Disney has two brand new Star Wars trilogies on the way, and both of them are causing controversy - even though we know almost nothing about one of them. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will release this December and round out the Skywalker Saga, and then there will be a break of three years before the next Star Wars movie is released in 2022.
The Mouse House and Lucasfilm have been evasive when it comes to announcing future plans. In part, that’s due to having to recently change course with regards to their future, shelving a number of spin-offs (although helpfully they’d never been officially confirmed in the first place). Beyond J.J. Abrams’ Episode IX, the only concrete releases are live-action TV series The Mandalorian, which will debut on Disney Plus in November, and The Clone Wars season 7, which will air later this year as well.
On the movie side, we’re getting two new trilogies: one from Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, and another from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Few other details are known, aside from the fact that the first movie in Benioff & Weiss’ trilogy will be released in 2022. There’s a sense of irony in these three creators being the ones making new Star Wars films, because both bring with them baggage and backlash that are making their new series highly controversial.
Rian Johnson's Star Wars Trilogy Is Controversial Because of The Last Jedi
It’s putting it mildly to say The Last Jedi was a divisive film. Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, a significant portion of the Star Wars fandom absolutely despised the movie, and are still angry about it a year and a half later. Social media became a Star Wars dogfight, only with vitriol replacing X-wings and TIE Fighters. The Last Jedi's Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb scores were skewed, there were petitions to have it remade or wiped from canon entirely, but there are just as many people who insist that it was a masterpiece, and even more who think it was great, but flawed.
At the center of all of this was Rian Johnson, the film’s writer and director. However, while the fans who hated The Last Jedi directed much of their anger at Johnson, Lucasfilm had found a creative whose vision they admired and, crucially, whom they knew they could work with. After so many directorial changes, that trust can’t be overstated. That, combined with his boldness and willingness to push the franchise in new directions, led to him getting his own trilogy before The Last Jedi had even been released, and despite various rumors, it is still going ahead.
The Star Wars fandom is still fractured by The Last Jedi. The mere mention of it is enough to spark feverish debate online, and that means there’s a large swathe of fans who don’t want Johnson anywhere near the saga again. He’s held responsible for “ruining” Star Wars, and it’s not hard to find voices railing against him having his own trilogy and imploring Disney to cancel it. At the same time, there are others who cannot wait to see what he does without the confines of being the middle installment in a new trilogy as part of a 40-year-old, nine-part saga. In the build-up to his trilogy, there’s going to be a lot of debate, anger, and controversy over the guy who made the movie that tore a fandom in two making three more films. And Johnson isn't alone in garnering backlash for his trilogy before he's even made it.
Benioff & Weiss' Star Wars Trilogy Is Controversial Because of Game Of Thrones
The current online discussion and division around Game of Thrones season 8 is startlingly similar to The Last Jedi: a long-term fandom of a massive cultural property is completely divided; expectations are being subverted, with people split on the direction and execution; there are accusations of bad writing and beloved characters supposedly behaving at odds with how they’ve always been before; there's a petition to change things, and claims that the property is ruined. Oh, and of course, it’s not what George would’ve done.
That makes it one hell of a time for Disney to confirm that the next Star Wars film after The Rise of Skywalker will be from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, who are currently the only two writers less popular to certain sections of the fandom than Johnson himself (interestingly, a lot of people who loved The Last Jedi disliked Game of Thrones season 8). It’s either a major show of faith from the company, a misreading of the fan base, or a little of both.
Suffice to say, the reminder that the guys currently “ruining” Game of Thrones are also making three Star Wars movies hasn’t gone down too well with those who aren’t fans of season 8. If you’re a Star Wars fan who likes what this year of Thrones is doing, then great. If not, then it’s bad news. It’s The Last Jedi debate part two, except this time played out across not one but two major properties, leading to double the division (but not, sadly, double the fun).
Controversial Star Wars Is More Interesting Star Wars
So, yes, both new Star Wars trilogies are already controversial, despite presumably only existing as vaguely sketched-out ideas right now, simply because the recent efforts of their makers were so internet-shatteringly divisive. But that’s not inherently a bad thing. In fact, it could be very good for the franchise.
If a Star Wars film is controversial, then it often means it’s interesting. The worst thing that could happen to the franchise isn’t some perceived canon-destroying mess; it’s that it ends up churning out movies en masse like Lucasfilm’s sister company Marvel Studios. Sure, every few years you get an Avengers: Endgame, but with that comes something bland and clearly 'filler' like Ant-Man and the Wasp. Star Wars shouldn’t play it safe. The first movie was a big success, but it was a risk - The Empire Strikes Back even more so. That film made a number of monumental decisions around story, character, and tone, and while it’s now regarded as a classic, audiences back then weren’t so unanimously enamored with it. With the reveal that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and a darker shift in tone, lack of 'happy' ending or even just a lack of ending period, there were bold decisions that we accept now but proved controversial at the time.
On the flip side, the Prequels look bad now, but The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were largely accepted upon release. Yes, there were some mixed reviews and negative aspects pointed out, but it wasn't until years later that the shift against them really started, with the help of Red Letter Media's reviews - which themselves helped garner controversy, debate, and made for a very interesting discourse in the fandom. The Last Jedi, as covered, was controversial, so much so it broke the fandom in two, but it was a daring effort that refused to play things safe and really pushed the franchise forward.
The controversies surrounding the two new trilogies are slightly different, in that it’s not a response to the movies directly. But it’s rooted in the filmmakers and, as such, their styles that are proving controversial now will exist in the coming films. That could mean plenty of people who don’t like them, or say it’s not really Star Wars, but anger is better than apathy. It should, at the very least, lead to Star Wars movies that are trying to do things differently, that are moving the franchise in new directions, that are challenging and risk-taking and, hopefully, rewarding.
Disney could quite easily hire J.J. Abrams to direct Episodes X, XI, and XII and continue the story of Rey et al, and those movies would probably be pretty good. But it’s hard to imagine them doing new things or inspiring such a passionate response from fans. Star Wars being controversial means it isn’t being stale or standing still, and that there’s hope for its long-term future.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019