Features and Columns · Movies

Mike Flanagan’s ‘Star Wars’ Horror Film is Not a Total Fantasy

We think it’s absolutely possible. Let’s examine Star Wars’ horrific past and present.
Mike Flanagan Star Wars Horror
By  · Published on October 29th, 2021

Star Wars Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Star Wars shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry considers Mike Flanagan’s desire to make a Star Wars horror movie, something many have wanted to see for a long time.

The speculation engine went into hyperdrive this week. Filmmaker Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) was awoken by an earthquake, and his first thought was not of his family or of a crumbling home but of an unshakable possibility. What if Lucasfilm allowed him to steer the Star Wars franchise into horror?

Over on Netflix, Flanagan is on a killer winning streak. Midnight Mass feels like this giant leap forward from the delectable dreads he’s already accomplished with The Haunting of Bly Manner and The Haunting of Hill House. It’s easy to smash his vibes together with that long time ago galaxy, far, far away. Drop Flanagan on Mustafar, the fiery hell planet that consumed Anakin Skywalker, and the movie practically writes itself.

“They’re Coming to Get You, Solo…”

Edgar Wright was one of the first to encourage the Star Wars horror movie idea, throwing out the glib title “Don’t Be Afraid of the Darth,” a spin on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. From there, we got comments from Rahul Kohli, Elijah Wood, and Fangoria Editor-in-Cheif Phil Nobile Jr. The notion is infectious. It’s a diabolical proposal that many would show up to see, but those same people probably believe it to be utterly impossible.

Lucasfilm would never allow a filmmaker like Mike Flanagan to run wild and gory and Hard R with their Star Wars franchise. It’s too precious of a commodity. They like their entertainment neat, tidy, clean, and most importantly, digestible.

Except Lucasfilm has gone a little nasty in the past. As many mentioned in response to Flanagan’s tweet, back in 2009, before Disney purchased the IP, novelist Joe Schreiber scribbled together a gnarly tale called Death Troopers. In the book, an Imperial prison ship conks out and is set adrift in space. After some initial scrambling, they encounter an abandoned Star Destroyer. When they dock with it, they discover an undead Stormtrooper horde.

We’ve recently had Marvel Zombies, so it’s easy to consider the Star Wars equivalent. Schreiber’s book is brutally nasty, and the cover leans heavily into the George R. Romero aesthetic. It’s a tantalizing promise. What you’ll find within is unlike anything else in the franchise, but it’s something gut-munchingly familiar if Night of the Living Dead is your kink.

Set shortly before A New Hope, the plot even finds ways to throw in Han Solo and Chewbacca (they’re Imperial prisoners), forcing them to bash some brains. Their appearance solidifies the event as no mere one-off. Death Troopers has canonical consequences, or it did before the Disney merger.

Look to Lego Star Wars and Star Wars: Visions for Genre Relief

But just because Disney owns Star Wars, don’t think Star Wars will remain the wannabe Flash Gordon it’s always been. With the most recent sequel trilogy behind us, the franchise can afford some experimentation. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since The Rise of Skywalker completed.

This month alone, we’ve gotten both Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales and Star Wars: Visions. The former is jokingly throwing itself into the genre Mike Flanagan is contemplating. The Lego Star Wars cartoon special spoofs several well-established horror movies like The Lost Boys, The Shining, and, yup, Night of the Living Dead. In doing so, it serves as an excellent reminder that Star Wars has always contained a creepy edge, and the franchise is as much of a monster movie series as it is a swashbuckling science fiction adventure.

Star Wars: Visions attempts a What If…? type re-imagining of a universe where George Lucas pressed a little harder into his Samurai influences, allowing renowned Anime directors like Takanobu Mizuno and Masahiko Ôtsuka to take the wheel. Their interpretations allow for much darker confrontations between Jedi and Sith, and in one case, between Sith and Sith. In this realm, tampering with the Force is a spiritual invitation, and whatever your intentions, opening your soul to it costs you physically.

Disney+ is a Perfectly Horrific Home for Star Wars

Without the stress of a theatrical release, Star Wars can afford to meander through several genres right now. Look to their sibling franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since its beginning, Marvel Studios has attempted to blend genres to some degree of success. The Russo Brothers brought a little ’70s espionage to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Peyton Reed sought a little heist movie flavor for AntMan. And, yeah, James Gunn brought some Star Wars (and a little Ice Pirates) to Guardians of the Galaxy.

And since they’ve arrived on Disney+, Marvel Studios has unburdened themselves a little further. WandaVision is a wild tour through sitcoms, using Wanda’s nostalgia for them to highlight the trauma she experienced during Avengers: Infinity War. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is…okay, that’s a little bit more of the same. Loki uses Doctor Who‘s companionship model to unravel the titular Avenger frenemy and reveal the MCU’s course for the foreseeable future.

On Disney+, Marvel can get a little weird, and Star Wars can get a whole lot weirder. These franchises are so absurdly massive that they can take big swings where lesser successful series can’t. Mike Flanagan won’t break anything — Star Wars is too damn sturdy. And if Twitter’s reaction to his earthquake-induced fantasy is any indication, there is a tremendous desire to see Star Wars get a little bloody. Or, at the very least, a little spookier.

Now, hard R on Disney+? A gory delight next to Muppets Haunted Mansion? That seems like a tougher ask, but then again, look to Marvel. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may be more of the same regarding the MCU, but it does feature John Walker severing a guy’s head with Captain America’s shield. And it’s absolutely shot in such a way to accentuate that bloody smear on Steve Rogers’ Vibranium frisbee.

The Haunting of Vaders Castle, it can be done.

Related Topics:

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)