How Star Wars Can Be Saved
Star Wars is a franchise that has become a cultural icon since it's debute of 1977 (then as simply Star Wars instead of it's modern day incarnation Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) and still today holds great many hearts to it's epic galaxy spanning story, magical space powers and lightsaber duels. It may have once been considered the largest franchise in history but sizzled to a mediocre relic of a bygone era very quickly due to overwhelmingly bad reception of the three sequels to George Lucas' original trilogy. The reasons for this flop of epic proportions are myriad.
The hype for the first of the new trilogy, Force Awakens, was palpable. Very little Star Wars related, especially on the movie side, was even rumored let alone in full production. As such the idea that this franchise would receive new life peeked interests all around. The reception of the movie seemed mostly positive though most notable critisism was it's overt familiarity with episode IV. The plot was extremely familiar almost comedically so. A big planet killing space station, a droid with a secret mission, rebels... sound familiar?
But whatever critisism the movie received, the positives outweighed the negatives. The story continued. New characters were introduced (some with mysterious pasts fans were eager to speculate on) while old ones reintroduced and some were given a sendoff that could be called shocking. However dark clouds loomed on the horizon and came into fruition with the second iteration of the sequel: Last Jedi.
What Went Wrong
Fans were breathless in waiting to see the second part to this trilogy. They were still breathless when they came out of the movie. Alas their breath was taken away by shock rather than awe. And that shock continued afterwards for their lack of enthusiasm was not taken well by the creators.
To the Last Jedi's credit, it did try to do something different. The problem was, it tried too much and fell flat on it's face. A blunder like that can be forgiven at times. The prequel trilogy is a testament to that. However the prequels had something that the sequels did not: a singular unifying vision and a vision that respected the original story. And that lack of control, vision and respect, was glaringly obvious.
Last Jedi could probably be summed with two concepts warring for dominance: subversion of expectations and deconstruction of iconic characters. Former might be understood, even lauded as a nice attempt while the latter was (in the eyes of the fans) an unforgivable sin.
As said previously, Last Jedi tried too hard. It took the critisism of Force Awakens "being too much like Episode IV" so much to heart that the creation team went and decided to attempt to do 180° on literally EVERYTHING. Let's see a couple of examples.
There were two mysteries that audience were left wondering at the end of Force Awakens about particular characters: Snoke and Rey. Who was Snoke and who was Rey? Both characters alluded to importance in terms of story and naturally both characters invoked speculation as to their origins and role in the larger scheme of things.
The intrique behind Snoke was in the veil of his mystery, only appearing as holographic projection and nothing of his was known expect for two things: he knew things about the force and he commanded what was left of the empire (known as first order).
Rey's mystery was brought to light the opposite way: Her parents were mentioned multiple times but not elaborated on. Her force powers manifested themselves amazingly fast as did her control over them. Hints small and large here and there were left that suggested she had a pedigree of importance and in a Star Wars universe, that was short list indeed. Most theories suggested Rey was a Skywalker, either through Leia or Luke. Combined with her strong affinity with the force, the force vision when she touched Luke's lightsaber and the emphasis on that the lightsaber was a staple (one might even call it a relic) of the Skywalker family (Maz Kanaan telling her how it was first Anakin's and Then Luke's suggesting her being part of that chain) brought great creedence to this theory.
Since fan expectation of these two characters was that they are important, in order to subvert exceptations, Last Jedi did the opposite: Rey was declared as a nobody and Snoke got himself killed when his character started to get interesting.
The entire movie is full of these small acts of subversions. This subversion fans could have forgiven, even applauded though with all these subversions, the story started to become difficult to manage. However there was an act that could not be.
And that was what they did to Luke Skywalker.
The ultimate hero of all six previous movies was, by all accounts, the young moisture farmer from a desert planet who became a Jedi knight. By the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke was by all accounts, happy, hopeful and the next generation of the Jedi order. Last Jedi took all of that away. This could be considered a subversion as well: fans expected a badass jedi knight. The subversion was that he was not all the way to the point of having what fans thought to be an epic lightsaber battle to be an exercise in astral projection and smoke and mirrors. However this goes deeper than that.
