To ‘course correct’ means ‘to be set back on the right path’, but is this something J.J. Abrams needs to do with Star Wars Episode IX?
A course correction is an admission that a ship has ventured off the desired trajectory and a subsequent righting of that trajectory. It’s true that The Last Jedi is divisive, and that there are segments of Star Wars fans who feel that Rian Johnson went in an undesirable direction from what Abrams set up for the trilogy in The Force Awakens. This applies to perceived mistakes with how the fates of characters like Supreme Leader Snoke were shockingly handled, to the reveal of who Rey’s parents are, to the treatment and ultimate demise of Luke Skywalker. In the most extreme cases, some fans are even clamoring for The Last Jedi to be struck from canon, which is an absurd demand.
J.J. Abrams reintroduced Star Wars and launched the new trilogy to widespread acclaim. For some fans, there’s a pervading sense (both for and against) that upon returning to helm Episode IX, Abrams will somehow ‘undo’ what Johnson did and set Star Wars back ‘on the right path’. Whatever Abrams’ plans are, a ‘course correction’ is probably not in the works – nor does it need to be. While it has its flaws, The Last Jedi is not just a good film that has been very financially successful (if, inevitably, less so than Episode VII), it is – for better or worse, like it or hate it – the direction the trilogy has taken.
There is no about-face in the cards from the creative choices Rian Johnson made, which were built upon the choices J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan made in The Force Awakens. He will not just go back and undo Johnson’s decisions. Rather than make an attempt to “unlearn what we have learned,” as Yoda would say, Abrams’ focus has to be on masterminding a way to conclude the saga in a satisfying way. That means not ignoring or sidestepping, but also building upon Johnson’s work, and coming up with a worthy story that leads to what will hopefully be a powerful and resonant conclusion. Admittedly, this is much easier said than done.
Of course, Abrams is hopefully creating new characters, planets, and story beats for Episode IX. The concern for most fans, however, is where Johnson left the story and the remaining characters. Here are some of the key loose ends Abrams has to tie up:
CAN THE REBELLION BEAT THE FIRST ORDER?
The Last Jedi essentially re-branded the Resistance back to ‘the Rebellion’ of the Original Trilogy, but quibbles over what name the heroes are collectively going by now aside, the ragtag freedom fighters standing against the First Order were left grasping at very frayed straws. The huge victory the Resistance achieved by destroying Starkiller Base has been forgotten thanks to their utter decimation by the First Order in Johnson’s film. What was once a well-equipped small army has been reduced to mere dozens at most harbored aboard the Millennium Falcon. As they stand at the end of The Last Jedi, the Rebels have no hope of militarily overcoming the First Order. Especially since the Republic has been annihilated and the First Order is now the dominant power in the galaxy.
Some fans cynically speculate that, because it’s Abrams directing, there will be yet another massive super weapon the Rebels will have to destroy at the end of Episode IX. While this would be in lockstep with the Star Wars formula (which Abrams did adhere to in The Force Awakens), an all-out battle in space and/or on land has closed out every Stars Wars movie except Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back. This could very well be the direction Abrams goes. To make this possible, it’s also likely that, after a time jump (which there wasn’t at all between Episodes VII and VIII), Abrams will quickly solve the Rebels’ manpower problem by having them reach heretofore unknown allies and become re-equipped in weapons, vehicles, and personnel in between films.
Outside of the burgeoning romantic relationship between Rose and Finn, Johnson left most of the heroes without a lot of lingering personal issues to be resolved. Poe learned a lesson about how to become a better leader. Finn wed himself fully to the Rebel cause. Rose has to recover from her injuries. Chewbacca, BB-8, C-3P0 and R2-D2 are all unchanged. Maybe Abrams will bring the Porgs back, maybe not. Meanwhile, the heroes all learned valuable lessons about making dumb decisions and overcoming failure. Without Leia, they all will need to step up as leaders in the final act.
There’s not much Johnson did that Abrams needs to ‘course correct’ compared to what Abrams himself did to the galaxy by having Starkiller Base wipe out the Republic in his film. The real challenge for Abrams is to somehow come up with a way to crawl out of the bottomless hole he dug for the galaxy and answer the question of how the First Order can be reasonably brought down so that the galaxy can be freed from the grip of a fascist military power and democracy can be restored. Furthermore, it is Johnson who may have provided the key to the fall of the First Order in the form of its new Supreme Leader, Kylo Ren.
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