Black screen. Triumphant music. Title crawl. Star Wars, it reads, Episode IX. The newest trilogy by LucasFilm is at the beginning of the end.
Principal photography for the third and final installment in the third trilogy wrapped last week. The revival, which began with JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, has resulted in a revitalization of the series as a whole, spawning new offshoots such as Solo: A Star Wars Story and Rogue One. Star Wars, while always a household name, has been able to connect with young audiences anew. How, then, will this trilogy, so vital to the name of LucasFilm, end? What will become of our new heroes?
The Force Awakens, first in the trilogy, was a hit. Its 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and its impressive box office indicate that audiences were not only ready for a new installment but excited about it. Here, we were introduced with a set of fresh faces—the up–and–coming John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey, and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. They were immediately adored for their performances and characters, and seeing nostalgic favorites from the original trilogy were added delights. In short, the film was generally loved.
The second film of the trilogy, The Last Jedi, came about with various issues. Instead of continuing with JJ Abrams as director, relative newcomer Rian Johnson took charge. Johnson had done indie films Brick and Looper, but never had faced the responsibility of carrying the mantle of one of the most famous franchises in the world. While Abrams, who had directed the previously mentioned Star Wars films to generally positive reviews, was an obvious choice, Johnson not so much. The production of the film was also plagued with the sudden death of Carrie Fisher, who had portrayed Princess Leia since 1977, and the need for reshoots. There was excessive rewriting—also done by Johnson—and questioning of the director’s leadership even before the film went into theaters.
The Last Jedi’s release, however, only resulted in more backlash. The audience was deeply split, even among longtime fans. Its 91% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes is countered by a 45% audience rating, which in itself caused the general public to question reviewers. Even within audiences who disliked the film, reasons are decidedly split—some disliked it for the very presence of women in main roles and the introduction of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) as a character, while others criticized it for basically everything else: a disjointed plot, poor dialogue, and dissonant tone.
Whatever the reason for criticisms, The Last Jedi distinguishes itself from its predecessor. Johnson is a different director and screenwriter who clearly saw characters—particularly Isaac’s Poe and Fisher’s Leia—with a different take. Is this a point for criticism? Possibly. The personality of Rey, too, entirely changed, shifting from a messy, slightly misguided girl to one who, frankly, acts like a complete idiot. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) becomes a main character where he wasn’t one before. Most damning is the useless introduction and end of Snoke, our new heroes’ supposed big villain, and the treatment of much–adored Luke Skywalker. Skywalker’s actor, Mark Hamill, who has portrayed him since the original film, even responded with now–deleted Tweets of criticism for his character’s personality in the latest film.
The question now becomes “Can Star Wars recover?” Perhaps some do not believe Star Wars needs to recover—many enjoyed Johnson’s The Last Jedi and his take on relenting fan nostalgia, particularly through the presentation of the Jedi and Luke’s arc. Others, however, appalled by its jarring switch from the first film in the trilogy, are left wondering.
Episode IX returns to JJ Abrams’ hands, though it’s clear that the second movie is entirely different from what he had initially planned. Johnson himself has said that he wrote The Last Jedi before The Force Awakens was even finished—any means of narrative coherence are long gone.
Much of the criticism of both of the movies in the newest trilogy rest involve the concept of rehashing previous films. The Force Awakens is an effective remake of A New Hope—a point which most fans will read as valid—and The Last Jedi, on the other hand, perhaps swings too hard in the opposite direction, abandoning core tenets of the movies that came before. Nostalgia in the Star Wars trilogy is nearly impossible to avoid—it is one of the most culturally significant series of all time—but should we avoid it or lean towards it? The best answer lies in the middle. Recalling past characters and past stories is heartwarming for an audience, but must not be used as a crutch. The trilogy must end with individuality for it to succeed, but simultaneously cannot forget its past.
We cannot know how Star Wars’ revival trilogy will end until it is released on December 20, with a trailer supposedly coming out sometime in April. Whichever way the third and final installment of the new trilogy ends, it is clear that, for fans, it must be handled with care.