Leaks, discussions and interviews painted the picture that the character of Luke took prominence in the early drafts and test screenings, taking attention away from the new heroine Rey. This apparently, would not stand. Rey needed to be propped up and the creative team seemed to feel that the only way to do that was to bring Luke down. With attempts to decrease fan interest in Luke the Hermit, it was assumed that naturally interest would rise towards the next best thing: Rey.
This fandom however, was not ones for sloppy seconds.
Again the creation team took their vision too far. The idea to paint Luke as a failure could have been accepted. What could not have been accepted what Luke's deviancy from what many consider his core personality traits. Luke was amongst all a main of faith. faith in himself and eventually to the force itself. The act that most personified this was when he, at the potential of great personal and galactic cost, decided not to kill (and not even fight) the most feared person in the galaxy but instead redeem him: his father Anakin aka Dath Vader. As such when Luke was depicted as a person who "created" Kylo Ren from Ben by having a moment of murderous thoughts over his sleeping nephew, that spit in the face of everything that Luke, a childhood hero and inspiration for many, stood for. Also Luke as a optimistic idealist would not have just broken down with the fall of his school. He would have fought twice as hard to train new students and bring Ben back to the light side of the force.
With that betrayal, inconsistensies of the story and subversions of expectations for the sake of subverting expectations, left fans drained and enraged. They felt betrayed and felt like the creative team held nothing but contempt for people whose dedication both mentally and financially had kept a franchise alive after what could be considered period of stagnation at least on the movie side. Books were still made. Games were developed but the cinematic experience was lackluster at best and Last Jedi appeared to attempt to send to the old fans clear simple message: you ware not wanted here. These message was reinforced by the creative team making dismissive and outright insulting comments about fans, that just oozed contempt and arrogance over the little minded fans not appreciating their creative genius. This defensive tactic to save precious egos left fans outraged, sad and gave them no choise but to vote with their wallets and being very vocal about it. And vote they did. Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, if managed properly, should have reached multi-billion dollar box office numbers rivaling the golden goose of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Avengers. Instead the movies barely broke a billion.
J.J To The Request... Not
With the negative response to Last Jedi, J.J Abrams (who directed the Force Awakens) was brought back to finish the trilogy with Rise of Skywalker. Abrams' team attempted to juggle several different concepts at the same time leaving behind a hot mess that could not save the franchise. He attempted to placate hardcore fans by reversing many of the decisions Last Jedi: Rey was now important again (a Palpatine). Palpatine was back as a villain. Lando was back. However what time he took to reverse what previous movie did under the direction of Ryan Johnson, took away from finishing the story itself thus having the story jump from one place to another with wanton gusto and no logic or reason behind any of the decisions. Rey's characterisation was left hollow and meaningless and Ben's redemption arc felt sloppy. Palpatine as a villain was made a caricature of his old self making the last scenes drip more cringy humor than serious gravitas. Rey as a Palpatine claiming the Skywalker name, combined with Last Jedi and the insults afterwards left fans thinking the creative team now were openly hostile towards them and went out of their way to make this story fail just to stick it to the angry istophobe fans.
Adding insult to injury, Disney decided to take the greedier road by hamstrunging the overall story by splitting it into multiple entities. Or rather, Disney tried to fix what they broke by releasing books and other materials that were supposed to explain the inconsistencies of the story and characters. "Read the book" became a convenient motto and rallying cry for the creative team to shield themselves from fan backslash. Unfortunately, telling fans to buy something that fixes something you broke, kinda does the opposite of what you think. It's almost like you robbing me and then telling me I should pay you so you'll sell me my wallet back (empty of course).
Other more wiser than I in the ways of the force have picked apart all three movies for their problems so I will not go into deeper details here. An aspect I will not hash out apart from mentioned it as a contributing factor was the appearance of identity politics in the story that left audiences even more alienated. This however is an issue that transcends the scope of this post since it spans multiple franchises and media formats. Suffice it to say that Rise of Skywalker ended the sequel trilogy to George Lucas' vision with fans divided and the future looking bleak.
