Lucas' Star Wars Would Have Moved Slower
Even Iger admits the Mouse House went too fast too soon when it came to making new Star Wars content. When Episode IX debuts next December, it will be the fifth franchise entry released in a four year span (2015-2019). Under Lucas, there were six Star Wars movies in 28 years (1977-2005, with a 16-year gap between trilogies). Both the originals and the prequels followed a pattern of one new movie every three years, as opposed to annual theatrical releases. This gave each installment the proper time to breathe, and there was a build-up of hype and anticipation for its arrival. It was special whenever there was a new Star Wars movie on the way, since it was something that didn't happen all of the time. Star Wars is always at its best when it's not there.
It's difficult to say for sure, but going by Lucas' career history, Star Wars doesn't rapidly move through an entire film slate in the blink of an eye (it feels like yesterday we were theorizing about The Force Awakens) and the filmmaker takes his time with the next trilogy. In keeping with his (in)famous mantra, "it's like poetry, it rhymes," it's realistic for there to be three-year gaps between Episode VII - IX. What makes this tricky to plot out is the existence of the spinoffs, which Lucas wanted to pursue. Perhaps they're just on the table until the sequel trilogy concludes. Throughout its history, Lucasfilm did produce annual releases (and sometimes had multiple movies in the same year), but they were always different properties. Star Wars never came out at this pace, and it may have caused early franchise fatigue. Disney learned this lesson the hard way, and are planing a slowdown after Episode IX - at least on the film side of things.
Would Lucas' Star Wars Have Been Better Than Disney's?
This is the million dollar question. Lucas knows that fans would have hated his sequel trilogy, essentially confessing it'd be extremely divisive. However, that's not too far from reactions to Last Jedi, which ranged from "brilliant subversion of expectations" to "franchise-ruining disaster." Whenever something as massive as Star Wars is involved, it's borderline impossible to please everybody, which is the main reason why Lucas stepped out of the spotlight. So, in either scenario, audiences are most likely getting a polarizing story; and in Lucas' case, he likely doesn't start things off with a feel-good dose of nostalgia a la J.J. Abrams, so the heated debates start earlier than they really did.
But, would that necessarily be better? In all honestly, it probably comes down to who directs the movies. It's generally agreed upon that the prequels toyed with some fascinating concepts, but the execution from Lucas was way off. The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones are the lowest rated live-action installments according to Rotten Tomatoes, implying critics weren't exactly enamored with what The Creator was doing. There's no denying Star Wars has benefitted from new directorial voices leaving their stamp on the material, whether it's Abrams' whiz-bang space opera, Gareth Edwards' gritty war drama, or Johnson's deconstruction of the mythology. If Lucas recruited other directors, like he did on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, perhaps they're able to translate his ideas into compelling films.
Though, there's no guarantee Lucas would be successful in that quest. He actually offered the Phantom Menace job to Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg, who obviously all passed. Lucas' contemporaries felt Star Wars was his baby, and the story was his alone to tell. That sentiment may have remained years later if Lucas was the force behind a sequel trilogy. And for any of his disciples, the notion of directing a Star Wars movie that's being produced by Lucas could prove to be too daunting of a task. Abrams was initially hesitant to make Force Awakens and needed convincing from Kennedy. He (and others) may have passed on it, leading Lucas to reluctantly sit in the director's chair once again.
From a story perspective, there are clear differences between Lucas' Star Wars and Disney's. However, the overall landscape of the franchise largely remains the same, with a sequel trilogy, spinoff movies (including a young Han movie with another actor playing the character), and a live-action TV show. Any studio would have been eager to jump on that, but Disney won out and are using their immense resources to expand everyone's favorite galaxy.
Knowing Star Wars fans and how they responded to the prequels, it's basically a lock there would have been some dissatisfaction with Lucas' new movies, probably with people criticizing Lucas for attempting to recapture his glory years when he should pass the torch to the next generation. As the old saying goes, nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans. It's probably for the best Lucas is no longer involved with the day-to-day operations, allowing others the freedom to craft their own Star Wars stories without Lucas looming over them like a shadow. Yes, Lucas will always provide his thoughts on the latest Star Wars projects, but that's different than collaborating with him. With or without Lucas, Star Wars follows the same path.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019