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My thoughts on the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy

 

When I originally heard that a Sequel Trilogy was being made, I was excited to see what was going to be done because it felt like the possibilities were endless and it'd be great to see the old cast back. But then when I heard George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney, I wasn't sure how to feel. While most of his later films weren't the strongest in terms of quality (I like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, don't @ me), I didn't mind because that tends to happen with any filmmaker. But I just didn't understand at all the vitriol hatred Lucas was getting. Star Wars and Indiana Jones wouldn't exist without him. What would they be like now without him? What was Disney going to do? All I could do was wait and see.

Now having watched all three films in the Sequel Trilogy, I'll be able to give my overall thoughts.

First, I do agree with the major criticism that J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, or whoever was in charge needed a plan to charter where things were going to go with the story and characters. A road map if you will because, without it, the three films go in different directions, taking random exits, and even a few U-Turns. As a result, some plot elements and characters are introduced and forgotten or randomly introduced and not given much to do, lacking consistency. Having consistency would have also have made sure that all the future sequel filmmakers would have been on the same page and saved them from having to scramble in case their predecessor made any drastic changes.

Individually, here are my thoughts on the three films:

Episode 7: The Force Awakens: On the first watch, I had good fun with it. I liked the introduction of the three new characters Rey, Finn, and Poe, as well as the introduction of Maz Kanata. Also enjoyed how they brought back the mysticism and magic of the Force and the Jedi as well. Found the callbacks to A New Hope a little bit on the nose (like a planet-sized Death Star) but it was understandable. Did not care for Kylo Ren at all then, thinking he made Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker look like Alec Guinness's Obi-Wan Kenobi in comparison, and was interested in Snoke a whole lot more. Also, didn't really care for the fate of Han Solo because it was telegraphed pretty obviously.

On second viewing, liked it even better, catching details that I missed beforehand that cleared up some of the earlier problems: The First Order was born from the ashes of the Empire so the Starkiller Base made sense, and also got a better sense of Kylo Ren and found him to be a fairly interesting character. Just not a very threatening one. I think my favorite film of the Sequel Trilogy.

Episode 8: The Last Jedi: On first viewing, I was left pretty disappointed. A lot of character elements didn't make sense or felt forced, sudden twists or story turns felt underwhelming and like they were winking at the audience, some really bad pacing in one section of the film, and I just didn't have very much fun with it. Had some good ideas and themes, but didn't like how they were executed.

On second viewing, however, I actually liked it a bit better. Rey and Finn's arcs made a lot more sense and tied in pretty well to their arcs in The Force Awakens, and I got a better sense of Kylo and Luke's as well. Also liked how it expanded the Star Wars universe a bit further and added a little more complexity and the section of the film that I felt had bad pacing originally, went by a lot quicker and smoother this time for me because of Finn's character arc (although one or two elements still felt a bit forced). Also got a better sense of the Rose character as well. BUT, and this is a big but, I still feel like Poe's whole arc was problematic (if Poe hadn't blown up the Dreadnaught, it could still have followed the Resistance and blown it to smithereens with its big cannons, if Holdo had told him from the get-go about the plan, I have a feeling he would have understood and accepted it pretty quickly because he did so pretty quickly when Leia and the others told him. If Finn was able to get that close to the cannon, why couldn't Poe? Blowing up said cannon would have hindered the First Order for enough time for them to escape. Plus Poe realizing that Luke had come as a distraction for them to escape felt like a better ending to his arc than backing away from the cannon. Still my least favorite of the Sequel Trilogy, but like it more than I originally did.

Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker: Has some genuinely strong and effectively emotional moments, fun action, new planets and creatures that appealed to the space opera fan and kid in me. Despite some of the plot twists and revelations being a little underwhelming, confusing, or stupid, I ultimately was able to buy most of them and just have fun. One twist was explored quite well though and left me pretty emotionally satisfied by the end of the film. I will admit though, a lot of character arcs were left dangling/not much was done with them like Finn and Poe's or some characters were introduced mainly just to mislead the audience of where certain character arcs would end up. Did like some of the cameos like Lando's and Wedge's despite not too much being done with them. Also thought Leia's sendoff was nicely done.

