I’ll just say upfront that despite what might seem like a lot of negativity here I really am a big fan of Star Wars. Always have been. My morning Zoom meeting today had me wearing my collector’s edition Stormtrooper helmet so I’m not shy of admitting it. Still… doesn’t mean it all gets a free pass on criticism…
Disney and their purchase of Lucasfilm must have seemed like a sure thing. A couple of years earlier Marvel joined the team and it was beginning to start its run of success so having another massive franchise like Star Wars under their wing too could only bolster their fortunes further. But it seems that in 2020 when both have closed out this phase of their stories the results have been wildly different.
There’s no denying that Marvel came out on top with the spectacles that were Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. With so many movies over the last decade to cherry pick from, to make a coherent enough narrative that could also bring a satisfying close to this part of the story was an incredible achievement. I loved every second of it. On the other hand Star Wars stumbled after a huge beginning with The Force Awakens and the excellent spin-off Rogue One but started to lose its way with The Last Jedi, Solo, which I liked more than most, and eventually The Rise of Skywalker. With only the old six movies to pull from and the Expanded Universe essentially shelved there was less to draw from but somehow it feels they weren’t able to even able bring that together successfully. In the end this last trilogy feels like a lot of people wanting to tell own Star Wars story and not stopping to think what made the old ones work in the first place. A lot was borrowed, a lot was changed but not a lot made sense in the end. They did make A LOT of money but it didn’t necessarily win over the hearts and minds of fans in the process.
For the criticisms Star Wars‘ prequel trilogy received from fans I do think one of the strengths of those films was it felt like there was a clear plan in how they would be seen as a whole. George Lucas had his plan and they stuck to it. Maybe it was a lot easier to achieve as we knew this was essentially about the death of The Republic and the birth of Darth Vader but the pieces all fit together. It should have been the same for the new movies too. In some ways the Marvel team borrowed from the old Star Wars playbook but taken it up to the next level by keeping enough consistency between movies that there was potential to leverage them in the future. There has been fair criticism too that it also meant they often stuck to formula too closely but as Thor: Ragnarok showed there was still room to move.
That lack consistency unfortunately makes the new trilogy feels out of place in comparison to its forbears and I would question why it would later be referred to as part of “The Skywalker Saga”. I mean if it were we’d have seen a lot more of Luke Skywalker for starters who most wanted to see purely to find out how a fully Jedi-ed up version would be like. After seeing so much from the prequels and The Clone Wars series there was much to look forward to. Han Solo did get his time in The Force Awakens which made his demise in the same film at least feel earned whereas Luke’s was wasted after seeing that barest glimpse of what he might have been like in The Last Jedi. Of course, Leia’s ending in The Rise of Skywalker could not be controlled due to the sad passing of Carrie Fisher but the previous two films didn’t add much to her character which was a tragedy… except she could apparently now fly. In space.
I don’t have anything against the new breed. Rey, Finn, Kylo and Poe are excellent and the first two started off really strong – Finn as a Stormtrooper going rogue is a nice change while Rey starts off similarly to Luke which might be comfortingly familiar – but I think as the trilogy started to derail it took the characters along with them with too much changing and little done to earn it. Many of the others were victims of this too by either getting sidelined (Rose), wasted (Phasma) or becoming jokes (Hux). As for the Knights of Ren I think they spend more time standing around looking like a gothic rock band than actually doing anything. By trying to bring in too many new characters they ultimately diluted what they had which also impacted the original ones too. Any of these could have benefited in being part of other movies and The Last Jedi could even have done better too simply by being a spin-off like Rogue One; not being tied to this trilogy and the legacy that it is a part of.
The irony of it all might be that the spin offs seem “more Star Wars” than the new trilogy simply by sticking closer to the original source material and not trying to mix things up so much. Rogue One does one better by not only giving a larger group of characters their time to shine but also provide them with solid (but unfortunate) endings too. And that was from a movie that had its fair share of changes and reshoots too so you’d have thought enough would have been learned from the experience but it seemed I was too little too late and it manifested badly in the final trilogy film.
But there is hope. The Mandalorian is killing it on Disney+ and showing that there can still be great original Star Wars content that takes what the George Lucas era built without trying to subvert it. The return of The Clone Wars for a final season finally reinforces that story’s arc closing on the final prequel film Revenge of the Sith as was originally intended and it rocks. That it takes television to revitalise a film franchise might not be new but I didn’t expect to see that here. But it does give me hope maybe the right people are still there at Lucasfilm and hopefully with an opportunity we might see more come from them and finally see the Star Wars trilogy we’re really wanting.
Apologies for the rant but it seemed like just as good a time as any to share my thoughts. 🙂
Categories: Movies & TV, Opinion
It’s interesting how the sequel trilogy has caused people to look back upon the prequel trilogy more fondly. This happened as early as The Force Awakens, and back then, I just thought the complaints were coming from a group of malcontents determined to hate anything new. Then when The Last Jedi came out and had a chance to settle, I realized they were right all along. The prequel trilogy is a mess itself, but there was a real vision guiding it. It was a vision that absolutely did not benefit from having complete creative control, but it did exist, and it could have been brilliant if Mr. Lucas had the self-effacement to realize his shortcomings.
The sequel trilogy is much more of a contemptable mess. By the end, it crumbled under the weight of the creators’ in-fighting. While The Force Awakens was a very calculated move, The Last Jedi took pride in dividing half the fanbase, which any veteran creator can tell you is an extremely bad idea. Those who defended the more controversial choices then proceeded to get egg on their face when The Rise of Skywalker let a majority of them down. The trilogy itself is like watching two people trying to write fan fictions just to spite each other – only they somehow became actual films. In the end, nobody on the staff came out of it looking good. So while the prequel trilogy demonstrates what happens when you’re on top of the world and begin surrounding yourself with yes-men, the sequel trilogy should serve as a cautionary tale to future creators, warning them what happens when you don’t plan a multi-part work in advance and why it’s important for everyone involved in making it to be on the same page.
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I really like your descriptions of the differences between the creative processes of the two trilogies… there’s a lot to be worried about with both approaches.
Even back when the prequels were being made you could see in the “making of” specials just how total George Lucas’ creative control was. It was all very one way. I suppose since he was also bankrolling the films that may have been fair for him to do that but I do wonder if that control was because there wasn’t anyone else in a similar creative space he could confidently bounce off. That did change though with The Clone Wars and Dave Filoni who appeared to collaborate well with him and also carry the torch for the future.
With the new trilogy, Lucas’ own scripts were thrown away (so the overall vision was lost) and as you said it became a battle of fan fiction and who comes up with the best idea of where Star Wars should go next. I fired up Disney+ last night to watch The Rise of Skywalker again and though some of the hate has ebbed away I still find it infuriating how it handled itself. Having Rey become the focal point of all things Jedi at the end of film (ie. the voices) made me feel like they went one step too far and all but confirmed she’d become a “Mary Sue” while trying also throw out some last minute fodder to the fans in the process.
On the other hand I really enjoyed the ending to The Clone Wars. Some dark stuff happening in the end and a great sense of foreboding before it all went bad. Something that I thought echoed nicely with Revenge of the Sith. I may have to binge on that again.
Wow… I do sound a bit angry here… not meaning to!
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Sums it up nicely, both the blog post and Red Metal’s reply.