Star Wars is in a strange place right now. Two years ago it was inconceivable it wouldn’t be one of the hottest properties in the world. The Force Awakens (TFA), despite some very noticeable warts, successfully relaunched the franchise under Disney. Stand-alone film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a tremendous box office success. Star Wars fans were excited it would compete with Disney’s own MCU for box office supremacy.
Then The Last Jedi (TLJ) happened. All those warts from TFA festered under the leadership of Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and new director Rian Johnson. Luke Skywalker, the most beloved film character in history, was treated with disrespect and thrown to the wayside. Forced to feed from the teat of a disgusting beast and defeated by an untrained teen girl with ease. Princess Leia, one of the greatest heroines of all-times, was made to look ridiculous playing Mary Poppins in space. Fans never got to see Luke, Leia and Han Solo (killed off in TFA) together one last time. Rumor is Johnson and TFA director J.J. Abrams were instructed not to allow the original heroes to outshine the franchises new stars.
What did they do to make the next generation of Star Wars heroes shine? Finn, a First Order Storm Trooper defector, should have been the standout of the new cast. Instead he was played for an opening gag in TLJ and later arm candy for Rose Tico. Poe Dameron is the best damn pilot in the galaxy and trusted agent of General Leia Organa in TFA. Reduced to an opening skit with General Hux by Rian Johnson. Later gelded by Leia in favor of Admiral Holdo and forced to turn mutineer. One of the most despicable acts a military professional can undertake. Certainly not fitting the character of any hero.
The biggest misfire of Disney Star Wars is Rey. A textbook example of a May Sue character. She’s a paragon at the tender age of 15. Outflies seasoned First Order pilots despite no flight training to speak of. Uses Jedi mind tricks she doesn’t know exist. Effortlessly defeats new villain Kylo Ren twice in battle despite no experience. Rey bests Luke Skywalker, one of the most powerful Jedi in history, in a matter of seconds. At no point in either film is she ever in danger of breaking a nail, let alone defeat. She’s doesn’t contain a single fault and is completely unrelatable to any human. Droid BB-8 displays a wider array of human emotions than Rey. Not surprisingly, BB-8 is the only new character to resonate with a large portion of the audience.
Kennedy’s claimed for some time Star Wars doesn’t need a male audience to succeed. Almost every male character in Star Wars under her leadership is a bumbling idiot. The only characters consistently portrayed as competent are female. The new cadre of terrible characters and Johnson’s less than stellar performance as director on TLJ caused a full-scale backlash in the Star Wars community. Fans were expecting more adventures in a galaxy far, far away. They received Kathleen Kennedy’s feminist Star Wars fanfic. Despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction to TLJ, Kennedy gave Johnson his own new trilogy outside the Saga films.
Disney tried to replace Kennedy last year, but were unable to find anyone capable of fixing her mess. They were forced to renew her contract for three years. During her tenure she’s fired three accomplished directors. TLJ broke the record for largest week two drop in movie history. Star Wars can’t sell toys anymore and factored greatly in Toy R Us’ bankruptcy filing. Solo: A Star Wars Story became the first Star Wars film to ever lose money. Economist Captain Capitalism estimates Kennedy and her feminist agenda cost Disney $3.7B, so far. Who wouldn’t extend a leader with this track record?
Kennedy still isn’t taking responsibility for destroying Disney’s Star Wars franchise. She continues the false narrative that TLJ’s struggles compared to TFA and Solo’s outright failure are due to fan fatigue. Disney’s own MCU proves otherwise. Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, two films with billion dollar box offices, released less than 60 days apart. In an interview with Vanity Fair she claims, “You can’t even do what Marvel does, necessarily, where you pick characters and build new franchises around those characters. This needs to evolve differently.”
The difference between the MCU and Star Wars isn’t audience fatigue. It’s the quality of production, storytelling and inclusion of forced political agendas. Under Kennedy’s direction, Rian Johnson burned Lucafilm’s own audience with her feminist agenda and his own lackluster screen play and direction. Needless to say, J.J. Abrams and the team behind Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker have their hands full.
