The Future of Star Wars: Trying to Make Sense of Argument and Frustration

  Okay Star Wars fans, it’s time for a little therapy!

The last decade and a half has been rough on Star Wars fans. We all suffered through watching the Prequel Trilogy struggle to meet any sort of expectations. We all watched as the Disney Corporation swallowed the franchise whole and attempted to turn it into a cash cow larger than it was seemingly capable of generating with a massive toy line that largely hasn’t sold. We’ve spent the past three years arguing about the quality of the four recent films from The Force Awakens to the most recent Box Office failings of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

In all that, I’ve never seen as many as a well thought out articulate film criticisms both for and against a single movie than the dozens upon dozens of fanboy and film critic deconstructions of recent Star Wars films. Even the famed Plinkett Reviews seem antiquated in comparison to just how much ink has been spilled in fanboy arguments trying to make sense about The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. At the end of the day something about Star Wars touches at the very core of our being and yet we really can’t seem to agree what it is and what these new films should be to represent that part of us.

We here at Geeks Under Grace have some very complicated and nuanced opinions on the recent controversial Star Wars films. Several of us love the recent films and several of us despise them. Five of us sat down to offer our thoughts on the state of the franchise and where Disney ought to take Star Wars in the future.

Starting off, please give us a quick rundown on the four recent Disney Star Wars films and what you think about all of them? 

Juliana Purnell: 

The Force Awakens alleviated a lot of fears, demonstrating a return to form for the Star Wars franchise. I actually predicted a lot of the plot beforehand thanks to trailers, while I also found the nostalgic moments to be cheesy. But overall I enjoyed it!

Rogue One is my favorite out of the four. It was refreshing to see how the Star Wars universe would work without the presence of the Jedi. I also sensed that there was more creative license; since it was a spin-off, there was less pressure for it to conform to everyone’s ideas.

Once I got over my initial shock with The Last Jedi, I really began to admire this film’s boldness, creativity, and bravery for going against the grain. It contains a lot of depth; I like that Luke and Kylo Ren share the same beliefs but are still on opposite sides. I also developed newfound appreciation when it dawned on me that Poe is the main character in this one, with Finn and Rose being an extension of his character journey. So, I respect this film, but due to the runtime and the heaviness of the plot, it’s not my “go-to” favorite film in the series.

For Solo… it wasn’t amazing but it wasn’t bad either. Once everyone got together and everything had been established, that’s when I really started having fun. Yet I felt as though it ultimately wasn’t an interesting story to tell.

Derek Thompson: 

Rogue One was the best. Even though it eschewed the EU like they all did, it fit into “movie canon” well and had a charm to it. Solo was second, mostly for the same reasons–lots of fan service. Force Awakens had a lot of strong things–great directing, well-placed humor, diversity of cast–but didn’t really “do” anything. Also, the new FIVE-PLANET DEATH STAR and the Nazi bad guys (Empire 2.0) were idiotic and recycled. Much lower than the other two. TLJ is disgusting, primarily because of how out of character Luke is for the entire movie and how idiotic Leia’s force flight scene is. (And… much more.)

Sarah Bennet: 

With the exception of Rogue One, the writing feels rushed in the latest installments from a galaxy far, far away. Star Wars had simple characters in against-all-odds situations who we all fell in love with. Rogue One, in my opinion, kept that feeling. The other three, especially Solo, cut corners with characters by loading them with backstory. I believe the casting was brilliant for all four films.

Trey Soto:

  • Force Awakens: Fun, enjoyable, but definitely a nostalgia film that is almost identical to the original Star Wars of 1977.
  • Rogue One: Surprisingly entertaining and engaging in the area of the plot and pacing, but unmemorable characters, both protagonists and antagonists.
  • The Last Jedi: Somewhat solid main plot, but had a number of plot holes and boring side stories and missions. Also, that kiss between Rose and Fin….why?
  • Solo: Have not seen it yet, so I don’t have any opinion on it.

