Zachary M. Cochran
11 min readDec 25, 2019

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Star Wars is Dead. Disney killed it.

First, Disney wiped the Star Wars Expanded Universe away with a press release. Then they hired J.J. Abrams to make Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ugh. It never got better.

*TONS OF SPOILERS AHEAD* (Note: most of this article was written before watching Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a.k.a. Episode IX. You should be current on all Star Wars movies and TV shows if you’re looking to avoid spoilers).

90% of what I loved about Star Wars was in the books and video games before Disney purchased Star Wars from George Lucas for $4 billon. Very soon after, all the stories and characters I loved were relegated to non-canon or “Legends” status to make way for a new storyline in the new movies. The purpose was to keep fans in suspense as to what would happen next in the Star Wars universe. It might have been a better decision to go with the multiverse model (think Marvel, also owned by Disney), because that would have kept the validity of all the stories that lifelong fans had poured years of their lives into reading and coming to know.

The loss for me was personal. I was introduced to the Star Wars movies (the original trilogy) as a (roughly) six-year-old child in the 90s and rode the wave of Star Wars hype that characterized many childhoods in my generation. My brother and I turned sticks into lightsabers and used “The Force” with rules that if we Force pushed each other, the other person had to block it or fall down. We played in tournaments at our local BeBeep toy store with the playable Star Wars cards that we collected and built into decks. From 1995 — 2001, we bought and collected and traded thousands of Star Wars: Collectible Card Game (CCG) cards by Decipher, building many deck variants and coming up with advanced strategies to win in these 60 card deck matches. I even taught my dad the six turn phases the game, by making it into a little ditty, because he had trouble remembering all the steps (Activate! Control! Deploy! Battle! Move! Draw!). I started several lightsaber drawings in a lightsaber journal, which was a composition notebook that accompanied my manilla folder with all my loose printouts of lightsabers online. Most of my inspiration for these lightsaber designs, in the early 2000s, was drawn from video games like Jedi Knight, from the crystals in blockbuster BioWare game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars fan films hosted on theforce.net, in the days before YouTube, and from model lightsabers made by other fans. It was these Star Wars fan films that started my interest in videography, which had me as a 12-year-old making short films on our family’s camcorder with Star Wars action figures. I went deep with this stuff, and looked at doing videography professionally because of my love of Star Wars. I looked at colleges based on their videography programs, and almost went to college for videography with a specialty in story writing. My life’s bucket list as a teenager had two things on it: 1) own a “real” lightsaber (a light-up prop replica) and 2) make a Star Wars fan film with real rotoscoping (where you draw the lightsaber blade into each frame of the video). I learned iMovie and Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro (all video editing softwares) to be able to make this fan film, and I looked into acting and especially into how to tell a story to be able to not just have eye candy, but to have meaningful character development in my film. Though I got the lightsaber for Christmas one year, I never did make that fan film.

I was known among my friends for my penchant to talk and sound like Yoda, one of the most beloved Star Wars characters (talk in hyperbaton, I did!). This was so common that to this day, one of my childhood friends primarily calls me “Yoda” instead of my real name. My brother and I had a large and growing collection of Star Wars stuff, mostly games and books (and in his case, Legos). We were sentenced to do chores at home and had our computer privileges taken away for sneaking down to the basement and logging onto our family’s gaming PC to get extra time playing the Star Wars versions of Age of Empires and World of Warcraft. We ate up the stories in these games, even though there were no books, because we were learning things about the Star Wars universe like the names of Chewbacca’s family through the campaigns (his father, Attichitcuk, was the most fun to say).

