Star Wars universe

And it's official.... The rumors have been kicking around for a while, ever since it was announced that "The Empire Strikes Back" writer Lawrence Kasdan and "Sherlock Holmes" scribe Simon Kinberg were developing "Star Wars"-related projects, but Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed yesterday that, aside from a new "Star Wars" trilogy, the first of which will be directed by J.J. Abrams, the studio is also working on stand-alone films set in George Lucas' universe that will be "derived from great 'Star Wars' characters that are not part of the overall saga."

There seem to be at least two movies in the works, one being developed by Kasdan, the other by Kinberg (with the pair also consulting on "Star Wars: Episode VII," probably to make sure all the pieces fit collectively), and surely more to come down the road. Iger suggested yesterday that the films should arrive sometime between 2015 and 2021. But what's their value for Disney? What kind of films can we expect to see? And which characters are we likely to see leading their own films?

The first of these questions should be relatively easy to answer: they'll make a bunch of money. Disney have been upfront about their plans to release a "Star Wars" movie every two years or so, and the idea of stand-alone films means that more time can be taken between fully-fledged "episodes." It's essentially a smaller-scale version of the same game-plan that Marvel have been moving towards; an "Avengers" movie every three or four years, with films focusing on individual characters coming in between.

In theory, it helps keep interest (and more crucially, merchandise sales) consistent, expands the universe, and turns "Star Wars," like Marvel, into less of a franchise, and more of a sort of mini-genre, with multiple filmmakers able to work simultaneously, and in different styles, without diluting the brand. It's easy to see "Star Wars"-themed gangster films, war movies, romances, younger-skewing comedies, all focusing on different characters. There's always a risk of diminishing returns, but so long as they keep the quality, and variety, high enough, it's likely to be more than sustainable.

But the question is, what will these films actually look like? While Kasdan and Kinberg (and other filmmakers) have an entire universe to draw from, there are serious pros and cons to almost any approach. Actors like Harrison Ford are probably too old to kick off their own new sub-franchise, but recasting their roles as younger actors could verge on blasphemy. Picking up on non-human characters is easier, but there's very little precedent for live-action movies carried single-handedly by CGI characters, beyond something like "Alvin & The Chipmunks." Going with a prequel approach risks conflicting with the timeline of the new trilogy, sending out mixed messages, not to mention it threatens to further rob the series of more of its mystery (think midichlorians and generally, too much linear explanation of how everything came to be). Meanwhile, spinning-off a new character from 'Episode VII' is risky -- what if the fans don't respond in the way that Abrams and co hope?

And, it's weird for us to quote him given our meh feelings about "Prometheus," but Damon Lindelof's comments about prequels in general are something that deeply resonated with us, and we hope the new "Star Wars" team are listening closely (and/or Lindelof is elbowing his former "Lost" boss and and goes, "Psst, don't forget this.")

"With all due respect to anyone who makes a prequel, but why would you ruin the greatest twist in the history of cinema, 'Luke, I am your father,' by showing me three movies which basically spoil that surprise. You can do movies which take place before 'Star Wars' but I don't need to see the story of the Skywalker clan. Show me something else which I can’t guess the possible outcome of. There is no suspense in inevitability."

It's a tricky conundrum to be sure, and on the next page, we've suggested five of the more likely routes these spin-offs could take, and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so. Which would you most like to see? Let us know in the comments section. Personally, we want an "Anvil!" style documentary about the Cantina Band.  Update: Obviously some of these spin-off films have now been announced. Though some claim they are still in the early stages and anything could happen...