Tyler Hummel:

  • The Force Awakens: One of my favorite movies of 2015. JJ Abrams knows how to cast/direct/shoot a film to maximize the style and fill every scene with energy and love. Sadly without a wholly original story or a more solid script, the movie has struggled to hold up after several years of repeat viewings. It’s still a ton of fun though!
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: My original reaction to this in 2016 was that of being unimpressed. Having let it age it’s now my second favorite of the new films.
  • The Last Jedi: I unabashedly love everything about this film. I love how many risks Rian Johnson took. I appreciate just how many risks Disney took on arguably the most important chapter of their franchise in giving it to one person to be the sole writer/director. I appreciate just how coherently he is able to write his characters and how it manages to use the weakness of both the previous film and this film to build towards thematic statements. I love how beautifully it crafts the aesthetic of Star Wars and uses its top of the line CGI to craft incredible images like the Light Speed jump. I could talk for days about just how much depth there is in the script and how its ideas deconstruct Star Wars while affirming how powerful and necessary it can be. I digress.
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story: Most meh Star Wars film I’ve ever seen in my life. Shy of a few moments I was intensely bored and surprised by the depths the film was going to fit in bad fan service.

Both The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story have been received to widely mixed reviews and have generated some heated opinions from fans and critics alike. What have your discussions about the film been like with family/friends/fans?

Juliana Purnell:

In my experience, discussions about Solo haven’t been mixed or controversial. Everyone I’ve met has agreed with me–it’s an average film, not bad or good. Just meh.

The Last Jedi is a different story. When I wrote the review for GUG, I found the majority of my friends agreed with what I said about liking the film but not loving it. Except what people enjoyed and hated differed from person to person. For me, this was the first film in the franchise where I became really irritated about how some of the laws of physics in space were adopted, and others blatantly ignored.

Whereas my friends didn’t have their suspension of disbelief shattered, rather they were more upset about Luke’s character, or Finn and Rose’s subplot (which is something I ended up appreciating). The more I reflected on the film, the more I liked it, though my brother had the opposite experience. He is concerned that no one has developed an overarching plot, so each director seems to be doing their own thing; there’s no consistency or through the line. But for the most part, myself and a lot of my friends are willing to suspend criticism till we see how it connects with the next episode in the series.

I do have one friend that absolutely despises The Last Jedi. They couldn’t come to terms with Luke’s characterization, and whenever anyone tried to present a different viewpoint, my friend would just dig his heels in further. His anger over it still hasn’t dissipated to this day. Basically, he has embraced the idea of being a Last Jedi hater, and I don’t think anything will change his view because he has made it part of his identity. It’s his thing if you get what I mean. He did boycott Solo; I’m not sure of his reasons, whether it’s still out of spite or merely disinterest, but after hearing the news that Disney may be slowing down on Star Wars releases, last I saw was that he was starting to question his actions.

Derek Thompson: 

I think the Solo backlash is primarily from TLJ hate, as far as fans not going. Critics are crazy, I liked the movie a lot. (Critics also gave TLJ high praise…) TLJ was entertaining the first time, but the more I considered the consequences and depth of the movie, the angrier I became. I can’t find the thread but I saw a video of Rian Johnson from about fifteen years ago where he said “Movies that everyone likes are boring. I want to make movies that half the people love, and the other half hate.” Mission accomplished, dude.

Sarah Bennett: 

TLJ had some facepalm moments, the biggest being Leia’s survival and subsequent Mary Poppins flight. I haven’t met anyone who sees that plot moment as anything but ridiculous. The moment before, though, when her son doesn’t pull the trigger? Boom! That’s the Star Wars we love.

The talk of Solo around the table usually concedes with a couple of opinions: 1. On its own, it’s a decent watch. 2. They (the writers and Ron Howard) tried too hard to force the viewers to love a young Han Solo. It’s like a little girl strangling a cat, yelling, “LOVE ME!” Sure, the cat is cute, the girl is cute, but the whole thing is just a big, “Nope.”

Trey Soto:

Again, no opinion on Solo. As for The Last Jedi, I thought it received more praise than it should have from critics. I honestly enjoyed the main plot between Luke, Rey, and Kylo. Their character development was great, their interactions definitely leveled out, and it a lot of growth for all three. The side stories and subplots, however, were either boring, uninteresting, and even outright ridiculous–i.e. Snoke’s death, Rey’s parent’s reveal, Holdo’s horrible leadership, Poe’s incompetence, etc. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop now.

Tyler Hummel:

I’ve listened to so many debates, discussions, deconstructions, and analyses of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and much more recently in the context of Solo: A Star Wars Story. The conversation regarding TLJ really has struck a nerve. I was completely taken aback by the 53% Rotten Tomatoes score back in December and since then the discussion has gone to some bizarre places with people calling for Disney employees to be fired. I’ve almost gotten into some nasty arguments myself over the film’s quality with dear friends.

