Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Last week, I finally saw The Rise of Skywalker. It was what the Disney Trilogy should have been from the beginning – a rollicking, entertaining romp. It also showed up The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi as the missed opportunities they were. Finally, it attempted to fix some of the problems raised by them, not entirely successfully.
Going forward, there are lessons to be learnt from the mistakes made, and some hope for the future of Star Wars.
For a series of films, have an overarching storyline
This is something that Marvel, also owned by Disney, does exceptionally well. Although each Marvel Comics film works as a standalone, they all have to fit together in the Marvel Universe. Normally, the director has close to absolute say about the film. Not in Marvel. Directors had to subordinate their vision to the Universe, or be replaced.
Contrast this with TFA and TLJ. Although the second picked up where the first ended, they may as well have been films from separate universes. As I said before, TLJ threw out a lot of what TFA set up, which led to ROS having to retcon a lot to salvage the situation.
Before the first line of the trilogy was written, a detailed storyline should have been devised. George Lucas had the outline for a trilogy ready, but surprisingly, his ideas were ignored.
Keep them wanting more
Both the Original and Prequel Trilogies had three years between films. By contrast, we saw one Star Wars film released every year from 2015 to 2019. The Force Awakens (2015), Rogue One (2016), The Last Jedi (2017) Solo (early 2018), and The Rise of Skywalker (2019). This saturated the market.
Don’t change plans last minute
When Solo: A Star Wars Story was 90% complete, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired and Ron Howard was brought in to entirely redo it.
I never saw Solo and I don’t know why Lord and Miller were dismissed, but why so late in the production? Surely if there were disagreements, it would have been best to remove them at the beginning, or to just let them finish the job. Changing directors at that point was the worst possible option to take.
According to the rumours, reshoots on ROS went up to a few days before the film was first shown. If the rumour is true, it is very strange that this happened.
Create memorable characters
Although they were archetypes, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa were all still memorable. So too was Darth Vader. By contrast, none of the three leads in the Disney Trilogy were memorable or distinct. Finn (John Boyega) is bland and generic, a surprising thing for a First Order stormtrooper turned Rebellion soldier to be. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a Mary Sue whose skill and abilities with the Force have no explanation until ROS. And that explanation is frankly not believable, even in the Star Wars Universe. Finally, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is sent careening from one extreme in TFA to another in TLJ. His character arc makes very little sense. As for Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), “meh” is what I feel.
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to” No, don’t
This line is said in TLJ. It also accurately describes the mindset of the Disney Trilogy, and is a huge part of why it sucked.
The Disney Trilogy dishonoured Han, Luke and Leia. TFA regressed Han back to a two-bit smuggler on the run from crooks he betrayed. TLJ turned Luke into somebody that Mark Hamill didn’t recognise as Luke. And Leia, who became a Jedi in the Expanded Universe is not a Jedi. ROS attempts to explain why Leia isn’t a Jedi, but in an unsatisfactory and unconvincing way.
The Disney Trilogy should have taken from and built on the past, including the Expanded Universe.
Story is King
Throughout the Disney Trilogy, we have seen Identity Politics injected into the storyline. As I mentioned before, it is fine to make political statements in films. Heck, the Galactic Empire in the Original Trilogy was a reference to Fascist, Nazi, and Communist Dictatorships. But you never subordinate the storytelling to the message. Preaching is boring and irritating. And TLJ was boring and irritating.
The Fans are God
Many fans were disappointed and angry with TLJ, and with good reason. But instead of being apologetic, or maintaining a dignified silence, the egomaniacal Rian Johnson, backed by individuals in LucasFilms, responded with ad hominems and insults. This doubling down infuriated even the fans who liked TLJ, and they responded the one way Disney and LucasFilms could not ignore.
They took their money elsewhere. For the financial year September 30 2017 to September 29 2018, LucasFilms made a loss of $182 million. Sales of Star Wars toys, DVDs, novels and comic books tumbled. Many wound up in the bargain bins of shops.
The fans are the ones who pay for things. Disappointing them with a bad product and then insulting them for being unhappy is an excellent strategy to lose money.
So what’s the good news?
Apart from the fact that ROS largely, but not completely, salvages matters, there is another bright light on the horizon.
The Mandalorian, created by John Favreau. I haven’t seen it (Disney+ isn’t available in South Africa), but the buzz I have heard is excitement.
From what I have gleaned, Favreau is a huge Star Wars fan. That, I think, will be a key factor in the future success or failure of Star Wars. Get talented fans to make Star Wars. They know it, understand it and love it, and will make stuff that other fans will want to see.
If Disney learns from their mistakes and hires talented Star Wars fans to make Star Wars, they will make a fortune. If they drop the ball again, everyone will lose.