The biggest draw of the new trilogy is the nostalgia of seeing the heroes from the original trilogy on screen again. Fan favorite characters Luke and Han already perished in the first two Disney Star Wars trilogy films. Tragically, Carrie Fisher (who portrays Princes Leia) and Peter Mayhew (the man behind the Chewbacca suit) recently passed in real-life. J.J. Abrams brings Billy Dee Williams back as Lando Calrisian for the final film. Unfortunately, the character was retconned from smooth talking, lovable anti-hero to snarky, robot loving pansexual in Solo. Besides Dilly Dee Williams as Lando the only original cast members in The Rise of Skywalker are Anthony Daniels as C3PO, Mark Hamill returning as Luke’s ghost and a CGI version of the late Carrie Fisher as Leia. The Rise of Skywalker is going to rely much more on quality story and characters than nostalgia this time. Something neither TFA nor TLJ succeeded at.
This week J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm began the arduous task of salvaging Kathleen Kennedy’s terribly managed Star Wars universe. Vanity Fair previews The Rise of Skywalker with new images and interviews with Kennedy, Abrams and the cast. This time with much less fan fair and good will from the previously fervent audience. There are plenty of details and signs of hope for brighter days ahead in the Star Wars universe.
One of the biggest mistakes of TFA and TLJ is the timing of the films. The first two films took place over a matter days. The original trilogy films are separated by years and characters experience tremendous growth between films. The compressed nature of Episode VII and VIII allowed little character growth for the new characters. Episode IX takes place a full year after the events of TLJ. Mutineer Poe Dameron is now a leader of the Resistance. Finn pursues his feelings for Tico following their near death experience on Crait. Rey emerges much like Luke in The Return of the Jedi. The first fully trained Jedi Knight in a generation thanks to the texts she recovers in TLJ. Being “fully trained” in one year makes no sense in Star Wars canon or lore. Hopefully J.J. and the writing team have a solid explanation for this.
Both Abrams and Johnson failed miserably creating new characters that connect with audiences. At first glance it still appears to be an issue. Episode IX features three new characters; Zorri Bliss, Allegiant General Pryde and Jannah. Kerri Russell portrays the masked Zorri Bliss. She’s seen scheming with thieves on a brand new-planet. The characters allegiances and motivations are yet clear.
Richard E. Grant was rumored to portray Thrawn. It’s now confirmed he’s Allegiant General Pryde. A superior officer to General Hux. Peter Cushing set the bar high in the original trilogy but thus far Domhal Gleeson’s Hux has been a huge disappointment. At first glance Grant’s Pryde appears much the same. A boring milquetoast villain with no life or personality.
Naomi Ackie plays Jannah. Rumor is she’s Lando Calrissian daughter, highly unlikely given his affinity for droid partners. She could just as easily be Finn’s long-lost sister. She is seen riding next to him in an official still from the movie. Jannah has the most potential from the look of it. She’s a warrior with skills on mounted Calvary. These pictures and the limited information available do little to ease most concerns about the new characters.
One of the best parts of Star Wars is exploring new worlds. Crait, covered in salt, with its red debris is one of the real highlights of TLJ. The new trilogy has a tendency to visit new desert planets. That continues in The Rise of Skywaker. In the film’s trailer Rey confronts a TIE fighter on a desert planet. It’s now confirmed it’s neither Jakku nor Tatooine. It’s the “new” setting of Pasaana, home of the Aki-Aki. There has to be more to the galaxy far, far away than endless planets of sand, dirt and rock.
During the lead up to TFA teaser images had the Star Wars community buzzing about Captain Phasma and The Knights of Ren. Despite being portrayed by Game of Thrones Gwendoline Christie, Captain Phasma was nothing but a throw-away villain. The Knights of Ren are featured in a few visions and lines of dialogue in TFA but thus far nothing of substance has come of them.
