While 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was widely considered a successful revival of the sci-fi genre’s biggest franchise, this year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi has some fans questioning whether Disney has what it takes to do justice to the original trilogy.
Following Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, the galaxy faced a brave new world for Star Wars. Gifting audiences the first movie in a decade, J.J. Abrams did what many thought would never happen: continuing the story beyond Episode VI. Given the legacy and great potential of the saga, it should’ve been fairly easy to pick up after Return of the Jedi and craft another wholesome family tale for the new and existing legions of Star Wars fans. Whereas Lucas’ prequel trilogy was seen as a necessity to tell the story of Anakin’s rise and fall, a sequel trilogy could chart a whole new galaxy of characters and storylines.
To those diehard admirers of the original trilogy, it is always going to seem a little weird that we would return to Star Wars some 32 years after being told that the end was the end. Over the years, George Lucas and various other parties had tried to continue the Skywalker story, but with Disney buying the galaxy back in 2012, the wheels began to turn with a “new hope” of something different.
The Force Awakens introduced a lovable new cast of rogues, but also brought back lots of familiar faces and hewed close to the Empire vs. Rebellion dynamic of the original trilogy. However, with the release of The Last Jedi, it seems that Disney is keener than ever to move away from tradition and start setting this new trilogy apart from what has gone before. So, is this bold new take on the Star Wars universe what fans are looking for, or would Disney have been better off playing it safe?
Why the Original Trilogy Was So Great
The original Star Wars trilogy took the tried-and-tested formula of good vs. evil and then sent that premise to far-off worlds, capturing the imaginations of audiences and leaving them eager for more. Lucas created fanciful species like Wookiees, whatever Yoda is, and the Hutts. Just as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings brought elves and dragons to life, the world of Star Wars appealed to an audience hungry for smart world-building and innovative design. Though the movie was considered a risk during its production, it blew audiences away upon its arrival in theaters, and The Empire Strikes Back was widely considered a worthy follow-up that many felt was even better than the first movie.
Then come the twists. A New Hope saw a lead character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, struck down before the credits rolled, while The Empire Strikes Back had Lando’s treachery and the iconic reveal that the movies’ main villain was actually the protagonist’s father. There’s a reason that Empire is the highest-rated Star Wars movie of all time, if not one of the best sci-fi movies of all time.
So, what has changed over the years? While The Last Jedi‘s critical reception has been overall positive, the hardcore fanbase seems less convinced, and it has received some scathing reviews. – many of which naturally draw comparisons to the middle chapter of the original trilogy. Whereas The Empire Strikes Back was a brooding move away from what Hope had established – packed with exotic new locations and shocking revelations – The Last Jedi effectively played out like a two-hour chase movie, and along the way it shed the franchise’s long-held ideas about the importance of family legacy.
However, while everyone often looks to the brilliance of Empire, let’s not give the original movies all the credit. Return of the Jedi is by no means a bad movie, but compared to its predecessors, it is the weak link in the chain. While not everyone loved The Last Jedi‘s puffin-like Porgs, they already seem to be better received than Return of the Jedi‘s Ewoks. Could The Last Jedi simply be the Return of the new era?
Where Has The New Trilogy Gone Wrong?
What is it about Rian Johnson’s movie that has rattled the Rancor cage? Well, it could be argued that The Last Jedi has simply been crushed under its own hype. Heading into Episode VIII there were assumptions that it would effectively be The Empire Strikes Back of the Disney years. Abrams was called out for The Force Awakens being a thematic remake of A New Hope. Perhaps the new trilogy’s biggest problem as a whole is the fact that it gets compared to the originals.
One frustration commonly expressed by those who disliked The Last Jedi is that there have been some annoying teases that so far haven’t paid off – from the legacy of Kylo Ren’s grandfather to Supreme Leader Snoke’s identity. There were some major moments in Star Wars lore that were arguably glossed over and given too little set-up: Leia’s Force-sensitive powers; the death of a long-standing character like Admiral Ackbar; Kyber crystal necklaces; and even the return of Yoda.
However, let’s look at what has been done right so far. Yoda’s return was done entirely with puppetry instead of restoring to Lucas’ overuse of CGI that plagued the prequels. Daisy Ridley has cemented herself at the center of the saga as Rey, and supporting characters like Poe (Oscar Isaac) have also won over a lot of fans. From the fantastic design of Crait, with blood-red salt lurking just below its white surface, to Snoke’s crimson chambers, there is no denying that the visuals have been stunning. The imagery of Admiral Holdo decimating the First Order’s fleet is one of the most beautiful shots from any Star Wars movie, and filming Luke’s hideout, Ahch-To, in the remote real-world location of Skellig Michael lent those parts of the movie an authenticity and tangibility that couldn’t have been achieved with green screen.
Could Episode IX Be the Best of the Trilogy?
The new Star Wars movies can feel disjointed at times, coming from the wildly different directing styles of those behind the camera. Kathleen Kennedy may be supreme overseer of where the story is heading, but each director will bring their own style to the table – and that’s ultimately a good thing. With The Force Awakens being generally held in higher (or at least, less controversial) regard than The Last Jedi, it’s a positive omen that Abrams is back for Episode IX. The backlash aimed at The Last Jedi should be a call to arms for Abrams and Chris Terrio when it comes to Episode IX, but after an already troubled start thanks to Colin Trevorrow’s departure, they have an uphill battle ahead.
Some are calling for an end after Episode IX, but does anyone really see it stopping there? Heading towards 2030 and beyond, Episode X, XI, and XII are almost a given – not to mention all those anthology movies and Rian Johnson’s Skywalker-less spin-off trilogy. Under the umbrella of the House of Mouse (and with its own theme park on the way), the world of Star Wars is only just firing up its engines.
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