Disney+ adds new, kid-centric Star Wars, but takes away a lot of movies and original productions.
Movies and Marvel Retreat, But Star Wars Surges
This year, all has been pretty quiet on the streaming front. That’s particularly true at Disney+ where cost-cutting measures have delayed some titles, with no new Marvel series for nine months.
Disney+ launched to great fanfare with The Mandalorian, a Western-style Star Wars spin-off that brought generations of fans together.
Particularly in 2020, with families stuck at home, the series raked in subscribers, social media and press attention.
But this was only the beginning of Disney's attempt to wring every bit of story it can from George Lucas' galaxy far, far away.
Three years later, even as Disney+ hit it big with Hamilton, some Marvel series, and especially Bluey -- a favorite with critics and parents -- the Star Wars franchise remains its cornerstone.
Of the various profiles using Disney+, ratings reveal only two types of subscribers being served well: Star Wars fans (who got four new series last year) and families with preschoolers.
Now, Star Wars for the Juice-Box Set
So it’s no surprise that Disney synergy created a Star Wars show for preschoolers, titled Young Jedi Adventures, which launched its first batch of episodes on May 4.
But many families are unsure what to expect.
After all, several recent Disney animation entries have pushed ideological agendas on young children – from Dino Ranch, with a storyline about same-sex adoption, to The Owl House, with gender-bending characters.
Thankfully, this colorful series offers an adventurous and even morality-focused entry point into the space opera saga, with some light peril that most 4-year-olds can handle.
When ‘Light and Life’ Defined the Galaxy
With any Star Wars project, similar to the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, we adults have to get our bearings. When is this series set, in relation to the original six films?
Young Jedi Adventures occurs 200 years before Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in what’s known as the High Republic era, when “light and life” are vibrant across the galaxy.
The Jedi, guardians of justice, are at their height and actively training generations of younglings.
Preschoolers, of course, won’t care. They’re just excited to have a series with pint-sized padawans wielding lightsabers -– including a cuddly blue bear-like alien named “Nubs” who steals the show.
How Young Jedi Adventures Relates to Littles
Showrunner Michael Olson (known for Puppy Dog Pals) said in an interview that he “really wanted to see this adorable, fierce teddy bear swinging a lightsaber.”
He added: “It was important that the younger audience had a character that could express their own wide-ranging emotions,” without speaking an intelligible language.
For over a decade, Lucasfilm has produced Lego Star Wars series and assorted shorts geared to youngsters.
But many of those featured humor over kids’ heads, frightening action scenes better suited to 10-and-up, and sometimes even give away key plot points from the films.
Rather than produce “filler” franchise content, creators of Young Jedi Adventures clearly put thought and heart into developing a group of child characters that plays well off of each other.
Kai Brightstar is curious and extroverted, his friend, Lys Solay. has compassion for all (especially creatures), and their pilot-turned-ally Nash is a hotshot flyer who questions Jedi ways.
Bite-sized Stories for Active Padawans
The plots often simplify tropes seen in Star Wars animated series The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch – the latter which just closed out its second season and continues to deliver consistently solid storytelling.
In Young Jedi Adventures, the villains aren’t too scary. There’s a rival racer, a thief who knows the padawans’ Jedi master, and a masked kid named Taborr with a crew of bullies.
Whatever mischief they make, it gets resolved within 12 minutes (each episode has two segments).
Usually the protagonists must learn a lesson, rather than resolve conflict with a duel.
Where there is combat, note these padawans are issued “training lightsabers” which can bruise and burn but not kill. Blasters are rarely seen, as producers are obviously sensitive to any gun-like weapons.
"The Force" and Other Possible Parental Concerns
Kids will encounter just a small dose of discussion about the Force in this series, which has obvious ties to Eastern religions, with its “balance of dark and light” ethos.
Another potential thing for parents to navigate, it’s briefly noted that Nash (who is one of the human characters) has two moms.
Overall, dads and moms who enjoy spending time in a galaxy far, far away will find it brighter and more vibrant than ever as they share Star Wars with their own younglings.
Young Jedi Adventures –- which also includes a series of six 3-minute shorts, and more episodes to come –- tells stories about friendship, overcoming fears, responsibility and heroic sacrifice.
Young Jedi Adventures is currently streaming on Disney+, with further episodes expected in late summer.
Image: (L-R): Jedi Younglings: Lys Solay (voiced by Juliet Donenfeld), Kai Brightstar (voiced by Jamaal Avery Jr.) and Nubs (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) in a scene during a training sequence from "STAR WARS: YOUNG JEDI ADVENTURES" exclusively on Disney+ and Disney Junior. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.