January 12, 2018 – Since its launch in 1977, the Star Wars saga has had an incredibly long and successful run. And yet while some fans have criticized what they perceived to be stumbles in the prequel films (1999-2005) and a lazy copycat plot in The Force Awakens (2015), they have dutifully returned to see The Last Jedi (2017), hoping for a reprise of the early magic of the Original Trilogy.
To say some fans were a bit disappointed in The Last Jedi is an understatement. Strongly disillusioned might be a better description. Agitated might be even better.
Those ultra-passionate fans who had been hoping for a second-act revival, similar to the stellar The Empire Strikes Back (1980), have ended up deriding the latest film as a great letdown. Judging by comments on social media, many have foresworn seeing the next installment, Episode IX, or any another Star Wars film for that matter.
So is Star Wars dead?
Like most things in life, the answer is: “It all depends on who you ask.”
Reasons Why “Star Wars” Is Dead
Whether you call the Skywalker saga dead, dying, or having seriously lost its way, fans and critics mean the same thing: The two sequel films (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) have utterly changed the character and direction of Star Wars, so as to make it almost unrecognizable. For many fans, they are ready to call it quits and to declare the saga over.
Here’s why (spoilers follow):
1) Two of the three original heroes (Han Solo and Luke Skywalker) have been killed, leaving only General Leia behind. And we know Leia’s days are numbered in Episode IX. The death of actress Carrie Fisher sealed Leia’s fate.
2) The new generation of heroes (Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron) have not yet been fully embraced by many fans. The reasons are many. In The Last Jedi, fans were expecting a big reveal as to the origins of Rey and her stupendous powers. Kylo Ren deflated expectations when he told Rey that her parents were nobodies who had sold her for drinking money on Jakku. Just as underwhelming was Rey’s laughably short training by Luke Skywalker. So by the end of the movie, we still don’t know who Rey is, or much less care.
Similarly, Finn’s character development is nonsensical. First, in The Last Jedi we see him attempt to abandon ship until Rose Tico stuns him. Next, he and Rose go on a fruitless mission to Canto Bight that adds little to the storyline. And finally, when Finn is about to gloriously sacrifice himself to save the fleeing rebels, Rose sabotages his vehicle.
It’s impossible to cheer for an empty shell who has three times attempted to flee the fight, first as a defecting stormtrooper and twice more as a faux rebel. His one attempt at self-sacrifice in the Battle of Crait had the audience ready to cheer for him. But even that hopeful moment was taken away from him.
As for Poe Dameron, the hot shot pilot who committed mutiny, some have argued that he was unnecessarily emasculated in the latest film and, pilot skills aside, fans don’t have a firm grasp of his character or enough of his backstory to really care.
It’s hard to embrace or be sympathetic toward the three would-be heroes when the writers and directors aren’t properly doing their job.
3) The demise of Star Wars can also be traced to the lack of credible, threatening villains in the sequels.
The huge build-up to Supreme Leader Snoke – followed by his sudden all-too-easy demise – takes the fear factor out of Star Wars. Similarly, the emotionally wrought Kylo Ren and his silly attempt to imitate his late grandfather, leave the audience more irritated than fearful. And what of General Hux and Captain Phasma? Apparently, they are little more than throw-away characters who wear cool costumes.
Without a worthy villain, how can our future heroes be tested and rise to the challenge?
Darth Vader and the Emperor broke the mold of pure villainy and are in a class of their own. No wonder the writers and producers are having such a hard time replicating the face of evil.
4) Inconsistencies and Technical Issues:
The following video does a good job summarizing some of the technical and plot issues and the needless cotton candy-fluff in the latest movie:
Despite George Lucas’s occasional missteps in the prequels, at least his storyline was unified and consistent. The following video suggests why The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are all over the map and maddeningly inconsistent:
5) And finally, Mark Hamill did attempt to warn us: This is not his Luke Skywalker.
Reasons Why “Star Wars” Will Endure
1) Box office receipts tell the story in the Disney era:
|The Force Awakens
|The Last Jedi
||$579M (thru 10 Jan 2018)
||$651M (thru 10 Jan 2018)
Far from being “dead”, the three Disney-era movies have been phenomenally successful at the box office. The Force Awakens was No. 1 in box office receipts for 2015. Rogue One ranked No. 2 in worldwide grosses for 2016, just behind Captain America: Civil War. And The Last Jedi was the highest-grossing movie (U.S.) for 2017. [Source: BoxOfficeMojo.com]
2) Star Wars‘ success will continue because it appeals across generations and across global cultures. Just as Lucasfilm groomed a new generation of fans during the prequel era, Disney is now pulling another generation into the fold.
Star Wars belongs not just to the first generation of viewers who laid claim and who were fortunate to see the original trilogy when it first rolled out. Star Wars also belongs to the newer generations who either grew up with the prequels (1999-2005) and, therefore, appreciate them in their own right, or the youngest audience members now watching the sequels with eager young eyes.
Lucasfilm and Disney were clever to end The Last Jedi with the scene of a young stable boy, Temiri Blagg (yes, he has a name) , grabbing a broom with his Force powers and looking hopefully up at the night sky.
The symbolism is rich. As director Rian Johnson commented to Entertainment Weekly: “To me, it shows that the act Luke Skywalker did, of deciding to take on this mantle of ‘the legend,’ after he had decided the galaxy was better off with[out], had farther reaching consequences than saving 20 people in a cave. Now the Legend of Luke Skywalker is spreading. Hope is reignited in the galaxy.” And, we might add, to a generation of new fans.
3) Despite all the naysaying and gnashing of teeth of some ultra-passionate fans, Star Wars is not forever “ruined” just because the Original Trilogy protagonists have died, or because of perceived inconsistencies in the latest storyline, or any other imagined ill.
Not everyone is a movie critic or a hardcore fan. For every naysayer, there are many more who generally enjoyed the storytelling, special effects, humor and drama of The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi.
It is a valid expression of remorse and disillusionment to say Star Wars is dead. To the disappointed, the 40-year saga has indeed changed. The story of the Skywalkers has finally come to an end, and the brightest lights have dimmed or been altogether extinguished. Gone are Obi-wan, Yoda, Vader, Han, Luke – and soon Leia.
Even the secondary favorites, Chewie, R2 and C-3PO, appear on screen as mere homages to the past. They don’t significantly advance the sequels in any way.
However, as a financial juggernaut and evolving space fantasy, Star Wars is far from dead. The franchise is thriving and doing well financially. But where the ever-changing story goes, nobody really knows.
Perhaps it is change and the uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable. We all knew the Skywalker story had to eventually end, and the end point is now.
The Last Jedi is full of clues that the change-moment has finally arrived. We can start with Rey’s symbolic attempt to return Luke’s lightsaber to him (a metaphor for the passing of the torch). Luke tosses the lightsaber away with little thought and Rey eventually retrieves it, completing the passing of the torch to her.
Equally symbolic is the destruction of the lightsaber. During their climactic struggle, Kylo Ren and Rey struggle for control, and Luke’s lightsaber is broken in half. End of an era, the door is about to be closed.
Next, as if to state the obvious, Kylo Ren says: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” And that’s what The Last Jedi proceeds to do.
By film’s end, we have witnessed General Leia and her command ship blown away, heard that Admiral Ackbar has perished, and seen Luke Skywalker sacrifice himself so that some 20 rebels might escape. Each moment is an emotional exclamation point to Kylo Ren’s admonition, “Let the past die.”
We suspect that the cultural and gravitational pull of Star Wars is so strong that even the strongest critics will feel compelled to see Episode IX in 2019, and the next one after that, and the next after that, and the next, and the next….