Fans still have to wait a month to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but Lucasfilm’s latest actions more or less confirm the eighth episode in the Skywalker saga is something special. The studio recently made waves by announcing Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson is staying in the Lucasfilm family, developing an all-new trilogy that will take place in a corner of the galaxy that has never been explored before. What’s most exciting about these films is that they will be entirely separate from the Skywalker story, finally liberating the franchise from the pre-existing canon it’s stuck so closely to up to this point.
As viewers speculate what the Johnson Trilogy (as we’re unofficially calling it) will be about, the timing of Lucasfilm’s release is no coincidence. If your anticipation for The Last Jedi wasn’t already at a fever pitch, the confirmation the studio is making Johnson the custodian of Star Wars‘ future is all you needed to hear. Over the past few months, there have been plenty of quotes from Episode VIII cast members praising Johnson’s vision and handling of the material. As it turns out, they weren’t just lip service – they were the first clues The Last Jedi is extraordinary. And now, well before any review embargo lifts, Lucasfilm has given viewers reason to celebrate.
After impatiently counting down the days to a new Star Wars movie’s release, analyzing every frame of footage in the trailers, and poring over any information they can find, the one thing that’s most important to fans is the answer to the question “is the film any good?” When something as beloved as the galaxy far, far away is involved, there’s an enormous amount of pressure on the creative team to make sure it’s a worthwhile addition to the series legacy and doesn’t spoil anything that’s come before. In regards to Star Wars, the divisive prequels remain a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for, providing audiences with more of the property they love, but in an (arguably) unfulfilling way. The sequel trilogy is perhaps under even more scrutiny because it continues the stories of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, changing the way we look at them.
The Force Awakens, somehow, lived up to the hype, earning the franchise’s best reviews since The Empire Strikes Back and grossing more than $2 billion at the worldwide box office. With Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren successfully set up, it fell upon Johnson to guide those characters along the next steps of their respective journeys. Even with great trailers and hype quote after hype quote selling fans on an exciting, new story, it was understandable if a sense of nervousness had started to creep in. A stellar theatrical preview is not indicative of final picture quality, and no actor is going to bash a film they’re involved in during promotion. What doesn’t always happen is the move Lucasfilm just pulled.
Simply put, Kathleen Kennedy would not have announced the Johnson Trilogy now, in November 2017, unless she was supremely confident in The Last Jedi. This is the ultimate vote of confidence, and though Lucasfilm has made some questionable decisions over the past couple of years, in the end, Kennedy is a voice one can trust. Through her esteemed career, the Lucasfilm president has shown a knack for knowing what connects with moviegoers, and her time managing the Star Wars franchise has seen two crowd-pleasing $1 billion hits. Lucasfilm – like Disney brethren Marvel – is a studio in tune with the pulse of their wide fan base. Kennedy has seen The Last Jedi by now and knows it’s going to be a hit (and not just in a commercial sense). Whatever Johnson did impressed her so much, she decided to move full steam ahead on a complete trilogy that’ll be developed under Johnson’s watch.
What this means is that while fans make their final preparations for December, they can do so with a calming sense of celebration rather than anxiousness. It doesn’t matter when the first social media reactions to The Last Jedi pop up or when the first full reviews go live. By that point, hopefully, it will all just be a formality. Episode VIII sounds like it is the next great Star Wars film, reinventing the brand’s long-established rules by challenging the characters and serving up a healthy amount of surprises. Kennedy is obviously a huge fan of what’s in store, believing audiences will equally love it. After a year of public breakups with directors and facing questions about Star Wars‘ future, Kennedy laid any worries to rest by entrusting one of the few filmmakers Lucasfilm hasn’t had any issues with.
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