh out more of the world beyond the exploits of the Skywalker clan. What worries me is that by bringing us another significant Star Wars product, it’s only threatening to rob the previous instalments of their magic, and more importantly, their relevance.

By the time the show premieres, the Star Wars franchise will have been around for nearly forty years. Will the fans who remember seeing A New Hope in theatres back in May 1977 be interested in new Star Wars stories? What about all the fans who (like me) became hooked on the movies in later decades? Then there are other considerations like George Lucas’ age (he’s 67 and is like the Steve Jobs of Lucasfilm) or whether TV will even still exist in five years' time.

I don’t want to sound like the legions of commentators who harp on the creative faults of George Lucas, but I am worried about this show, because I like the Star Wars franchise the way it is. Too many times, film series and TV shows have fizzled out after being stretched too thin (it seems like Pirates of the Caribbean is the latest one of these, but I disagree), and it’s a shame to see once-promising material be capped off with an underwhelming finish.

I’ll be watching for more news on this series in the coming years, hoping that this show gives us yet another generation of awesome Star Wars content - rather than being the Lucasfilm effort that kills a remarkable cultural institution.

What do you think of George Lucas’ plans to bring live-action Star Wars to TV? Are you pumped, or do you wish Lucas would move on? What’s your opinion on the Clone Wars TV show – does it indicate that there’s promise for more spaceships and lightsabers on TV? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and check out some of my other related articles:

- Why never-ending TV shows should be stopped -

- Why the YouTube model will kill TV -

- Will the Star Wars Blu-rays be worth it? -