Initially, I wrote this article with the intention of articulating my dissatisfaction and concern with the current state of Star Wars, largely in part because of the recent Han Solo film. Funny thing – my original post somehow didn’t save properly, and I was reverted back to an outdated version. Having spent the better part of a week completing that post, I decided to start over. With some fresh perspective, I think I can better paint a picture of how Star Wars is faring as a franchise now, and where it needs to go from here.
Although I have had my share of issues with the new material being produced by Lucasfilm, overall I’ve been pretty content with their releases. The books have disappointed me a little, but I concede that I’ve only read two of them so far. The LGBT-heavy themes were distracting, but ultimately they simply failed to capture my imagination like many previous novels in the old canon.
As for other media like video games, Star Wars has been relatively conservative in this area. The biggest releases so far have been Battlefront I and II, respectively. Both games released with a lack of content, and Battlefront II was marred by its loot box controversy. To their credit, EA and its developers have bent over backward to fix their mistakes. Battlefront II now stands as an exciting Star Wars experience, if still lacking a bit in the content department. Their upcoming plans for Clone Wars DLC is especially exciting and should rectify that error. At E3 recently, EA inserted a tiny announcement for an upcoming title, Jedi: Fallen Order. Like many fans, I’m excited to learn more about it and look forward to its release. Why they chose to announce a huge game in such an underwhelming fashion is beyond me, but perhaps they’ll make up for that.
For this article, I’ll mostly be dealing with the film franchise. Most moviegoers aren’t keeping up with every Star Wars media being released, and I don’t blame them. It’s a lot of material, even for a big fan like myself. In fact, I would say this is the point of division for me. There’s too much content being released. With so many books, video games, shows, movies and more – Star Wars is being a bit watered down, making things just a little less special as time goes on. The marvel and wonder of Star Wars can absolutely be retained, however. Lucasfilm simply needs to tap the brakes a little.
The biggest indication of this overabundance is the recent release of Solo: A Star Wars story. As I was quick to point out in my review, Solo is a film that adds very little to the Star Wars universe and ultimately goes down as a movie made needlessly. I think it’s fair to say that only a fraction of fans cared to see a younger version of Han Solo portrayed. The movie itself wasn’t bad, but its very premise doomed its success before it even released. I feel bad for Ron Howard, who courageously stepped in as director after the previous directors were fired halfway through filming. He’s a solid director, but even he couldn’t save this movie. Bottom line, we didn’t want to see Han Solo recast. The character’s arc was over in Episode VII, and it made absolutely no sense to revive Han in his younger days.
Lucasfilm has taken little to no risk in their film franchise since being bought by Disney, which is their greatest weakness. They’re so concerned with not making fans angry that they’ve produced films that play it too safe. The Force Awakens, while a great movie, is ultimately held back by its unoriginal plot and overly fast pacing. It had great characters and awesome sequences, but TFA ultimately serves to show how sacrificing plot for entertaining characters isn’t always a wise choice. No matter how many times I watch it, I always roll my eyes when I see Starkiller base. They even try to defend its existence by inferring that its gargantuan size compared to the Death Stars somehow makes it different and original. J.J. Abrams has a bad tendency to create mystery and intrigue in his films without following through very well, and TFA is no exception.
Rogue One was entertaining, certainly. It made the opposite mistake The Force Awakens did, however. It chose plot development over character development, which made each character fail to deliver in a more memorable way. Our lead, Jyn Erso is not given enough time to develop onscreen, which leaves us as an audience to struggle to understand her true motivations. Still, Rogue One offers some of the best battles seen in the entire franchise. Darth Vader is also given two excellent scenes, which no Star Wars fan would ever complain about. The whole plot serves really as a prelude to Episode IV, taking place likely only a few days or weeks before the original film. It relies on nostalgia like TFA, but it’s done so well that I still love it, despite its shortcomings.
Ah, The Last Jedi.
I doubt I’ve examined a film as much as The Last Jedi. No doubt, fans will be split on for many years. I don’t fully understand why it gets as much flack as it does, but at the end of the day, I will likely always defend its brilliance. It’s my favorite Star Wars film Disney has released since purchasing Lucasfilm. It’s got plenty of flaws, but it shines so well in so many ways, I don’t even mind them. This is Lucasfilm taking risks, and it paid off beautifully.
The Last Jedi is a decisive film, and I love it for it. Rian Johnson took the convoluted setup from The Force Awakens and told a more mature, bolder story. And funny thing, I’ve actually even warmed up to it more recently. I used to feel that it did border on feminist and social justice themes to a fault. Now, I’m doubtful. Whether or not Rian Johnson had those themes in mind, I don’t care anymore. I actually really think it’s not either or those things. I love the film for what it is, and I think he did a spectacular job with it. The development of Rey and Kylo Ren is especially compelling throughout the film. Luke Skywalker is shown a more complex character than I thought possible, and his motivations for secluding himself on the island are more justified than I initially agreed with. His entire arc is beautiful, though I was certainly sad to see him pass away into the Force.