There are between 6-9 Star Wars films in development between Rian Johnson’s trilogy, the Game of Thrones writer’s trilogy, and the three potential Star Wars story films including Boba Fett, Lando, and Obi-Wan. Are you excited for any of these films?

Juliana Purnell:

It’s exhausting just reading the question. I do adore what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done with Game of Thrones. The prequel trilogy demonstrated that Star Wars could be a political beast, except George Lucas struggled to make it interesting on screen. That weakness is Benioff and Weiss’ strength. So I’m curious to see what kind of story they’re going to produce and whether they have the skills to create rather than adapt.

I was blown away by Donald Glover’s performance as Lando Calrissian. He nailed that role. I would love to see how “the stories” are true. With these spinoff movies, I feel there’s more room for creativity–it’s not locked in so much in terms of tone and vibe. Solo aimed to be a heist film, which would have been fantastic, but unfortunately just missed the mark.

Yet I do like the idea of mixing it up with different genres, as though each director brings their own flair to the Star Wars universe, within reason. It has worked at times the for Batman and Superman franchises. For instance, anthology films have made a comeback, particularly in Europe, thanks to movies like Ghost Stories and The Field Guide to Evil. Lando’s spinoff may work best in that format, where it’s a set of short stories all loosely connected together; just something different, mixing it up. Of course, you’ve got to get permission from the fanbase first. Yikes!

Derek Thompson: 

I’d rather Rian Johnson not touch Star Wars again.

Sarah Bennett: 

For me, everything depends on the writing. Not terribly interested in Boba Fett, since we had a cursory glance with the (awful) prequels. Lando could be fascinating, but again, it depends on the writing.

But count me in for Obi-Wan. He was pivotal to the original trilogy and I’m disappointed he didn’t make an appearance in TLJ (Come on! Just a quick CGI of Sir Alex next to Yoda would’ve been magnificent!).

Trey Soto:

Definitely excited for Obi-Wan. I have been wanting that for so long and I really hope we get it soon. Even though I am more of the Dark Side (have been since 1998 when I first saw Star Wars), Obi-Wan has been my favorite protagonist in both the originals and prequels. I’m kind of interested in Boba Fett considering his death was highly laughable and his impact on the Star Wars films was second rate other than his uniform.

Tyler Hummel:

In light of the recent news of the spin-off films being scrapped, I think that ultimately not having many more spin-offs would benefit the series. I’m totally on board with Rian Johnson doing his own thing for a trilogy. I hope whatever editorial dust-up is currently ongoing at Disney gets resolved without him losing his gig. I’m also really excited to see what the Game of Thrones writers have cooking. They haven’t confirmed what they’re working on yet but considering their wheelhouse I’m hoping what they end up doing winds up being an adaptation of Knights of the Old Republic. That would be tremendously fresh territory to stretch the franchise out into.

What SHOULD Disney do going forward?

Juliana Purnell:

I feel that in order to answer the question, one has to find the root of the problem, which is multi-faceted. I have a lot of thoughts, so it might be best if I dot point them for ease:

  • Star Wars was a landmark film for cinema as a whole. Deep down, people know that the more films that are created, the more the gloss of the originals are going to be tarnished because the chances are that they won’t live up to their legacy.
  • People may not have agreed with everything George Lucas did, but they respected the fact that it was his dream and creation. Now that the property has been opened up to other people, there’s more room for criticism and less cohesion with the direction of the brand.
  • Since it’s an old franchise, there has been a lot of fan fiction (or “fanon”) generated since Star Wars’ inception, and the studio will be up against the fanbase’s cognitive dissonance when those ideas aren’t adopted.
  • Fans say they want more Star Wars films, but they haven’t accepted that it also means the happy endings of their beloved characters will be destroyed in order to make room for a new adventure.
  • There’s this weird attitude right now where somehow only Marvel is allowed to have a cinematic universe. Also, there have been a LOT of “spectacle” films lately, and I’m starting to sense that maybe it’s starting to tire audiences (or maybe I’m just optimistic). So fans aren’t welcoming the idea of committing to another movie universe that’s going to bombard them every year.
  • Unlike other fandoms, Star Wars hasn’t been rebooted or reimagined as of yet. So the fans are going to experience some growing pains when this eventually occurs.

