Wednesday 12 August 2020

Star Wars in crisis?

In this opinion piece regarding the current state of Star Wars, Matt Charlton, our resident Disney superfan, reflects on recent rumours in the wake of the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga. Does the Force have a future?

Guest post by Matt Charlton

Like the whispers of a planetary blockade in place above the planet Naboo over a 'trade dispute', with news only just reaching the Galactic Senate and prompting the dispatch of two Jedi Knights to investigate, could there be any truth in a recent revelation from a YouTuber that we could well be facing a Star Wars Expanded Universe-esc (EU) retcon, which might result in the sequel trilogy being spun off to an alternative reality?

Be warned, spoilers will be afoot for those who have not yet seen the Skywalker Saga - if you would like to avoid them, please navigate away now.

It's no secret that the sequel trilogy wasn't well received by an especially vocal segment of the Star Wars fanbase. There were many people who were upset with story lines, casting decisions and many other issues that came to light from what many perceive to be a disjointed way of thinking, combined with conflicting ideas from The Walt Disney Company along with directors, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, screenwriters and an urgency to recoup the $4 billon dollar invested in acquiring Lucasfilm from George Lucas in 2012.

If there's one thing that we've learned in the Information Age, there is nought as fickle as a pop culture fanbase and given 24/7 access to the internet, boy do they like every one to know about it [the fandom menace casts a long shadow- Ed].

A lot of people were overly critical that director JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens followed George Lucas' A New Hope too closely. Some of the plot points certainly seemed to mirror those tropes we saw in 1977. Simply replace Starkiller Base with the Death Star and take Jakku's sandy landscape for what we saw in Tatooine with a teenager staring out into the sky wondering what might be possible and you can certainly see what people are saying - if you were that way inclined.

Personally, I loved The Force Awakens. I liked the new direction. I liked the teases about Rey's (Daisy Ridley) parentage, wondering about where Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) got Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) lightsaber from when we last saw it dropping through the middle of Cloud City on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back and wondering what on earth had happened to make Luke up sticks and run away, and why the heck R2-D2 ended up with a map to where he was if he didn't want anyone to find him?

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was the perfect embodiment of the dark side. Wonderfully played by Adam Driver with a depth we've not seen in the Star Wars universe for some time. It was a great start to the trilogy and I remember wondering if that was a gravestone we saw where Luke was on the cliff top, to the point where I would freeze frame the digital copy that I bought on the Apple TV in order to try to find clues in what The Last Jedi might bring us.

Rian Johnson's movie was a fairly radical departure from what we knew. A lot of people were unhappy with the way that Luke was written out. It's difficult to know how Mark Hamill felt about the way things went but I think he probably, like the rest of us might have wanted to see a little more than Force Projection as a display of Luke's powers. It was even worse when the resulting physical and psychological damage from this ends the life of our beloved hero. I loved him throwing the lightsaber over his shoulder. It was funny - though I'm not sure it was a very 'Luke' thing to do.

We know from The Rise of Skywalker that the X-wing, we see beneath the waves, is fully operational, but it could well be that until Luke transcended the living Force and gave up his physical form that he never truly believed that he could get over that stumbling block that Master Yoda (Frank Oz) had to help him with in The Empire Strikes back and lift it out of there. The accompanying score to that piece (mirroring the Dagobah swamp sequence) certainly helped my tear ducts to produce 'something'. He finally did it. Do, or do not. But there was nothing stopping him, physically from jumping into it and heading to Crait to help out, in person, and get a proper on screen reunion with his sister and his two beloved droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

The return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) in The Rise of Skywalker was pretty cool, we got to see some pretty neat set pieces and some new Force powers. The pacing of the movie is pretty quick, it never feels as long as it is.

I think for me, looking back over the three 'new' movies as a whole - I enjoyed them, they were fun, and there are certain aspects of them that I love, but when you put them all together, as a trilogy - something isn't quite right. The poorest, out of the three was The Last Jedi. With Luke's bizarre behaviour, green milk drinking defeatist attitude and Yoda blowing up the (empty) Jedi library. The last act with them trying to outrun the First Order and having limited fuel was also a little lacking on story timing.

As a trilogy, it falls flat.

Is this down to a missing overarching vision? Was it a case of having too many different directors involved, then changing directors due to creative differences? Did Rian Johnson look to change too much of what JJ Abrams had laid the foundations for and it was too difficult to bring back to something that made sense?

One of the really jarring things, is Leia's (Carrie Fisher) Mary Poppins in space sequence, I didn't like that at all, it just felt like it went against everything we know about what would actually happen if someone found themselves out there in the vacuum of space. I know it's a movie, I know it's science fiction, but it just didn't gel for me, maybe it was the CGI, it just didn't look natural.

Although Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford all signed on for (at least) The Force Awakens, there was never a reunion of all three on screen. I think everybody expected this to happen. With Harrison Ford being taken out in the first movie, it was probably never going to be part of the plan, though he does return for The Rise of Skywalker. The untimely, devastating passing of Carrie Fisher will have also changed the direction of where they were originally going with the trilogy when it was first planned out.

There's been a lot of talk on the internet about how the fine folks at Disney aren't too happy with Star Wars - when they purchased Lucasfilm, they thought they were buying a license to print money, and it turns out that if the money you're printing isn't the denomination or the currency that the fans are wanting, they'll outright find another minting source.

I'm a big Disney fan. I love Disney. I also think that they did a stellar job with Marvel Studios since they took over, the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) shows what is possible with joined-up thinking and an overarching storyline that can culminate in the coming together of multiple superheroes and a decade of planning to give us the Russo brothers' Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame blockbuster.