According to Vanity Fair, the cryptic Knights of Ren play a key role in The Rise of Skywalker. The Knights of Ren joined next generation Skywalker Kylo Ren when he broke from Luke’s new Jedi Order. The Knights are in April’s movie trailer, Kylo is shown dispatching one with his lightsaber. Have the Knights of Ren turned on Kylo? Perhaps he’s turning to the light side of the force and has conflict with his former order. Either way Star Wars fans finally get to see them in action for the first time.
No character has been treated as poorly by Abrams and Johnson as villain Kylo Ren. Initially shown stopping a blaster ray mid-air using the force. He appears to be a terrifying dark force user. By the end of Episode VII he’s portrayed as a petulant baby who can’t handle bad news. Murders his father Han Solo in a very cowardly way. And is bested in single combat and disfigured by force sensitive but untrained Rey. He’s dispatched just as easily by Rey, despite being aided by mentor Supreme Leader Snoke, in Episode VIII. Why is he challenging Rey to a third lightsaber duel? Now that she’s a fully trained Jedi this is no contest. J.J. and Rian dropped the ball big time with the new dark force users. Perhaps if they were female they could have been portrayed as powerful, insurmountable threats. That opportunity is long past.
Perhaps J.J. Abrams hardest job is incorporating Luke and Leia into The Rise of Skywalker narrative. Luke died using the force while projecting himself into the Battle of Crait. Carrie Fisher, who portrays Leia, tragically passed away after TLJ’s release. The easiest way to incorporate Luke into The Rise of Skywalker is as a force ghost, like mentors Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda before. The teaser image of Luke and R2-D2 doesn’t have the classic force ghost glow or look. Of course, the image might still need effects. Another possibility is the title of the film could hint at his return in a new, more compelling way. Star Wars fans are anxious for J.J. Abrams to give the iconic character the final treatment he deserves.
The most delicate character reintroduction is General Leia Organa. After Carrie Fisher’s passing, Lucafilm claimed she would not be included in the next film through CGI. Abrams later discovered a trove of deleted and alternate scenes and crafted the story around them. The director used cutting edge special effects and staging to seamlessly incorporate Fisher into the sequel. J.J. also includes scenes with Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd’s character Connix at her request. Reuniting the real-life mom and daughter on screen one final time. Done well this will be a fitting tribute and goodbye to one of cinema’s iconic characters and stars.
The most concerning part of the Vanity Fair piece are the words of director J.J. Abrams himself. “[The Rise of Skywalker] felt slightly more renegade; it felt slightly more like, you know, fuck it, I’m going to do the thing that feels right because it does, not because it adheres to something.” The reason many fans ignored the warts of J.J.’s first film, TFA, is because it was reverent to Star Wars and creator George Lucas. This new approach sounds more like Rian Johnson’s take on TLJ. His approach to not respect the history, characters or fans was rejected outright and almost cost Kennedy her job.
J.J. Abrams is famous for being a fan boy and director so this might be bluster. His track record with sequels and finishing projects is a decidedly mixed bag. He directed Mission: Impossible III one of the weakest films of the franchise. His follow-up Star Trek Into Darkness was a substantial drop in quality from a reboot that wasn’t great to begin with. It also features one of the most obvious character reveals in movie history. Can anyone forget just how terrible Lost became under his leadership? Lost delivered one of the 5 worst series finales in television history.
There is plenty to get excited about J.J. Abrams taking the reins to Star Wars back. Despite its faults, TFA set up several intriguing story threads. Rian Johnson’s jaded TLJ script ruined Rey’s parentage, Luke’s first words and arc, Supreme Leader Snoke, Finn’s fate and a slew of other plots J.J. setup. Moving forward in time allows the characters more development. Jannah looks like a new character fans will enjoy. J.J. may undue Johnson’s destruction of Luke through script magic. Many fans need to say to goodbye to Princess Leia and Hollywood icon Carrie Fisher. Ultimately if J.J. Abrams’ story is good and the characters well developed, The Rise of Skywalker is a step forward for the franchise under Disney. Of course, that would be in spite of Kathleen Kennedy and her terrible direction and leadership thus far.