As the old saying goes, nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans, and one only has to look at the response to the Skywalker saga’s sequel trilogy for proof. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 meant the galaxy far, far away would enter the modern era of blockbuster filmmaking, complete with annual releases. Though spinoffs like Rogue One and Han Solo have generated much excitement and interest, the real crown jewel of the new movie slate is a trilogy that continues the main story 30 years after Return of the Jedi. It began in 2015 with The Force Awakens and picks back up this December with Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. And though there’s been much enthusiasm for these films and the characters they’ve featured, some portions of the fan base have struggled to determine what they want out of the latest episodes.
Much like The Phantom Menace in 1999, Episode VII and its sequels are movies viewers have been making in their heads since the original trilogy concluded. Everyone had their own ideas of what happened to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, so there was no way what Lucasfilm officially released could live up to all expectations. The fact The Force Awakens was as well-received as it was is something of a minor miracle, and the likes of Rey and Kylo Ren have already become integral parts of the overall series legacy. Still, many people had gripes with how things turned out, which is something that’s been happening ever since the heyday of the classics. Lucasfilm has never been able to completely win with the fans.
One of the most common complaints about the prequels was that they didn’t “feel” like Star Wars films. The lived-in, dirty, and practical aesthetics of the original trilogy was traded for a shiny artificial CGI sheen. Performances were criticized for coming across as wooden, as even talented thespians like Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman couldn’t do much with the dialogue George Lucas (who never proclaimed to be a wordsmith) came up with. Fans were excited to have more Star Wars, but they wanted it to be closer to what they remembered. So when the studio brought in J.J. Abrams to make Episode VII, the longtime Star Wars aficionado crafted a tentpole in the same spirit of the originals. The overall response to Force Awakens proved this was the right approach, but Abrams was blasted by some for basically remaking A New Hope and forsaking the creativity the property is known for.
In many ways, Star Wars 7 had to play it safe. It was the first movie Lucasfilm (a $4 billion acquisition) made for Disney and was looking to launch a brand new series. Abrams said many of the similarities were intentional, conceived as a way of easing the moviegoing public into this new trilogy. Even then, though, an argument can be made the “retread” slight was somewhat overblown. There are definite parallels like a droid containing top secret information and the villains owning a planet-destroying weapon, but Force Awakens also introduced lots of new concepts for the franchise. Finn humanized the previously faceless stormtroopers. Kylo Ren (master of the Knights of Ren, another fresh aspect) was a more nuanced character right off the bat than any other Star Wars antagonist. Rey varied from Luke because she was a self-sufficient scavenger living in isolation and seeking belonging. Abrams even took a gamble by reducing Luke to a wordless cameo in the very last scene. Despite all that, many harped on the surface level comparisons, believing the story group ran out of ideas. That makes some of the commentary about Episode VIII a little unexpected.