Image owned by Disney and Lucasfilm, from Escapist Magazine
There used to be a time when a Star Wars movie was the biggest film of the year, the one thing most people wanted to see.
It was true between 1977-1983. It was generally true, however diminishing, from 1999 to 2005. It was objectively true from 2015 to 2017. The Force Awakens opened with an astonishing $247 million dollars to an as of yet, uncontested domestic gross of $936 million. Then The Last Jedi happened.
Don’t get me wrong, before release, The eighth episode was highly anticipated as the follow-up to the seventh. It opened with a still amazing $220 million. But then the audience reception, especially among fans, might have cooled the intensity of the box office, delivering roughly $300 million less than before. You can also blame mild fatigue from a Star Wars film a year, with spin-off Rogue One coming a year prior. But the message was clear all the same for Disney and Lucasfilm: course correct and slow down.
Despite being almost a monopoly with a scary amount of power at this point, Disney is reconsidering where to take the once largest franchise in the world. Perhaps the House of Mouse feel they can afford to let that happen thanks to the unstoppable success of Feige’s Marvel Studios, where their speed-bumps( Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk, Avengers:Age of Ultron) are far less concerning and even less of a profit loss. With groundbreaking numbers coming from the MCU, why not let the pressure off of George Lucas’ universe?
Star Wars Episode Nine: The Rise of Skywalker is a film reflecting both a beginning and an end, much like this month’s impending Avengers:Endgame for Marvel, but for different reasons. The MCU will march on with the next installment coming out a mere two months later, Spider-man: Far from Home. For Star Wars, Episode Nine is meant to be the end for the story-line that has been told, off and on for over forty years, the titular Skywalker family. JJ Abrams, returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson’s TLJ, promises an end that many assumed for a long time, happened in 1983, at least in that universe’s chronology.
It’s also a break from Star Wars in feature length. Disney is not letting the cash cow rest so easy. With Disney Plus, they want to compete with Netflix and similar streaming services for your subscription money. They want to deliver an ambitious live action series, The Mandalorian, all about the bounty hunter race that have long been considered a sacred cow sideplot by the fans. The humanoid species that gave us Boba Fett, one of the coolest yet lamest characters ever and his father Jango from the prequels.
They want to continue the ongoing success of their cartoon series, like finishing The Clone Wars, arguably the best thing the Prequels era ever gave popular culture from where the fans are concerned. They want to continue Resistance, a continuation of Rebels, both centering around the heroic guerrilla efforts against both the Empire and First Order happening before and during the original trilogy and sequel trilogy respectively. They want to keep making video games for Star Wars, despite EA’s best efforts to ruin that for everyone. They’ve done everything backwards, from botching two new Battlefront games, to cancelling a promising title from Visceral, the makers of Dead Space. They still have in development a title from Respawn ( OG Call of Duty and Titanfall), Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which is based around a titular Jedi surviving the purge launched by the Empire in Revenge of the Sith and persisting until A New Hope. With a pretty unethical company like EA in the corner, we can only hope that game is strong in the force.
So Disney is hardly giving up on Star Wars. It’s the movies, where it all started, that they’re becoming more cautious about.
From what I can subjectively make of the teaser for The Rise of Skywalker, it’s a film that does incite interest, which was the most surprising thing about it. After The Last Jedi, I felt the worst thing a Star Wars film can make you feel: apathy. With all the bewildering plot holes, mangling of lore and characters, old and new, I didn’t really feel interested in what came next. Where could they go next? I mean, there were places to go if I’m being honest with myself. There’s still a First Order to defeat, a Kylo Ren to kill/redeem, and a new Jedi Order to create as the last film’s last shot implied. The difference was if it would be enough to make it worth my time.
I will say that I’m leaning more towards “yes” than I thought I would have a day before seeing the preview. What is hooking me on the ninth Star Wars is the idea of closure. A Star Wars film that finally sheds loose the characters and plot structure for the future. The Last Jedi also suggested that, perhaps as buildup of sorts for the ninth with Kylo’s pretty awesome line,”Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” The Last Jedi, to its credit, flirted with the right idea. It just didn’t decide to own its ambition, which is one of the huge problems I have with Johnson’s film. Perhaps J.J. will finish what Rian suggested.
A modern Star Wars film trailer wouldn’t be complete with the expected fanservice and I will admit, for a moderate, quasi-lapsed Star Wars fan, those moments involving a cheerfully laughing old Lando in the Millennium Falcon’s pilot seat and the cackling of what I hope is the still dead Emperor Palpatine did work on me. I mean, come on, the now 82 year old Billy Dee Williams actually looks happy to be back one last time. And the suggestion of seeing a dark side user force ghost is actually something new. I will lose my composure if Palpatine is resurrected, like he was in the now no longer canon novels and comics released in the 1990s.
Another part that I like in terms of promise is having the gang of heroes actually stay together for once rather than split up like they’ve done for the last two episodes. Actually allowing for the new blood like Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8 and the much maligned Rose to stick together and hopefully grow together, both among themselves and with the audience before it’s too late, is a smart move on Abrams’ part.
I do wonder how Abrams’ and company are going to resolve or maybe lessen the issues The Last Jedi unfortunately brought up. Will they spend too much time retconning a better narrative instead of cleanly wrapping it up? Can they create a satisfactory conclusion for three generations of Star Wars viewers? Is such a thing even close to possible, on relatively short notice? Of course not, but it can come close to close to possible.