Should Rian Johnson keep to the formula or gamble with change like George Lucas attempted in 1999?
Whether you liked, loved or loathed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one thing was undeniable…the movie successfully returned the franchise to its origins and reinvigorated our love for the greatest space saga of all time. With characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker all returning to the screen, it was hard to find fault with the seventh instalment in the series but that doesn’t mean that movie was free from criticism.
The movie eventually evolved into a two-billion-dollar box office juggernaut, but also successfully managed to split the opinions of the dedicated fan base when it came to the movies tone and narrative. In being appointed director of the movie, J.J Abrams had accepted custodianship of the Star Wars franchise, but in doing so had grasped hold of a poisoned chalice. Tasked with returning Star Wars to its roots and dispersing the negative aura that had surrounded it since the conclusion of the Prequel Trilogy in 2005, he had accepted an uphill task that many directors would have rejected.
Re-energize Star Wars into a contemporary and energetic franchise whilst keeping it tethered to the nostalgic, original themes and characters of the movies that had successfully captivated generations of fans from across the globe.
By no means an easy task.
Despite millions of happy fans, the major detraction was the movies’ plot, one that virtually paralleled the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope in almost every way. Beginning in space before negotiating the desert planet below and following the quest of a lost droid, a custodian of secret plans we found ourselves on a familiar path. With a planet killing space station looming over the galaxy and the Resistance fleet scrambling to destroy it, we were surely watching A New Hope all over again.
It was a cleverly thought out gamble by Lucasfilm, one designed to give the fans both something familiar as well as opening the franchise up to the prospect of fresh and expansive future sequels set in a galaxy far, far away. Even now, the argument about its legitimacy still rages on a full year after its initial release with its supporters justifying its closeness to the original by highlighting the saga’s need to remain close to the original source material to be accepted by the fan base who, were already scrutinising every move made by the studio since the sale to Disney.
Both arguments appear justified. However, one thing remains agreed upon by both parties…the saga must break free of these shackles for the upcoming eighth instalment of the franchise due for release in December this year.
The question is, do we really want change for The Last Jedi?
In 1999, The Phantom Menace was heralded by the fans as the first Star Wars movie to be released in almost sixteen years. It was the event of the decade, a brand-new Star Wars film and one we had been pleading for, for many years. The saga’s originator, George Lucas had finally succumbed to the call of the fans and had commenced the filming of the prequel trilogy, a set of stories that would reveal the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of his sinister alter ego, Darth Vader.
However, upon its release the fans were introduced to a very different story to the one we had all imagined since the finale of Return of the Jedi in 1983. In truth, the story was so different that upon conclusion of the very first showing in the UK, the assembled fans were uncertain of their feelings upon their emergence from the auditorium. The general reaction was, it was Star Wars…but not Star Wars, a feeling many of us found hard to accept and come to terms with. As a result, the fans attitude toward the franchise changed from that point.
The sequels, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith followed and were scrutinised in the very same way with both earning a similar amount of criticism for not being quite the Star Wars movies we had been hoping for, and yet…the master, George Lucas had been at the helm.
The fans are now calling upon change for The Last Jedi with director Rian Johnson, tasked with doing what even George Lucas himself had failed to do during the three prequel stories…change Star Wars whilst keeping it tethered to the original material. Once again, a new director has claimed the poisoned chalice with a mandate to do the impossible and give the fans exactly what they want.
Change without change.
This would appear to be a quest doomed to failure. However, the release of Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story returned us even further to our roots and afforded us a trip back to the original trilogy era with a completely new story that has captivated us all. The movie was familiar but original and managed to capture the lightning in a bottle necessary to elicit fan favour and for all intents and purposes it succeeded. This despite the negative rumours pertaining to the vigorous reshoots undertaken and the unwarranted criticism of Peter Cushing’s computer generated resurrection.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has proven that the impossible is attainable with the right director at the helm. A visionary with the foresight to blend nostalgia with the contemporary, all whilst expanding the franchise for future generations of fans.
In closing, the fans of the Star Wars universe are a fickle group, but a group that are extremely loyal to the cause and hold the series close to their hearts. We each own a piece of the saga and have devoted both emotional and financial support to the characters therein but, do we really know what we want?
George Lucas thought so and he suffered an unprecedented level of backlash that ultimately swayed his opinion to sell the franchise to Disney and let someone else assume the responsibility for the resulting flaws. For better or worse, the sequels to The Force Awakens are coming but, can the fans truly embrace them without accusing them of destroying a legacy?
You be the judge.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is due for release on 15th December 2017.