Who’s to blame for the ultimate failure of the most recent Star Wars trilogy? Ask some fans and they’ll point to JJ Abrams, who kicked it off to acclaim from most quarters with The Force Awakens, then completely ruined it with the baffling and ill-conceived Rise of Skywalker. Others will point to Rian Johnson, whose controversial second film The Last Jedi upset many fans for apparently trashing Luke Skywalker and making light of the Force, Jedi and Sith as little more than labels to be discarded when convenient.
In the latest edition of Empire magazine, Johnson speaks of his pride in his film. “I’m even more proud of it five years on,” he tells the magazine. “When I was up at bat, I really swung at the ball.”
“The ultimate intent was not to strip away – the intent was to get to the basic, fundamental power of myth,” adds Johnson. “And ultimately I hope the film is an affirmation of the power of the myth of Star Wars in our lives. The final images of the movie, to me, are not deconstructing the myth of Luke Skywalker, they’re building it … the process of stripping away is always in the interest of getting to something essential that really matters.”
Despite being a huge fan of the original trilogy (not so much the prequels), I enjoyed The Last Jedi specifically because it tried to move the saga on from the Lucas era. Luke does get his last hurrah, but we also get to address some of the issues with the narrow good-versus-evil approach of the original trilogy. The future of Star Wars looked pretty bright to me, post The Last Jedi, with the saga’s slate wiped clean and the opportunity to find out how a galaxy far, far away might function in the absence of some of its key monoliths.
But if you’re going to tear down the wall built by Lucas, the last thing you should do is appoint a guy who clearly saw Star Wars in a very different way to rebuild it. Abrams’ answer to the problems left by Johnson was to revert to the artistic palette of the 1970s and 80s. Bring back Palpatine, pitch him against a Jedi saviour and deliver one last victory for the rebels.
Palpatine being alive in some sort of weird zombie state not only ruined the end of the sequel trilogy but retroactively harms the original trilogy: Vader’s sacrifice in Return of the Jedi is in vain, he fails to bring balance to the force, and Luke’s role in his father’s redemption is radically reduced.
The wonderful thing that has happened to Star Wars in the five years since Johnson’s movie hit cinemas is that there is now so much of it that we can all decide on our own personal canon, while ignoring the episodes we didn’t think were up to scratch.
My selection includes the original trilogy, grudging bits of the prequels, the entirety of The Mandalorian, select chunks of The Book of Boba Fett, Rogue One, and most of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Others will choose differently.
So perhaps it’s OK that Rise of Skywalker was total garbage and that most of the plot threads left dangling in The Force Awakens were never picked up. That the entire creation of Snoke was completely pointless. We will always have the episode of Boba Fett in which Luke trains Baby Yoda, and mini Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) was fabulous alongside Ewan McGregor’s slightly lacklustre Kenobi.
Yet I can’t help thinking that there are people out there who paid millions of dollars to get this stuff right. Instead of making the latest trilogy up as they went along, palming it off to Johnson and Abrams like a relay team made up of a Porg, a Wookie and a Salacious B Crumb from The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps somebody could have come up with a Marvel-style plan for the three films – and Lucasfilm could have employed directors to bring the whole thing to reality. Would that have been too much to ask?
Johnson clearly looks back on The Last Jedi and considers that he did his job by resetting the Star Wars mythos to allow future film-makers to flourish. Perhaps Abrams also considers it job done because he got rid of all the things about The Last Jedi that some fans detested, and restored a legendary bad guy to life for everybody to hate all over again (for entirely different reasons this time). Both, in their own way, are correct. And yet somehow the trilogy as a whole remains messier than Baby Yoda left alone with a tank full of unfertilised eggs.
In a few years time, someone at Empire will probably convince Abrams to do a retrospective interview on the legacy of his Star Wars films. I’d rather hear from the suits who thought it a good idea to employ two diametrically opposed film-makers to take on the greatest fantasy franchise of all time in the first place.