Changes Are Coming - But Not Because of The Last Jedi
There's no reason to course correct because of The Last Jedi, and it would be difficult and unprecedented to do otherwise. That's not to say changes aren't coming to Star Wars, just that they're not catalyzed or in reaction to Episode VIII.
Before we get into the future, first a note on Solo: A Star Wars Story. It's all but inevitable that this will be used by some as a measure of backlash impact, which is a bit off. Between long-held apathy around the idea and relentless reports of behind-the-scenes controversy, Solo is a confounding prospect, not helped by a radio silence on marketing. Add to that the fact it's coming less than a month after Avengers: Infinity War and a week before Deadpool 2, and it's looking like it'll be the first Disney Star Wars film to not make $1 billion worldwide. That's a likelihood totally unrelated to The Last Jedi or any other outside factors, so its reception - financially or critically - can't be taken as a sign of any backlash impact and won't build to point towards any further change of tact (unless it's a massive dud, making below $700 million). What the Ron Howard film is primarily is a continuation of the Anthology spinoff enterprise and the potential start of a Han trilogy; an experiment in a very different sense (and, as stated earlier, has been on the cards since 2013).
Looking further ahead, already we know Episode IX has been heavily restructured, with most of the long-standing work done over the past few years thrown out as J.J. Abrams starts work on his new pitch. However, that's a result of something going wrong in the relationship between original director Colin Trevorrow and Lucasfilm (allegedly his rigidity and ego), and the death of Carrie Fisher. It was long-stated IX was set to focus more on Leia, and now we know that's because she's the only living original trio member, meaning that (depending on what the plan was) a major rejig of the story was needed.
After that, though, bigger changes are coming. Based on what Episode VIII does - we get confirmation Kylo Ren is the only Skywalker of the new generation and that he's beyond redemption, making his death the most logical conclusion - it seems like the Skywalker Saga could end with Episode IX. Along with the greater sense of moving on from the restrictive constructs of the past - shown in Rey's multi-film arc and the Force adept on Canto Bight - the film itself heavily suggests we're starting to see a shift of Star Wars from family to world; this isn't just one story. Indeed, the only confirmed movie after 9 is Rian Johnson's totally-disconnected trilogy.
Knowledge of this likely emboldened Johnson in his Saga entry, knowing that any potentially controversial steps would begin to pale against the greater backdrop of the franchise. Lucasfilm, likewise, knew any such shifts would only cause problems with the one section of their massive audience that would come back regardless; for them, mass appeal and casual brand interest are of tantamount importance. They wanted to make changes, and that's that's exactly what they did.
The Last Jedi won't lead to a course correction. It was the course correction.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019