One of the sad truths of storytelling is that you cannot have everything you want. You can build a compelling world and set your story in it, but fundamentally it is impossible to show the entirety of that world in one story. Ultimately, the story itself must come first, not the world it is set in. That means you have to pick and choose what elements you want to showcase and what you want to bring to life. If you write a story about Luke Skywalker it means that you need to sideline people as, or more, interesting as the main character.
This doesn’t mean that they always have to languish in obscurity. In a universe as vast as Star Wars and one with as much commercial appeal, there is going to be fan interest in any number of random side characters, planets, or plots. There are now movies and huge-budget shows about characters like Obi-Wan or Han Solo. This was helped by a wealth of comics, books and video games broadening the universe and turning Star Wars into one of the first examples of a truly transmedia property.
And yet there are characters who have still had to languish in obscurity. No matter how far into the future we get, a movie about Greedo is going to be a very hard sell. Few people are going to go into a theater to see a movie entirely about the planet Shili, the Togruta homeworld, which has never appeared in any movies.
There’s also the question of those characters created for spin-offs. Count Dooku, played by the late great Christopher Lee, is a character who was created for the Star Wars prequels, which existed to spin off the character of Darth Vader and give his backstory context. If you look into the supplementary material about this man, his story is rather dramatic and tragic. His fall to darkness is precipitated by his desire to bring justice to the corrupt Republic. If you asked a Star Wars layman on the street, however, who Dooku was, they probably will not know or will need to be reminded.
Ultimately, waiting for a Dooku movie isn’t the answer. Even on the off-chance that your particular favourite side character gets their movie, there’s a high chance somebody else’s won’t. Maybe Dooku gets his tragic anti-villain origin movie, but what about Assaj Ventress or Aura Sing? How do we include all these beloved characters without making movies about each of them?
Are Shorts the Future for Star Wars Side Characters?
Shorts are a good way for us to see these characters have a complete story realistically. You may not go to see an entire movie about Count Dooku, but maybe you would be interested in seeing a collection of shorts about various Jedi animated by the people who brought us the excellent Clone Wars TV show. It takes the pressure off any one particular story to be commercially viable while also giving people short and concise stories.
Disney has taken a few swings at Star Wars character-driven TV shows, and generally, their best success has been when they do something more than tell a single character’s story. The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan both struggled to maintain engagement consistently because they didn’t have any theme or message beyond the main character. Andor manages to dodge this by having a very solid roster of side characters, taking a character with less expectation and mythology, and also by telling the story of not just Andor but the Rebellion as a whole.
In movies, it’s much easier to have a plot driven by just a single character. Even if the series is only a few episodes long, a strong roster of characters is often required. These shows aren’t commercial failures by any means, but it would be unsustainable to make one for every fan-favorite character.
Shorts then allow you to tell concise and complete stories about a character. You don’t have to worry about whether or not Greedo’s life would make for a Disney Plus series, you can now tell a story that encapsulates the character in 20 minutes.
Themes In-Universe and In the Story
It’s odd to talk about a unifying story when discussing what are various short, self-contained stories. The other Star Wars anthology show, Star Wars Visions, didn’t really have any connective element except for the fact that it blended anime aesthetic and storytelling with Star Wars.
Tales of the Jedi is different. While it may seem innocuous to make a collection of shorts about the Jedi, there’s a lot to tackle in the story of their fall. The stories involving Dooku tackle the Jedi’s moral decline and their compromise at having to work for a corrupt Republic. Those that involve Ahsoka deal more with the Jedi in a slightly hopeful way. Ultimately the series as a whole interrogates whether or not the Jedi really were a force for justice and peace in the galaxy. It could have been called Fall of the Jedi and it would still have been accurate.
This is a good decision on the part of the people who made the shorts and ultimately hopeful for the future of Star Wars shorts. Linking shorts together with an in-universe theme is great, but what really elevates Tales of the Jedi is the themes that unite the stories as a whole. There are many funerals in the series, and it truly feels like the dying of a Golden Age, as often the colors of the series are washed out and bleak.
Tales of the Jedi might not seem all that impressive on its own, but it adds a layer of richness to the Star Wars universe we would’ve otherwise missed out on. Shorts aren’t just a way for fans to get to know their favorite side characters a little better, they’re also a way of highlighting important themes and throughlines in the universe, and here’s hoping we see even more of those going forward.