In the past several years, I made a huge mistake. It was a mistake I thought I would never in a million years see myself making, but here we are. I thought I could be into Star Wars again. As I headed into my 30th year on this Earth, a series I had long abandoned was suddenly back on my radar. It was like a sordid affair--loud, messy, confusing… and exciting. Naturally, it wasn’t long before things got weird. Video games got involved, and so did internet politics. Then, Disney did that thing corporations do when people get loud, and panicked. The dust is only starting to settle now, and as a casual onlooker, I’m not sure what to think. Is Star Wars ruined? Did corporate bumbling kill the iconic franchise just as it was making a comeback?
The answer is unclear, but it’s pretty safe to say at this point that the “main” story has ended with all the impact of a cherry bomb in a high school toilet. It seemed to be going so well at first. With the help of series veteran Lawrence Kasdan, director J.J. Abrams brought the troubled film franchise back with The Force Awakens, a continuation of the 30-plus-year canon that streamlined, modernized, and sort of rebooted Star Wars. It was a pretty safe but thrilling flick, and shot way up the box office charts as a result. Then the drama happened.
The Force Awakens was a massive success, and Disney turned the faucet all the way up. But unlike Disney’s other sacred cow, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there wasn’t a plan. It seemed like everything was being made up on the spot to ensure a Star Wars theatrical release every year, and while it led to some cool stuff, there was a clear lack of vision. That said, Rian Johnson turned in a brave sequel in The Last Jedi, a cynical love letter to Star Wars that challenged the universe and fans in unexpected ways. So of course a lot of people were mad.
At the same time, Disney shuttered LucasFilms’ video game company, fired everyone, and made a deal with EA for the Star Wars brand. This infamously led to Star Wars Battlefront being brought back via DICE, and drama that would have such a profound impact on the video game industry international governmental bodies are still legally tussling with the publisher. Canceled projects and other fumbling turned what was supposed to be a major deal into a nightmare. It seemed like Star Wars and EA would be a messy divorce, but Respawn’s Fallen Order was a surprise hit with both critics and fans. A month later, loot boxes were the least of Star Wars’ problems.
The final movie in the “Skywalker Saga” was released, and it was a mess. Creative differences led to the original director departing, and Rian Johnson turned down an offer to follow up his own film. That was likely partially due to the response to The Last Jedi, which saw critical acclaim paired with internet nerd rage due to all the striking storytelling choices. So J.J. came back, and he brought the writer of… Batman vs Superman and Justice League with him. The Rise of Skywalker was like mediocre fanfiction come to life, with tons of sloppy editing, a script that translated into nonsense onscreen storytelling, dead end character stories, and let’s not talk about what they did with Carrie Fisher. During all this, while some TV shows did all right, Solo made the plans for an alternating set of “anthology” films sputter out of momentum after creative differences kneecapped that effort too.
So what are we left with? People seem to be excited about the Disney+ shows, but those aren’t exactly marquee projects. Respawn’s game seemed to do well, but it literally came running out of a burning building. The extended universe is a mess, especially with Disney firing Chuck Wendig after right wing social media drama (after having him practically set the whole revival up before the first movie). Rise of Skywalker was one of the worst modern blockbusters since well, the last one Chris Terrio wrote, and who knows what’s happening with other announced projects.
Hopefully, the takeaway here is that Disney’s leadership learns to pump the breaks. The Marvel Cinematic Universe can’t be recreated overnight, especially without some sort of plan or unifying vision/production team tying everything together. Pumping out Star Wars movies annually was a dreadful idea, and it backfired creatively, if not financially (although that’s slightly true too). A series that’s such an important cultural flashpoint has to be handled with a bit more gravity than a bunch of conveyor belt-style superhero flicks, and we’ve all seen what happens without that care in real time.
With Rian Johnson signed on to write a trilogy of his own, it seems like whatever’s next is off to a decent start. Regardless of what you think of him, that series will have a consistent voice. And for better or worse, that’s what each Star Wars trilogy was before. As for the video games? Well, let’s see how EA channels Respawn’s momentum.