I mentioned in my review of Rise of Skywalker that fans of the other two films might be disappointed, but if you view it casually as just a big random space opera adventure like I did, you might have a good time. I say that ultimately because I didn't really go into the film with any kind of expectations, other than to see what would be answered. A horrible thing to say, I know. As an avid filmgoer and wanting to make films of my own, I should go into every movie, expecting and hoping they're of at least decent quality, right? Well, to be frank, the Sequel Trilogy kind of burned me out a bit.

Not so much the films themselves, although the evidence/effects are apparent in their viewings, but because of the factors outside the films: Lucasfilm and the "fandom". One thing I didn't mention in the ROS review is how Abrams seems to take pains in ignoring/rewriting some elements that The Last Jedi created or changed/disregarded from Abrams' own The Force Awakens, even though he was a producer of TLJ and he said he liked what Rian Johnson did. It's well known that The Last Jedi left audiences very divided about its quality, even to a toxic level: bashing others who disagreed with them,  having the attitude of "I'm right, you're wrong, my way or the highway!" and "people who like/dislike this aren't "true fans!", and worst of all, attacking and sending death threats to the director and the poor actors on social media.

My immediate answer to that, of course, is there are no such things as "true fans". They're movies, plain and simple. They're not going to appeal to everybody and people are allowed to have different opinions about something. That's part of the fun of it too: spending hours hearing those opinions and how others view certain things and just discussing those films and topics. Not only might you have your own opinion changed as a result, but they could lead to really fun debates (as an example, I highly recommend watching Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper's review of Attack of the Clones. Their debate over Yoda gets absolutely hilarious!).

Being toxic and forcing one's opinion onto someone else, however, will only serve to sap this fun out of the conversations, and most people don't really want that.

Unfortunately, this toxic division has been the most vocal and attention-grabbing to Lucasfilm and despite their initial brushing off of it, they seem to have listened and gone along with it to please that group, hinting at it both while promoting the film and in the film itself.

Not to get on a soapbox or anything, but while I totally get that filmmaking is a business (you need money to keep making more projects after all) and Lucasfilm is part of a corporation, filmmaking is also an art form that allows artists to not only shine a light on what's going on in the world but also to express themselves as individuals and to make films that they personally would like to see, sometimes inspired by media that they grew up with.

While the Sequel Trilogy is made by people who grew up with the other Star Wars movies, this time around it, unfortunately, felt like they were just following company orders with the same mindset that Lucas himself derided the studios for in the 60s: "Our market research says this, so you make that" (and I absolutely hate saying that because I like a lot of the people that are involved, especially Daisy Ridley and John Boyega who make an excellent Rey and Finn!).

On the other hand, maybe after this whole experience, Lucasfilm has learned from its mistakes and having stepped back to take a couple years break, will eventually put what they learned into practice if they haven't already (Saw all of The Mandalorian. It is quite awesome and I'll try to review it if I have time). We'll have to wait and see.

For the time being though, whenever the Star Wars films are mentioned in conversation, the only ones I'll be thinking of (my head-canon if you will) is the Original Trilogy from 1977 to 1983, not just because those were the ones that I grew up with and their being some of the core films that inspired me to become a filmmaker, but also because of what they started out as: a film fan reminiscing about the media he digested as a kid and wanting to bring it back because "they don't make 'em like they used to". In George Lucas's case, it was the action/adventure and science-fiction serials of his youth, the Golden Age of the Western, samurai films by Akira Kurosawa, swashbucklers like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, old daring World War 2 films, and the classic storytelling of myths, legends, and fairy tales like King Arthur, Beowulf, and The Brothers Grimm, among others. As a result, Lucas was able to create something new and unique that was inspired by old and classically familiar sources combined together and had the help of a skillfully talented cast and crew to get his vision to where it needed to be. This is the kind of film that I hope to make, and the kind of film that a lot of others have made as well (even better, it's inspired me to check out some of those inspirations as well like the Flash Gordon serials, The Hidden Fortress, and hopefully some of the World War 2 films like The Dam Busters).

While Lucas did eventually become the head of a corporation, Star Wars became a franchise, and mistakes were made with both, he still seems to have never lost that creative spirit: staying true to his vision, maintaining a consistency in his work, making the kinds of films that he would like to see, and mentoring other filmmakers.

Star Wars still remains one of my favorite movies to this day, not just for the adventurous thrills, action-packed cliffhangers, sci-fi escapism, and mythical characters, but because of its story that anyone can relate to: finding one's potential, escaping our limitations, and doing good in the outside world. Embarking on our own heroic journeys.




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