It was an all out campaign to convince my parents to let us get a $10 a month subscription to the world’s first Star Wars MMORPG, called Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). This Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game was notable as they let you create your own personal Star Wars character that could travel between nine different Star Wars planets, choose any of thirty professions, and live as a Star Wars galactic citizen during the height of the Galactic Empire. Being young (I was a young teenager when the game came out in 2003), my mom was concerned about us talking with strangers online, so that made it challenging for us to convince her that playing the game was safe. We were also banned from entering the Cantinas because they had characters in revealing dancer clothing and Star Wars versions of alcoholic drinks. Of course, we snuck into the doorways and left our characters there for hours while away from the keyboard (AFK) because that was the only way to heal our character’s “battle fatigue.” We took the hit when we got caught, because, well, that’s what it took to play the game. My main character was a human who functioned as a Master Doctor, creating medicines I would sell on the server’s galactic marketplace. My brother was a rifleman/creature handler/architect who built a large home and interior designed it to perfection. I had a much smaller abode on our home planet of Naboo, and my Kaddu mount (named “Ducky” or something, based on his duck-billed face), were important facets of my experience in the game, as were the resource extraction devices that we would set up to mine the most valuable resources on the planet as our crafting materials. I hunted down or purchased the best possible materials to create the most potent medicines that I could, getting enough resources to craft a prototype and produce large batches of the best medicines in the universe. My alternative character was a pug-faced Trandoshan, a bipedal lizard character who was a master of martial arts and lived on the well-known desert planet of Tatooine.

We never got deeply into the comics, but I read as many of the Star Wars novels and books I could get my hands on. I remember growing up, I borrowed books from a classmate and read the stories of young Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he was trained by his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn. We were the same age (young Obi-Wan and I), so I lived vicariously through him and experienced what life as a young Jedi must have felt like. My love of strategy extended beyond the card games. The Thrawn Trilogy revealed the cunning and brilliant Chiss (blue-skinned) Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy space fleet, and how he could always predict every move of his enemies to create the most devastating outcomes in battle. I loved the progression of Luke Skywalker’s character in the books, because he went from whiny farmboy to genuine Jedi Knight to the Jedi Master of the New Jedi Order, as he rebuilt the Jedi Academy. I remember his Force-imbued reflexes as his possessed student Gantoris almost killed him by activating the dual-phase element of his lightsaber (essentially doubling its length in an instant and almost ending Luke’s life). I remember when Luke brilliantly escaped from a prison cell by taking the batteries out of his mechanical hand and using them to open his cage. I especially remember fondly when some 30 years in the stories after the movies (A.B.Y. or After the Battle of Yavin, which is the Star Wars timeline), Luke’s new Jedi Order was fracturing and Luke, after disappearing for a time, decided that he was now going to stop the splintering, make everyone bow to him as Jedi Grandmaster, and he showed up as the most powerful Jedi in the universe. Most notably, as Grandmaster, he took on the Supreme Overlord of an invading army and his 12 bodyguards in a gravity shifting chamber and cut them all down, proving that he was also the most powerful being in the galaxy, at the level of Darth Vader at the height of his power.

These stories were so meaningful to me. I remember grieving with the characters when one talented scientist, who was the love interest of another character, was mind-wiped by a rogue Jedi because she had knowledge as a builder of a superweapon called the Suncrusher, a tiny spacecraft that was virtually indestructible. I loved learning about the Force Witches of Dathomir, on their Rancor mounts, and the Noghri who bowed to Jedi Leia Organa Solo. One of the saddest moments in the books was the day Chewbacca died. He was left behind as a moon crashed down upon the world he was standing on while he roared toward it in defiance. The writers of these books made me feel more deeply than many other things in my life, and so my connection to these characters was stronger than most people could understand.

I was known among my friends as the Star Wars history expert. I eventually made myself an email to match this title: JediHistorian@gmail.com. There was a position in Lucas’s Star Wars staff where your job was to figure out and keep track of all the storylines in the galaxy and to reconcile all of those details. I thought when I grew up I might have a shot at this “Holocron” role.

To say that Star Wars was significant in my life would be an understatement. I dressed up for everything short of conventions and the first book I ever wrote (as an adult) was an original story set in the Star Wars universe. I wrote the book (all 200 pages) in a month as a part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. I wrote the book (Star Wars: The Sword of Ren) before Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, and rewrote only a couple of chapters after watching the movie to correct some of my faulty assumptions. You can still read it if you want to: https://www.zacharycochran.com/novel

There is too much. I don’t have the time or the desire to talk about how frustrating it was that they changed way that lightsaber crystals worked, or that J.J. Abrams just cloned a lot of the concepts from the original movies and then left no gravitas for the death of most of the inhabitants of the Core Worlds (in The Force Awakens). The loss of the character development of Luke Skywalker was significant to me, and the loss of the character Mara Jade Skywalker was tragic.