While Disney will want to get a return on investment with the franchise as soon as possible, I think it may be best if they pump the brakes for a while. Solo revealed two things: the fanbase is rather fickle and its power has been underestimated, and that Star Wars works best when it’s something “special” and not an annual event. With sequels, in general, being splashed out across screens, audiences have grown wise to the idea that it’s all a moneymaking strategy. If Disney pops out a film simply because it was set on the calendar, people will grow weary of the poor quality.

So first Disney needs to complete the current trilogy, and then just check the pulse of the franchise and the health of cinema as a whole (Marvel could be on the outs by then, and there could be a greater demand for a particular genre that Disney could exploit). From there, they should take a page from Pixar’s book and only make films if they’ve got a story worth telling. It could be in two years time, it might be a decade. But by trickling out films, fans will be more receptive (as absence makes the heart grow fonder) and theoretically, the quality should be higher, therefore ensuring the longevity of the franchise.

Derek Thompson: 

They don’t realize just what a rabid fanbase this is and just how much they screwed up by negating the EU. It might be too late for an entire reboot of the new stuff, but I have one (well two) basic suggestions. Remove Rian Johnson (too many fans hate him now) from the entire franchise, have Kathleen Kennedy step aside and put Dave Filoni in as the Kevin Feige of Star Wars. The dude successfully incorporated EU stuff (Thrawn), created one of the most liked characters (Ahsoka), and managed to make six seasons of a show where ANAKIN SKYWALKER IS LIKABLE.

He is the only one left with any clout who truly understands Star Wars, IMO. Quit hiring random big-name directors and put someone who’s been in deep with the universe for a long time over it. Also, there are thirty years where they can weave in the EU where they can, to appease fans. Like, make a Luke movie that shows him meeting and growing attached to Mara Jade, but maybe in this universe, it doesn’t work out. But you can still work in SOME appeasement for EU people like Filoni did with Thrawn.

Sarah Bennet: 

Go back to the George Lucas drawing board. I’m not saying to recycle the characters line by line because the vision should move forward. But strip the new characters back to simple motivations: Luke had nothing left to lose, Han was a hustler, Leia a princess. Rely less on CGI to tell the story (I’m eyeballing you, Grand Moff Tarkin). Hopefully, they don’t churn out new Star Wars movies every year. We fans live for long, agonizing waits and camping in front of theatres.

Trey Soto:

In terms of Star Wars? I personally think a trilogy or series on The Knights of the Old Republic would be awesome. It would definitely be something new that does not rely heavily on the Skywalker family let alone the original cast. While Knights of the Old Republic is not new to Star Wars fans, it would be great to see it on the big screen because it actually would be something new, cinematic wise. Honestly, I doubt that Lucasfilms/Disney would allow it since they threw out the foundations of Star Wars in the novels, comics, games, and so on. Still, there is that glimmer of hope.

Tyler Hummel:

There are two things I’d like to suggest.

What I personally hope they do is shake up the visual aesthetic of the franchise and place a series of movies in a brand new part of the timeline. I’ve heard so many people bring up that Star Wars is a limited campus for a science-fiction franchise but where the universe really finds its mileage is in the Expanded Universe where different time periods and factions are given room to breathe. The Old Republic, The Clone Wars, The New Republic, and the dozens of other conflicts and factions open up tons of space for potential refreshing takes on the franchise. Don’t focus every movie on the Galactic Civil War. It makes the visual iconography of the franchise stale.

Secondly, I believe strongly that Disney needs to trust its artists. So far the company has booted four directors off of three of their films before the films have been released and it’s created a PR nightmare for the studio. They need to find talented artists like Rian Johnson and honor their visions and ideas. Maybe this means that they honestly do need an editorial shake-up if Colin Trevorrow’s claims of Disney’s work environment being toxic are true. I just hope that Disney has the bravery to find artists with the ability to match talent with voice to create films that people will love for decades to come. Star Wars deserves nothing less.

With all that said what are your thoughts on the recent four films? The Prequels? The Future? Star Wars in General?

Let us know down in the comments. Please be respectful! We all love Star Wars!

Tyler Hummel

Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, a College Fix Fellow, and a member of the Music City Film Critics Association. He has contributed to Geeks Under Grace, The Living Church, North American Anglican, Baptist News Global, The Tennessee Register, Angelus News, The Dispatch, Voeglin View, Hollywood in Toto, Law and Liberty, The Federalist, Main Street Nashville, Leaders Media, and the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee.

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