Tom Jolliffe takes a look at the Star Wars franchise and just how far it can go…
Before I start the ball rolling, I think we’ve all established that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was divisive. In the end the big band of people who thought it was a Cleveland steamer upon the chest of George Lucas have angrily huffed their way into hyperbole comas. Likewise, the few who claimed it as being an evolutionary, redefining masterpiece probably need to give it a few more viewings before firmly pitching it up as the greatest thing ever to feature lightsabers (personally I feel like Spaceballs could more rightly claim that title over TLJ). The reality, for me, was somewhere in the middle. It’s a good blockbuster. It does a lot wrong, but nothing all the rest aren’t guilty of these days, and it does a hell of a lot right.
It made a few bazillion dollars, and quicker than the Falcon did the Kessler run. In this modern age of franchising, of which Disney are overlords, it goes without saying that plans are afoot for more Star Wars adventures. Thus far the plan has been to keep in line with the familiar. All the oldies have been back. Rogue One has been the biggest variant so far, but still relates toward the plot propellant that kicked off the whole shebang and still crowbarred in plenty of cameos from the likes of Darth Vader, Princess Leia and General Peter “CG” Cushing. The official sequels have brought back Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia and Luke Skywalker (and more). Two of those have already been killed off and due to the sad passing of Carrie Fisher last year, we can likely expect to see Leia given a quiet (probably opening crawl) send off.
So here’s the thing. We’ve got a young Han Solo movie coming. We’ve also got the possibility of a Ben Kenobi film. Then the small matter of closing off this current trilogy with Episode IX (Tentatively titled, ‘The Return of Fan Appeasement’ I believe). There are also plans for Rian Johnson to oversee a whole new trilogy that could well disconnect from current canon into a whole other part of the galaxy (with perhaps more passing connections to the original lore). Of course we’ll still more than likely see Jedis, Lightsabers, the Force, helmets and other things. It’s dangerous, unknown territory though.
Here’s where the public, in their complex and contradictory ways have made things difficult. Rian Johnson made contentious decisions regarding a franchise and characters that millions have grown up watching. The most iconic movie property in history by far. I don’t think his film was nearly as canon defying as many (on the positive and negative side) made out. It did make a few brave character decisions with Luke, but nothing we’ve not already had suggested in the original trilogy anyway. That is the thing. Do we have to have the established characters? Have they been a huge part in the key to success? The ultimate idea I would imagine has been to see out the old and introduce the new. Is Rey popular enough to headline a new trilogy solo? If that is even the ultimate plan. I know Poe and Finn have sort of stagnated in this middle movie. Neither seems all that popular to me. Will anyone shed a tear if they don’t make the final outro for Episode IX? Probably not. They’re not really interesting. It’s hard work using old characters. It’s hard work using new. You’re damned either way.
So Johnson found out the hard way that you can’t please everyone with Star Wars now. He took it in the jugular even more than Lucas after Jar Jar Binks. If you go entirely new, create your own canon from scratch, right off the bat you have an advantage that there is no pre-existing ethos (which differs from fan to fan) that you must follow. Of course there will always be comparisons drawn. Rogue One wasn’t brave enough in telling its own story. It forget to craft good characters and then lent to heavily on fan service. It was a mess. Good action aside (which matters not if you don’t care) it was actually pretty bad. The only moment that roused anything from me was Darth Vader appeasing my inner 10-year-old toward the end. That was the problem though. It was a lazy moment, designed to easily appease fans without offering anything to the story. It was chucked in lazily and quite cynically. Ultimately it was the only bit I enjoyed, but it didn’t fit the film they should have been going for. It struck me as an action of insecurity. A lack of confidence from writer, director and studio (who all clashed over a sloppy vision that became ever sloppier).
This new trilogy will, without question, put a gargantuan amount of cash on the line so it needs to be treated with absolute assurance. The vision needs to be singular. Everyone must be on the same page and there must be total confidence in new characters and lore which Johnson et al create. We’ve already seen with Rogue One and the new Han Solo: A Star Wars Story that Disney will not be afraid to pull the handbrake if they feel they need to. In the case of Solo, the potential of a distinct Lord and Miller take on proceedings ended up being deemed too risky and thus Ron Howard (A safer, more “generic” pair of hands) was brought on to steer the ship down an easier path. It smacked of a lack of bravery to me. Not enough will to take the risk. If I’m being honest I expect very little from this. For one, Harrison Ford is unmatchable. For another, it’s just not that interesting. Solo may be one of cinemas coolest characters but a large part of why he works is because he’s a secondary character. He’s the ‘cool’ one. The scene stealer. The last minute, nick of time helper who’ll swoop in and clear the path for Skywalker to take his shot. As the lead? When young? It’s not easy to play roguish charm as well as Ford and it’s even harder to avoid just being obnoxious, especially when the entire film suddenly revolves around you.
Yes…it will make a lot of money though. However, if it’s well below par it could hurt the overall box office haul, or indeed increase the feeling among audiences that they’re being milked a little cynically. If it makes a lot though, it will also suggest that audiences still lean to the established characters. If Johnson’s new trilogy underwhelms all round it wouldn’t mean the end of the Star Wars revival, at least not if a Solo and Kenobi film prove successful. Money breeds more money. It’ll be at this point that we’ll see more established spin-offs. How long before a Yoda film? Or the long suggested Boba Fett film? Hell, I’m all for the Porkins trilogy myself. Picture this. Animal House meets Planes Trains And Automobiles, over a trilogy as Porkins progresses through college, used car salesman, before buddying up with a cool space pilot and bumbling his way into the rebellion. Sold? I’ll call Disney tomorrow.
My worry is not so much flogging a dead horse. This horse will never die, but success breeds laziness. We all perpetuate that by continuing to watch without enough demands on plot and characterisation, but Disney will milk this whole thing dry. Do I want to see films based on the games? Or Star Wars ‘canon’ fiction created over the years? We could see ludicrous new films pop up (Not my Porkins idea. That’s quality). So that is indeed the question. How far can Star Wars go? When is enough, enough?