Honestly, I have very little to complain about The Last Jedi. I like it more and more everytime I see it. I suppose the scene with Leia force-pulling herself back to the ship was too strange to ever feel comfortable with, but it’s a minor gripe. I’m glad they did not choose this method to kill off her character. I also felt that the movie underused its villains at times, especially characters like Captain Phasma. For the record, I was thrilled to see Snoke killed. I’ve never felt I wanted to see more of him in this new trilogy. He felt like too much of an Emperor Palpatine copycat. Good riddance, prune face.
I’ve discussed this film at length with many people, and most of their complaints are rooted in their expectations. Because The Force Awakens set up so many plot threats, leaving fans to go crazy with fan theories, many people were let down that TLJ did not follow their predictions. The Last Jedi subverted our expectations brilliantly, and I’m so glad it did. The fanbase needed their world shaken up for a change, and this film did exactly that. Did we really need another completely predictable plot, like The Force Awakens delivered? I think not.
The Force Awakens isn’t as memorable because it fails to challenge me as a moviegoer and fan. Its plot introduced many things and failed to resolve almost any of them. At least TLJ gave us a story that felt complete, not a cliff-hanger ending like TFA. I want to see characters grow, fail, and learn from their mistakes. The Last Jedi did exactly that, instead of catering to our every expectation and demand. Bravo, Mr. Johnson. I wish you were handling Episode IX, not J.J. Abrams. Hopefully, Mr. Abrams will take a cue from you and explore bolder themes, bigger scales, and more resolute stories this time around. At least Johnson is getting his own trilogy. He deserves it.
With the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story, I have questioned the leadership at Lucasfilm in their ability to paint a clear picture for the future of the franchise. We do not want a repeat of Solo, because a mistake like that is a costly one for the franchise. Star Wars is a special franchise, and each film needs to feel self-contained and yet relevant to the larger arc. I think Lucasfilm needs to change its direction in two ways to save the franchise from becoming stale.
1. Stop making so many Star Wars movies so quickly.
In about three years’ time, we have been treated to four Star Wars films. In many ways, it’s comparable to the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula. Some would argue that Lucasfilm is clearly trying to duplicate their success by releasing so many films back to back that is all part of a shared universe. The problem is, Star Wars simply isn’t like Marvel. They are two widely different beasts.
Marvel can get away with releasing three films a year because each film feels different, yet part of a larger, cohesive story. Avengers: Infinity War did a beautiful job of bringing together ten years’ worth of stories while setting up an even bigger film to follow next year. They have a clear vision for the franchise, and it shows.
Star Wars has largely been following the Skywalker family legacy for decades now, even with two spin-off films having now been released. Its scope is much smaller in many ways. It can’t and should not attempt to copy the Marvel formula, and frankly, fans are not asking for it. Star Wars started out as a film franchise, unlike the MCU, which is derivative of the comic source material. Characters have undergone countless changes and stories in Marvel comics, but Star Wars has largely been about its movies above everything else.
Lucasfilm should tap the brakes and really plan out its vision for the franchise in a way fans can appreciate. I get that they’re in the business of making money, but if they fail to focus on quality over quantity, they’ll miss the mark and fail to keep Star Wars relevant and successful for years to come.
2. Stop milking the past and take us to new places.
The Han Solo movie is a failure for many reasons, but primarily because it takes no risks. The entire movie is a clear cash-grab for Disney. They assumed fans just wanted more of the same, but they were clearly wrong. This film did not work because it relied completely on nostalgia and took not a single risk. Frankly, I’m glad it failed because Lucasfilm needs to see its error.
So far, Lucasfilm has made mention of potential films about characters we’ve already seen, and some of which have almost no significance to the franchise. Boba Fett is a great example. This dude had about two lines in the entire original trilogy, and he met his end in Episode VI already. Aside from looking cool in his armor, what reason do I have to care about a solo film about him? Am I missing something? Lucasfilm, do yourself a favor and cancel this project. Make a movie about a new mercenary, at least.
I will concede that I do absolutely want to see an Obi-Wan movie because Ewan McGregor was the best thing about the Prequels. He could reprise the role for a neat story set between Episode III and IV. As much as I’m ready to see the films go beyond this period of time, it would make sense for it to take place then. An Obi-Wan movie is both something that could work great, and fans are happy to embrace. Lucasfilm should have started with this and skipped the Han Solo prequel.
Star Wars needs to grow and mature and explore its vast galaxy. So do it already, Lucasfilm. The Last Jedi was an awesome example of taking bold steps, but like The Force Awakens, it largely ignores the rest of the galaxy in its plot. At least the prequels did a beautiful job at selling us on the vastness of the galaxy. The Clone Wars felt large in scope, and this new trilogy conflict feels oddly small in comparison.
Bottom line, I hope Lucasfilm will focus more on quality and originality in all its future material. Star Wars has a lot to offer for the future, but they must realize that in order to deliver that future, it must be allowed to grow as a franchise. Constantly relying on the past is not a formula for success. Solo should be a huge red flag to Lucasfilm because that is exactly the kind of mistake that can kill a franchise.