A Glimmer of Hope
Between Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker came Mandalorian. A TV-series that seemed to rekindle some positivity amongst fans. The story was simplified and the premise appeared to try to distance itself from the existing franchise, content with being somewhat fringe. In the same vein came Clone Wars season 7, a highly regarded animated series that was canceled amidst Lucasfilm sale to Disney but was renewed for one last season. Two short lived series however would not satisfy fans in the long run and inspire the same kind of devotion like the original trilogy. As one ex-fan pointed out: there is little interest in old material since it all eventually leads to Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker.
Where To Go From Here
There actually seems to be some talks inside Lucasfilm about how the franchise could be saved. One popular rumor is that the sequel trilogy should be removed from canon with the Vale of the Force. A time travel gimmick introduced in an animated series Star Wars: Rebels. While nuking an entire trilogy might be met with enthusiasm by the fans, I have to point out some level of hypocrisy in it.
There already were sequels, prequels and all in between
When Disney bought Star Wars, what used to be an extensive set of expansion stories were scrapped. Decades worth of material was declared non-canon. This was particularly tought blow to those fans who revelled in the "Expanded Universe" and essentially, kept the franchise alive all these years. Lucas' company was actively participating in these creations by declaring canonized pieces and instructing authors on certain plot points so it wasn't like it was fanfiction. Even well known fantasy authors like R.A Salvatore dipped their pen into this well so this was not amateur hour. Expanded universe works where high quality stories. So to disregard what could have been considered a set of ready made scripts to just adapt to film seemed insane. However, that is what happened. As such having fans celebrate decanonization of what is starting to be referred to as "Disney trilogy" seemed a little hypocritical.
So what could be done instead?
Back to the future
The only direction I feel, the story can go is far into the future. A thousand years at least. Now to spice things up a little, let's make it a thousand years of sith empire, started by Empress Rey Skywalker.
You see what I am trying to do here? Good. I'll explain anyway.
What happens to the events of the past, when a millenia passes? More than likely, despite best efforts, those events turn into legends and myths. History tends to get obscured by powers that be to make themselves look better than they are. What happens when a tyrannical fascist organization has the power for a thousand years? I think we can safely assume every piece of history is smeared with some kind of lie.
So events of the sequels are now essentially campfire stories. How does that help? We can retcon, within the story itself. Since the sequels are "history", in pursuit of truth within the story itself, we can retcon and rewrite whatever pieces of previous works however we want. The sequels transform into an exercise of unreliable narration. If played smart, this would allow a new era of "special editions" with one being the empire version of events and other being "the truth".
Rey becoming empress would also dull the sting that was the end of Rise of Skywalker. Her, a Palpatine, adopting the Skywalker name would now be a more appropo as a f-y to Skywalkers themselves, sullying the good name for generations to come. Fan's still wouldn't like it ar first but if it served a larger story competently and there was a change to to redeem the name by a real Skywalker. Hell Luke's so called failure could have been smoke and mirrors to keep the new Jedi order hidden and stay hidden. You want epic lightsaber fight with Luke as a badass jedi? Want to change Ben Skywalkers fate? Add a force vision or a flashback sequence.
Thousand years into the future also allows us to do a soft reboot while still honoring the original vision. We had a thousand years of Republic, then twenty or so years of empire, then another twenty or so years of new republic and now thousand years of empire. Rhymes, doesn't it? This narrative choise would also allow the story to take new pespectives and interesting directions instead of the repitition of old that was Force Awakens. We could explore the empire from the point of view of a sith acolyte. Look to how the jedi are managing as a group hiding. Is there a new prophecy perhaps?
The possibilities in storytelling with this method are endless and I feel would keep the overall story consistent and still allow the old material to exist as it is.
However with great power comes great responsibility. Disney is fond of reboots and remakes and the tempation to remake the original trilogy with some new twists is salivating no doubt to the execs at the house of mouse. As such this particular two way sword can cut very deep indeed both fans and Disney itself if not handled with the utmost care. So far, evidence points to the contrary and what could start out as a new hope, might end as a greater tragedy instead.