However, I don't know if they've taken the right path with Star Wars. I love there's a portion of the theme parks dedicated to all things Star Wars in Galaxy's Edge, I love that there's Darth Vader meet and greets and I love some of the other stuff that's come out. I even enjoyed Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I don't think there are many people who didn't enjoy Rogue One. In fact, I'd quite happily watch 3-hours of footage based around Darth Vader's single-handed assault on the docking corridor of the Tantive IV.

I remember the prequels coming out - I was 18 when The Phantom Menace was released. I remember when the first teasers dropped and you had to have QuickTime (QT) to watch them [I streamed it endlessly on my graphite iMac DV SE - Ed]. I remember being excited. I remember enjoying them. All three of them.

Sure some of the acting was wooden, some of the dialogue was cheesy, Jar Jar (Ahmed Best) was annoying, but overall I love them. I know a lot of other people didn't. There were similar feelings of unhappiness, the internet was still something that not many people had access to in the late 1990s and if they did it was on a single family computer rather than in the palm of their hand. It's a lot easier now to broadcast your opinion on an iPhone and have someone read it instantly.

If we think about the timelines of the trilogies, we can see some major differences.

The Phantom Menace - Anakin is a young boy
Attack of the Clones - Set 10 years after TPM
Revenge of the Sith - 3 years after AOTC
A New Hope - 19 years after ROTS
The Empire Strikes Back - 3 years after ANH
Return of the Jedi - anything up to a year
The Force Awakens - 30 years after ROTJ
The Last Jedi - Immediately after The Force Awakens
The Rise of Skywalker - A year after TLJ

The prequel trilogy spanned 13 years.
There was a 19 year gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
The original trilogy spanned 4 years. The sequel trilogy spanned 1 year.

It makes you wonder whether things got a little too granular, maybe there wasn't a big enough time jump to allow off-screen character development to take place, maybe this was influenced by the release schedule being one film every year [thankfully now abandoned - Ed]?

Say what you want about George Lucas, and him not having a 9 movie plan to start with [Lucas makes mention of the 9-part saga in the liner notes of The Empire Strikes Back - Ed] (I remember pre-internet this was something I used to excitedly discuss with my school friends). Star Wars was his baby. I know that the trade disputes/Trade federation weren't a great addition to The Phantom Menace, but it was more about bogging down the Jedi with red tape and distracting them from what else was going on, which gave Palpatine the platform that he needed to grab some emergency executive power to make things run faster so that he could 'help' Naboo. I get it, I get what he was going for.

I still would have rather had 3 movies about Anakin (Jake Lloyd/Hayden Christensen) at his darkest though. What we see implied with the Sand People and the Younglings is only scratching the surface at how far our young hero had to fall in order to become Darth Vader.

So anyway, back to the original point of this article. A concept was introduced in Star Wars Rebels called the Veil of the Force. If applied to the movies, this could allow for a multiverse/multiple timelines scenario. It could allow the events of the sequel trilogy to become things that are ignored/never happen. It could also give rise to something new - like a big screen version of Timothy Zahn's EU (now legends) trilogy complete with Grand Admiral Thrawn. That would be epic.

I completely understand why Disney did what they did with the EU content, by retconning/retiring all of the things that had come before, they could forge their own path. They wouldn't be constrained by stories that had been told before.

To paraphrase Doctor Ian Malcolm, just because they could do something, doesn't necessarily mean that they should have.

There's been a huge number of internet outlets pick up on the potential 'leak' from Dicktor Van Doomcock, with some mainstream UK tabloids also getting in on the act.

There's rumours that a Lucas cut of The Rise of Skywalker exists, and that it contains lots of additional footage that was left on the cutting room floor of the edit we ended up with. There are rumours that somehow Luke will be warned not to attempt to kill Ben Solo, stopping him from becoming Kylo Ren.

There are rumours that the higher ups at Disney aren't happy with the direction things have been taken in and there are rumours that things could be changing as and when contracts end.

There are also rumours that we could see additional Luke Skywalker movies, set in the Mandalorian timeframe that could also somehow tie into the Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) live-action series.

I still want to know how the hell Maz got hold of the lightsaber, and like Mark Hamill want to know if it came with the hand still attached? :D

The Mandalorian has shown Disney that there is still a massive appetite for Star Wars content, and that the content doesn't necessarily have to have characters we have come to know and love in them. If the story is right, the direction is done well and there's a cute green alien involved, we're all over it.

Jon Favreau (Iron Man) is being touted as the new head of Star Wars alongside Dave Filoni, with the help of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. There are even rumours that George Lucas might be coming back to run Lucasfilm. Who knows at this point what is true or not.

I'm not sure a replacement sequel trilogy will be what we end up with, but I definitely think that Disney are doing some work, internally, to see what they can do to move forward from where they have seemingly ended up.

There are still so many aspects of the Star Wars universe that are ripe for exploration on both the big screen and on the small screen with Disney+, I don't think the stories are finished, and I'm excited to see where things end up going.

Do I think that there's enough hate to completely remove the sequel trilogy from Star Wars canon? Maybe.

Do I really believe that something like this will happen? Not really.

And besides, Master Yoda says that... Hate.... leads to Suffering.

What's next? We get Game of Thrones Season 8 redone? :D

The original YouTube video, with regards to the rumours.

Read an article on Cosmic Book News, which discusses the content of the video above and also lists Lucas' alleged demands.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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