The Star Wars franchise is in a bit of weird place right now.
While the enthusiasm was initially high for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and on its eve of release, The Last Jedi, that same enthusiasm has definitely waned since then. The dismal reception of Solo: A Star Wars story only solidified the notion that Star Wars is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis right now. The box office results for The Last Jedi, while definitely performed well, came nowhere near close to matching the 2 billion+ record The Force Awakens achieved. Still, regardless of box office success, The Last Jedi remains a divisive topic among fans.
I’m not really sure where Star Wars goes from here. I have high hopes for Episode IX, but I also have serious issues with J.J. Abrams, and thus concerns about how it will play out. I think Lucasfilm would have done well to simply not make Solo: A Star Wars story. It was a movie NO ONE asked for, and the box office demonstrated this. I’m more concerned with the current sequel trilogy, though. There’s much more at stake with the future of the franchise with this trilogy than the spin-off films. The Last Jedi has set Episode IX to be anyone’s guess, love it or hate it.
I have never analyzed a Star Wars film more than The Last Jedi. I want to understand fans’ criticisms, while reinforcing what makes it, in my mind – a spectacular film. I see the reasons why it upsets people – to a degree. That said, when I really begin to examine the objections fans raise about it, I’ve noticed an underlining issue that few people seem to be discussing. Namely, the handling of the original trilogy’s story and its connection to the current trilogy. In all of this time spent in analysis, I realize now that my main issues have more to do with the sequel trilogy’s foundations, rather than how these two entries are executed. Let me explain.
Return of the Jedi, the finale of the original trilogy, provided a sense of closure to the Skywalker saga and strongly implied that the Empire had been broken and would soon be completely defeated, while the balance of the Force had likewise been restored. However, both the old and new canon show that the Empire continues to fight for a number of years after the destruction of the second Death Star. But since we’re onto a new canon, let’s keep it simple and focus on this storyline. The much-maligned Aftermath series by Chuck Wendig helps fill in the gaps between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, which is about a thirty-year gap. We don’t learn anything about characters like Snoke or understand exactly how Ben Solo turned to the dark side, but we do know what happened to the Empire, and the Rebellion.
Keep in mind, I’m not 100% certain about the timeline, but I remember the basic premise. The Empire continues to fight on, but they gradually lose star systems and its forces increasingly dwindle. The Emperor clearly had contingency plans prepared if his death ever occurred, but none of these seem to amount to anything significant. The New Republic takes form and continues to push the Empire back. The Imperial war machine continues to dwindle until it is forced to make a last stand at the battle of Jakku. It is here we witness the seemingly full destruction of the Empire’s forces, but this is clearly not the full story.
The Empire takes what resources it has and its remaining leadership and retreats into the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, where it is reborn into the First Order. At some point, Snoke assumes command of this new regime. The First Order begins a massive buildup of technology and rebuilds its fleet, not to mention introducing all new types of weapons of mass destruction, like Starkiller Base. Despite having signed a full surrender that included the prohibition of such a military buildup, the First Order becomes even more powerful than the Empire ever was, thanks to its achievements in technological and military might. Reminds me a bit of what happened to Germany between WWI and WWII, now that I think about it.
Now, this is where I get confused and frustrated.
The New Republic becomes aware of the First Order at some point, although I’m not entirely sure when. They notice their presence and their military capabilities long before the destruction of the Hosnian system, which basically marks the supposed end of the New Republic (which begs the question – were five planets all the New Republic amounted to at the end of this period?)
I do not understand why the New Republic is stupid enough to let the First Order not only become this powerful but also allow them to strike first. Not only that, but the Resistance is basically the only faction that openly challenges the First Order, even though we all thought that the Republic could fight its own battles and would more easily handle a threat like the First Order on their own. And then we learn that the Resistance is funded by the New Republic?
If that’s the case, why did the Republic give the Resistance such a small array of weapons and ships? The Resistance is even more pathetic than the Rebellion ever was. Again I ask – why would anyone who had lived through the tyranny of the Empire ever allow them to come back in power? The Republic deserved to be destroyed in The Force Awakens because it was clearly being run by either morons or people all suffering from amnesia. Why would they let the First Order become this unstoppable when THEY KNOW THEY EXIST? This is why I felt NOTHING when the First Order wiped out five planets at once – because there was no context for what I was watching. Why should I care about the New Republic, when I know nothing about it except that it is apparently run by morons.
