With Rogue One also being hit with the "nostalgic fan service" critique in some circles, it was safe to say viewers were ready for someone to truly mix up the formula. Enter Rian Johnson, who has already assured fans that his Last Jedi isn't a redux of The Empire Strikes Back. After an early cut of Episode VIII was screened, the claim was the film was "different" from its predecessors - a sentiment echoed by Mark Hamill. Vanity Fair's recent photo spread further illustrated this by showing off brand new creature designs for casino planet Canto Bight. The world is unlike anything the films have explored before, serving as a playground for "rich a**holes." Ironically, the reveal of the aliens led some people to actually tweet at Johnson, wondering why classic designs from the older movies weren't being recycled. If Johnson had brought back Rodians and Yak Face, those same viewers would probably criticize the director's lack of vision for not taking advantage of an expansive galaxy. Lucasfilm, it seems, is damned if they do, damned if they don't. Star Wars fans claim they want new stuff, but it shouldn't be too new.
This can further be seen in the reaction to Hamill's comments about Luke in Episode VIII. The actor's quote that he fundamentally disagreed with the way Skywalker was written got much attention, and that worried some fans. After all, who knows Luke better than Hamill? Viewers are conveniently ignoring Hamill's statement Johnson is now one of his all-time favorite filmmakers and also looking past the fact it's a good thing Hamill was uncomfortable with the material. This is the fifth time he's playing his iconic role, and as we've seen with Johnny Depp and Captain Jack Sparrow, actors need to be pushed in franchise installments or else it's just more of the same. It wouldn't make sense for Luke to be the same character he was in the original trilogy. Thirty years have passed and his nephew became a homicidal maniac. That probably caused Skywalker to question the whole Jedi thing. It sets up a compelling arc for Luke, and Hamill couldn't have been happier to be wrong. Given the amounts of praise Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley have bestowed upon Johnson's script, the writer/director probably did some things right.
To quote Rey from the Last Jedi trailer, it'll be important for Lucasfilm to find "a balance" as they continue developing their famous franchise. In what amounts to their "Phase 1," it was smart from a business perspective to play on familiar tropes and themes, and they wanted to make sure there was still an audience for the property. Eventually, they're going to have to move past "legacy elements" like the Skywalkers, Han Solo, and the Death Star if Star Wars is to thrive longterm into the next decade and beyond. When they eventually get to their equivalent of Guardians of the Galaxy (i.e. the weird one that goes out there), many will be curious to see the fan response. After 40 years of being at the forefront of popular culture, several moviegoers have such a concrete idea of what the brand is, anything that moves the needle in one way or the other could be extremely risky. Die-hard fans enriched in the lore are clamoring for Knights of the Old Republic, but would general audiences go for something so far removed from the main storyline? The history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe suggests they would, but we'll just have to wait and see.
If the response to the new movies is anything to go by, it's safe to say Star Wars fans don't know what they want - since they have a reaction whether something is too similar or too new. The best thing for the community to do right now is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It's an unprecedented time for the far away galaxy, with a new movie each year and a treasure trove of other content to help the time pass away. After Revenge of the Sith concluded the prequel trilogy, few could have predicted the franchise would come back with such a vengeance and once again rule supreme at the box office, so having fun with it all sounds smart. Critiquing the films for weak characterizations or other technical filmmaking flaws is fine and part of the process. But all movie series have a formula, and it's up to each new installment to offer their take on it to keep things feeling fresh. The Force Awakens and Rogue One rejuvenated Star Wars, and The Last Jedi looks to follow suit. Complaining about surface level details (in some cases months away from the premiere) doesn't do anybody any good.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- 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