There were some good things in The Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows, but having Ezra and Asoka time travel was almost a “jump the shark” moment. And don’t get me started on J.J. Abrams’s track record for starting stories with “mysteries” that can’t be completed in a satisfactory way. Who are Rey’s parents? Who was Snoke? I liked the way that Rian Johnson answered these questions in Episode VIII: It doesn’t matter, and it was built up for no reason. Very disappointing, because this is not storytelling, its teasing fans until they finally get tired of the charades.

The point is, Disney’s decisions regarding what to do with their asset is frustrating and upsetting. Their “play it safe” strategy backfired because they removed most of what makes “Star Wars” enjoyable and replaced it with a complete lack of coherent or meaningful storytelling. There is no gravitas or weight to most of the decisions of the characters in Disney’s Star Wars universe. Someone dies? Oh well. Someone lives? Why do we care? Because there is no epic battle of good versus evil, but a continual “balancing” and constant wars (yes, the name Star Wars is accurate), it leaves us as diehard fans feeling like everything by Disney is just a ploy to get our money through merchandizing, underdeliver where it counts, and not allow us the creative freedom to enjoy the franchise of our childhoods. Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyworld seems the closest approximation to a success and the best incarnation of Star Wars by Disney to date. Even The Mandalorian feels like a merchandizing ploy with baby Yoda, and who baby Yoda is makes no logical sense, especially as a 50-year-old baby.

It feels strange to say that I grieve the loss of Star Wars. The Star Wars I grew up with, I loved. Sure, I hated parts of it (mostly the prequel trilogy), but the rest of the Star Wars universe was between enjoyable to amazing and breathtaking. Finding out you’re Revan (in KOTOR). Finding out that Darth Vader created the Rebel Alliance to draw out his enemies (in The Force Unleashed). Ai Ting monks and their teleporting starships using the Force. (in the novels). There were so many meaningful moments that Disney wiped away, and so much potential for brilliant storytelling that Disney just completely missed out on.

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To wrap this up, I’ve just watched Episode IX. It didn’t bomb as much as I expected, in part because my expectations were so low. They accomplished the redemption (and subsequent death) of Kylo Ren, both of which I had felt were necessary or important to happen, which I didn’t think they could pull off. They handled Leia’s death (and actor Carrie Fisher’s) very well, given the way the actor died during the filming. And despite all the unexplainable elements in the story, they did a good job of weaving together an interesting and even meaningful tale that wrapped up the saga reasonably well, given the circumstances.

Will this third Star Wars trilogy ever be one I love and enjoy? Probably not. There are too many pieces of eye candy that substitute for good storytelling. It had its moments though, and Episode IX helped salvage what looked like (due to J.J. Abrams’ first Star Wars film) a train wreck in process. Even if we still have a lot of those unexplainable mysteries that J.J. Abrams is infamous for (like how the heck did Palpatine come back to life??).

There we have it. Rey is primed to build a new Jedi Academy, under the watchful mentorship and influence of Force ghosts Luke and Leia Skywalker. Rey’s taking on the Skywalker name seemed a fitting end for the saga, though I would have appreciated the depth they could have brought to the story if they had reconciled the fact that she was a Palpatine instead of just rejecting that and choosing a different identity. It seemed there could have been more room for authenticity and the reality of her upbringing and legacy.

Will all this set up Disney for a new Jedi Academy, one that rivals the Legacy one in this new canon? I’m not sure, but we can only hope that Disney doesn’t keep dropping the ball or continuing to fumble it as they have done over the past five years. Is the Star Wars of my childhood dead? Yes, it is, though this new incarnation isn’t completely awful, and the way they wrapped up The Rise of Skywalker leaves room to hope that they will tell more compelling stories about the New Order of heroic, wise, and brave Jedi in the future.

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Zachary M. Cochran

I think a lot + write about #careers #entrepreneurship #wisdom #productivity #grief #Christianity #NYC #parkour + more. To learn more, visit zacharycochran.com.