I’ve stated before that I’ve had a weird relationship with all things Star Wars. I grew up with the prequel trilogy and the first movie I saw in cinema was Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones … twice! I was seven, and didn’t care about the dialogue, senate hearings, or whatever. But it’d sit through it for the spaceships, lightsaber fights, and the action.
Thankfully, there was plenty of merchandise, toys, and a Clone Wars TV series (which was honestly more adult than the live-action stuff). Only later did I see what the issues were. How the dialogue can be painful, and the story issues in this trilogy.
Remember though, the economy and consumer behaviour was vastly different back in 2002. There was no online media, there was no digital disruption, and – most importantly – Star Wars still had relevance. Perhaps it boils down to the story structure, but this episodes (flawed as they were) fundamentally fit into a larger narrative.
I bring up reason. I never had nostalgia for the original trilogy. Sure, I watched them as I did with other classic blockbusters. But I never had that emotional connection with Luke, Han, and Leia.
I would also go on record saying I’m not a Star Wars fan. Which is admittedly weird as I know so much about its history – not so much the details about the storyworld, but more to do with the production and story structure. I think it’s one of those things that needs to be studied if you’re doing anything related to franchises, marketing, branding, film etc.
That’s why the new trilogy is so weird to me. This is the first one not helmed by George Lucas, and naturally has a more corporate approach to it. The franchise was acquired as a strategic investment by Disney, rather than a personal story by Lucas.
Since then the trilogy has have very polarising responses. The most unanimously enjoyed is The Force Awakens but then you have Last Jedi greatly dividing the fan base, and now Rise of Skywalker which has now received a lot of criticism and fans re-evaluating the story engine.
Without further delay, here’s my post-mortem of what happened with Disney’s Star Wars trilogy.
Disney’s Star Wars … What happened?
Back when it was first announced Disney would be acquiring Star Wars and producing their new trilogy many welcomed the idea. The prequels were so different to the original films that anything new would be welcomed.
But that wasn’t the case. Instead we had a flawed execution going in to create a flawed story engine. Each film can be broken down into the boxes it ticks.
Force Awakens: Re-introduce Franchise
Last Jedi: Expand Universe and Characters
Rise of Skywalker: Damage control
There never felt like there was a consistent plan. This is made most apparent with Last Jedi that rejected much of what made Star Wars popular, angering the fanbase.
But the biggest issue boils down to a lack of vision. Instead the overdependence on nostalgia robs this trilogy from feeling unique in the complete story. It is impossible to enjoy this trilogy’s story and aesthetics without constantly being reminded of the original films.
Compare this to the prequels. The spaceships, droids, and worlds were entirely new. They’ve been argued as being too reliant on CGI but I think that actually works given the subject matter – watching a clinical, almost utopian society devolve to the level of grit and realism of the original trilogy.
Moreover, it gives the prequels their own place in the story and established a world that could be developed and expanded in other mediums; namely animation and television. This current trilogy doesn’t even have that and everything feels so old.
Rise of Skywalker is simply a microcosm of these issues, with Rey’s heritage is defined as a Palpatine, Kylo Ren’s sudden redemption arc, and Finn and Poe destroying a bunch of planet destroyers. There was nothing challenging about this film, and the term “fanfic” has been used to describe it.
Most evident for me is the fundamental difference between Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker: the difference between “Let the past die; kill it if you have to.” and “Nobody’s ever really gone.” That dissonance
The Fallout …
Star Wars hasn’t been doing well as of late. Firstly, it failed to resonate with the Chinese audience – the largest film market in the world. Secondly, it’s struggled with its merchandising; with a plummet in sales following Last Jedi, and now Rise of Skywalker has seen an 81% drop in its second weekend – it just hasn’t “clicked” the way previous films did.
This is why vision and direction is important. Even with the issues the prequels had, there was still a clear premise – following the journey of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader and seeing how a democratic senate devolves into a totalitarian empire. Flawed execution, but the plot was there and successfully explored in spinoff material and TV series.
As for this trilogy … I can’t really say what it was about. A villain just appears and the character’s choices and struggles are then rewritten – Kylo Ren sought to forge his own identity after destroying his helmet, before painstakingly gluing it back together for this film. Rey was never a nobody, and her identity is intrinsically linked to established characters.
Even actor John Boyega tweeted about the ludicrousness of Kylo and Ren getting together on Twitter, with further reports saying that J. J. Abrams wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion due to studio meddling – and it does feel like there was a massive push to create a serviceable product to please everybody.
Ultimately, there wasn’t focus, there wasn’t a vision, and that’s why it didn’t win people over.
Future of the Franchise
One of my favourite online reviewers described kids playing Star Wars like playing “Cowboys and Indians,” – just so outdated. It’s now 2020 and younger audiences crave a more meaningful relationship than just going out to buy toys and games.
Lucas successfully drew upon Eastern Samurai films and Western cowboy films, merged with a love of Science Fiction. He built a world with a unique religion, mythos, culture, aesthetics, everything. It’s truly amazing and he should be commended for it.
The Mandalorian is something that I can’t write about yet officially, due to Disney+ not yet being released in the UK. Most importantly it evolves the philosophy of what makes Star Wars great; taking elements from different stories and cultures and blending them together. Unlike the last trilogy, it looks to evolve the philosophy of the filmmaking and conceptualisation instead of purely pushing the nostalgia. So far, it’s got stellar reviews.
In the end, there’s no philosophy, message, moral or new idea. It just felt like stuff that happened to sell toys. Ultimately it wasn’t satisfying for audiences as a result. But I’m optimistic.
Star Wars looks to be incorporating and evolving their concepts to a new media model – namely Marvel. Bringing chief story-crafter Kevin Feige on board to help expand the brand beyond the films.
Honestly, the question is really whether the trilogy model is obsolete. Are we at a stage now where a cinematic universe, spherical storytelling, and multi-platform networks have become the pure focus for studios? Sometimes you may get a Fox Searchlight film or smaller budget studio release, but the fact remains … I think the trilogy is over.
People are responding more to experiences, and although merchandising still exists; it needs a story to go with it – there’s a reason “Baby Yoda” was better received than the Porgs.