Ten years from now, Disney’s handling of Star Wars is likely to be taught in Business Schools as a lesson on what not to do. Having purchased LucasFilms and Star Wars from George Lucas, Disney has mismanaged this intellectual property so badly that the damage to the franchise may be irrecoverable.
This post is the first of three. It will be about the harmful decisions taken before The Force Awakens started filming, and bad storytelling in it.
Part 2 will be about The Last Jedi, Solo, the attacks on unhappy fans, and how these combined to threaten the very survival of Star Wars as a franchise.
Part 3 will look at the steps taken to correct course, ask if they will be enough or not, and reveal why I think not.
The first issue is with the tempo of new releases. Both the Original and Prequel Trilogies had three years gaps between films. We have so far seen The Force Awakens (2015), Rogue One (2016), The Last Jedi (2017) and Solo (early 2018), and this year Episode IX will be coming out. One film a year for five years straight.
In 1991, Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn was published. It “jumpstarted a publishing program that endures to this day and formalized the Expanded Universe.” Also in 1991, Dark Horse Comics acquired the Star Wars license and created a number of Star Wars comics, including Dark Empire.
The Expanded Universe stories deepened and enriched Star Wars. In the EU, Leia is trained in the use of the Force by Luke, and becomes a Jedi. She also marries Han Solo and has several children with him.
In an action that was astonishing as it was foolish, the Expanded Universe was decanonised and rebranded “Star Wars Legends”. It is mindblowing that such a rich set of lore was struck out. I was personally hoping for Leia to be a Jedi in the Sequel Trilogy. This was perhaps my biggest issue with The Force Awakens.
Kathleen Kennedy, the person who replaced George Lucas at LucasFilms, hired Kiri Hart as Senior Vice President of Development. This key role had the responsibility of setting the future course for Star Wars, choosing which storylines and projects would be used. As part of her job, Hart chose several members of the Story Group, tasked with devising storylines.
Prior to joining LucasFilms, Hart had precious little experience, and none as a Producer or Director. She was a writer and Story Editor on 1-800-Missing and Crossing Jordan. These credits were back in 2003, a decade before joining LucasFilms. She certainly wasn’t qualified for such a vital role as the one she occupied. Some have claimed that Hart was a “Diversity Hire”. Given her lack of experience and qualifications for the role, it is hard to disagree.
Someone also looked at the LucasFilms Story Group’s qualifications. Like Hart, none has much experience.
It is acceptable to have inexperienced members in a team, but not for the entire team to be inexperienced, and certainly not in a team tasked with something as vitally important as this. The eight member Story Group needed a minimum of two very experienced people to lead things, and three members with a fair amount of experience. Any junior members could then give different perspectives and be mentored at the same time. The scuttlebutt is that J. J. Abrams barred the Story Group from having any input on The Force Awakens.
The original idea for the Sequel Trilogy was to say goodbye to Han, Luke and Leia, one per film, and introduce new characters that would take the Star Wars Universe into the future. This aspect was completely botched.
The character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a Mary Sue. She resists Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) attempt to force penetrate her mind, Jedi Mind Tricks a Stormtrooper (Daniel Craig) into releasing her, successfully summons Anakin’s light sabre to her over Kylo Ren, and manages to fend him off. She is not shown undergoing any training or given any explanation for her competence in using the Force.
Finn (John Boyega) is a potentially interesting character – a stormtrooper who ran away from the First Order. He just comes across as bland and generic.
I liked Adam Driver in BlacKKKlansman, but he is simply not menacing or threatening enough to play a convincing Star Wars villain. It would have been best if he had worn the helmet throughout.
What angered me most was how Han Solo was portrayed. The Force Awakens threw out all the development he underwent in the OT, and regressed him back to a smuggler on the run from crooks he’d let down.
An interesting side character who was also mishandled was Captain Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie). A woman who rose to high rank in the Last Order, she was turned into a punching bag for the Rebellion soldiers.
The thing about some bad decisions is that the negative consequences can take a long time to manifest. While things were not too bad in The Force Awakens, when The Last Jedi came out, the issues became apparent.