What we’re talking about here is basically all our heroes accomplished in the last trilogy amounted to nothing. The Empire was defeated, but it really wasn’t. The balance of the Force was restored, but it really wasn’t. The Jedi came back, but they really didn’t. The Emperor was defeated, but a cheap imitation replaced him quickly. Darth Vader turned to the light, but his freaking grandson doesn’t know this for some reason. Yeah, Kylo Ren – your grandpa destroyed the Emperor and redeemed himself. Obviously, Luke had to have told you this, right? Or your parents, maybe?
Look, folks I loved The Force Awakens, but what J.J. Abrams did is basically reset everything back to where it was at the beginning of the original trilogy. It’s basically the Empire vs. Rebels all over again, only this time – the heroes are even worse off than ever. You know why I appreciated The Last Jedi more than The Force Awakens? Because The Last Jedi actually made a good attempt at telling a cohesive story and providing some reason as to how things ended up where we are now. It didn’t bask in the glory of mystery and intrigue like The Force Awakens did. By the time the credits roll in The Force Awakens, we’ve watched what amounts to a big tease of a movie. Yes, it’s a good movie and I enjoy it to this day – but boy is it frustrating to think about when you stop and really consider what’s happened in thirty years of story.
One of my biggest complaints about the new trilogy is the lack of scale in its battles. Rogue One probably delivered one of the best space and land battles ever seen in Star Wars – far superior to anything we’ve seen in the new trilogy. The Prequels took this a step further, showcasing major set pieces for between the Clones and Droids. Sure, you may not have been as emotionally invested in them, but the scale was really impressive.
We’ve yet to really see an exciting battle in the new trilogy. Sure, the Millenium Falcon gets its moments, but these are short-lived, and it’s just one ship. The Resistance takes out a Dreadnought but loses its ENTIRE BOMBING FLEET in the process. It’s full of these moments of wins and losses for both sides, but at the end of the day, the battles between the Resistance and the First Order are underwhelming. The Resistance is embarrassingly small at the end of The Last Jedi, and unless a significant period of time takes place so they can build up forces, we’re just going to see the same heroes overcome against all odds like they always do. The smart and exciting thing to do would be to make the Resistance capable of going toe-to-toe with the First Order, and no – I do not mean they need their own Death Star. They need a fleet. They need an army.
I’m just saying, folks. This new trilogy is definitely great, but somewhere in the middle of all of this, I keep thinking, why? Why just start from where we were thirty years ago? There are so many more interesting directions they could have taken this new trilogy, but they decided to just remake old concepts. What this does is essentially reduces significantly the events of Return of the Jedi, making them amount to almost nothing.
People are largely upset at Rian Johnson for The Last Jedi, but I say it’s J.J. Abrams’ fault for where we are. He is responsible for laying such a pathetic foundation for the sequel trilogy. The premise is just weak and makes you care very little about the state of the galaxy. It’s almost like they were afraid of exposition in movies. Because The Force Awakens has almost NONE.
Like I said at the beginning, I don’t really know where we go from here. Star Wars is in a bit of weird place because of the corner they’ve painted themselves into with the current state of the sequel trilogy. There’s still potential, but Abrams is a man of habit in his storytelling methods. If I’m right, we’ll see a pretty predictable, and ultimately uninspired ending to this saga. The thought of this crushes me to my core. I want to see Star Wars deliver the magic I know it can. It just needs to try some new things for a change.
Mr. Abrams, I wish you well on your efforts in making Episode IX, but for the love of Star Wars – stop repeating the same mistakes you keep making. Be bold and up the scale for a change. You have the talent – use it. Heck, I’d be ok with Episode X being a reality if it means we get a better finale for the Skywalker saga. I’m just tired of seeing the heroes being the minority and the bad guys having all the power in the galaxy at their disposal.
I’ve seen that story before. I want something new.