With The Rise of Skywalker weeks away, let?s look back at its controversial predecessor.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi pissed off a lot of Star Wars fans. That much is entirely certain.
I wasn?t one of those fans; I absolutely loved The Last Jedi, and I will defend that movie with my dying breath. But as I discussed the movie with a friend of mine- one who unequivocally loves Star Wars more than even I do, and one who very much disliked The Last Jedi, I came to a realization. It wasn?t The Last Jedi that let down so many fans.
It was The Force Awakens.
While I loved Luke?s story in The Last Jedi, I can understand how so many fans didn?t. After all, Luke was a legend, and instead of getting that legend, we got a tired, broken man. A man who had ultimately failed and caused irreparable harm to the galaxy. A man who, by all rights, was responsible for the rise of Kylo Ren and, by extension, the First Order.
Luke was a man who had set out to save the galaxy from the Empire, and had, in all honesty, handed the next empire their most dangerous weapon. He had failed. He was an outcast. He had banished himself to a remote planet, where he intended to live out his life and die in anonymity.
Honestly, it is a very compelling story. But it was one that was hard to swallow for a lot of fans, and now, looking back, I think that has nothing to do with The Last Jedi, and everything to do with The Force Awakens.
That?s because The Force Awakens paints a very different picture of Luke Skywalker. In The Force Awakens, we see that everyone knows the name Luke Skywalker. He?s the legendary hero of the Rebellion. He?s as famous in the galaxy far, far away as Winston Churchill is to us. He?s someone that everyone has heard of, even if they weren?t even alive when he did whatever he did.
It?s true. All of it. The Force, the Jedi. It?s all true.
All we learn of Luke is that he went off to find the first Jedi temple. We get a couple hints that something went wrong when he tried to train the next generation of Jedi- a group which included Ben Solo- but that?s all we get. A couple flashes in Rey?s vision when she picks up his lightsaber, and a quest to find the map to Skywalker. But to everyone we encounter in the first movie- literally everyone- he is a revered legend (or a feared Jedi master, if you are in the First Order).
No wonder when we found Luke- and found what had become of him and why he had disappeared- it was a little jarring.
By all rights, The Last Jedi played its part in this story perfectly. Its biggest fault was that it was undersold by The Force Awakens.
Imagine, for a moment, that Force Awakens told a different version of Luke?s legend. What if everyone knew Luke?s name, but not because he was a hero to the galaxy, but because he was an outcast? What if the galaxy knew that Luke had failed them, that he had been the catalyst, the spark that had ignited the First Order? What if the galaxy knew that Luke Skywalker was directly responsible for allowing the First Order- for Snoke and Kylo Ren- to rise up and take back what his precious Rebellion had fought so hard to win?
What if The Force Awakens had told us that Luke Skywalker wasn?t revered as a war hero, but was considered a war criminal, and he had fled the galaxy, ashamed of what he had done?
Cause that?s basically the story that The Last Jedi tells us of Luke. And it is damn compelling. And it?s a damn shame that The Force Awakens didn?t have any part in telling that story.
Now, before we get too deep into pointing our fingers at one movie or another, it?s best to remember that, at the end of the day, these are just movies. And even though these are Star Wars movies, frankly, I never expected these movies to exceed the originals. I personally hold The Last Jedi right up there with The Empire Strikes Back, but ultimately, whether you love them or hate them, remember that they don?t diminish your love for the original trilogy.
The bigger problem today isn?t whether The Last Jedi ruined Star Wars or if The Force Awakens really did a piss-poor job of setting up the sequel. The problem is expectation.
When Hollywood announces they are going to follow up a beloved movie or TV show, we have to manage our expectations. Hollywood seems to think there is safety in sequels (and they aren?t wrong, look at how much money Marvel makes every year), but there is also a real danger in them too, when it comes to returning to a franchise that everyone holds in such high regards.
The Star Wars prequels didn?t live up to the originals, and neither, frankly, do the sequels (though they are much, much better). But the same can be said for other franchises. The Hobbit trilogy didn?t live up to The Lord of the Rings. Fantastic Beasts doesn?t quite live up to Harry Potter. Terminator sequels continuously fail to live up to the first two movies. And it is this near constant constant that has me a little worried about the upcoming Picard show.
We?ll see in a month how The Rise of Skywalker does to close the franchise. The trailers look amazing, and I think we are in for a real treat of a story, and that is thanks to The Last Jedi?s path. But remember, if you don?t like The Rise of Skywalker, it was never meant to live up to the originals; it was only meant to follow them.
One thing my friend made clear to me as we discussed The Last Jedi is that it wasn?t simply Luke?s story that upset a lot of fans; it was the lack of regard for the history of the franchise. Namely, the Expanded Universe.
Granted, when Disney announced the sequels (as well as other Star Wars properties like Rogue One and The Mandalorian), they made it clear that the Star Wars Expanded Universe- all the books, comics, and video games that had been released since the original trilogy came out- were no longer canon. ?Legends? they were now called, but nothing more than that.
That was done to give the writers and directors of the upcoming movies freedom to tell a new story, but many fans still expected those writers and directors to utilize the vast history that the EU had cultivated over the decades. Even if they didn?t adapt the Jedi Academy series directly, they could pull inspiration from them.
That didn?t happen. For the most part, J.J. Abrams and his team crafted a whole new trajectory for the galaxy. And while for someone like me- who has probably read all of ten books in the Expanded Universe (there are, roughly, around 300?400 stories)- it didn?t seem to matter that they were carving their own path through the galaxy far, far away, for fans who had spent years reading each and every new Star Wars book that came out (and there are some damn good ones out there), it was like a slap in the face.
More so when Luke Skywalker ended up taking a very different path than the books had given him. While I love Luke?s very human and real story in The Last Jedi, for someone who knew what Luke?s life had been like in the Expanded Universe, I can understand how upsetting it was.
Perhaps, as my friend put it, Lucasfilm should have used the Expanded Universe in the same way Marvel Studios uses Marvel Comics, as a jumping point, a basis for the story that they are going to tell. Not directly an adaptation, but clearly an homage to what the fans already know and clearly love.
I?m not saying I really have a problem with the new movies; even if I think The Force Awakens may have let Luke Skywalker down a bit, I still absolutely love the movie, and the sequel. I loved Rogue One, I definitely love The Mandalorian, and I even loved Solo: the Han Solo Solo Movie. A part of me will always wonder what they Star Wars sequel trilogy would have looked like if it had taken more inspiration from the Expanded Universe, but I am still very much happy with what I?ve been given, and I?ve already got my tickets for Rise of Skywalker.