I would say that the dust surrounding The Last Jedi has settled, but I am not entirely sure that this is true. As I was preparing some other things I wanted to write about The Last Jedi, it suddenly dawned on me that Disney made a tremendous mistake before even beginning the story.
The brought back the original cast.
No, don’t go away, here me out.
For the past 40 years(!), two generations of fans have wanted to know what happened after the end of Return of the Jedi. Many fans turned to the expanded universe novels (a friend in high school considered the Heir to the Empire trilogy to be Episodes VII-IX) but more frequently, fans simply developed their own head cannons. In other words, they made up what they wanted to see next for the characters.
This presents a number of problems.
First of all, the vast majority of Star Wars fans wanted two things that are diametrically opposed to one another.
1 They wanted a new chapter for the heroes.
2 They wanted the heroes to persist in Happily Ever After.
These two wants cannot be reconciled. The essence of drama is conflict. If Luke, Han, and Leia persist in Happily Ever After, then there is no new chapter. If the Heroes get a new story, then they will no longer persist in Happily Ever After.
This is why the audience is so upset that Han and Leia’s marriage didn’t end well, and that their only son fell to the Dark Side after neither one of them did a particularly good job of raising him. They feel that this discredits both Han and Leia, who should have had a happy, conflict free marriage with perfect children and rainbows and bunnies and sunshine. Unfortunately, if that’s what happens, then there is no story. They cannot have it both ways.
Second of all, as soon as the original characters show up, it undercuts the audience’s attachments to the new characters in the trilogy. So many people watched Episode VII thinking that the original characters were the most important characters, and that the new characters exist to complement them. This is backwards. The original characters exist to complement the new characters. This is one of the main reasons why Luke is the way he is in Episode VIII; because Rey’s character needs Luke to be the way that he is.
If Rey had been seeking out a Jedi we had never met before, say Luke’s great-grandson or a random Jedi, the audience would have had no difficulty accepting the character’s portrayal.
We see the same thing with Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren needs parental figures who failed him terribly. But because the audience sees Han, Luke, and Leia as the heroes of this trilogy, they want to bend the new characters to accommodate Han, Luke, and Leia.
Here’s what Disney should have done instead.
The opening crawl should have started with the following lines.
It has been 100 years since the end of the Empire. The heroes of the rebellion are but a dim memory.
This would have given the writers the freedom to do what they needed to do to move the Star Wars story and universe forward. Rich Evans (and Red Letter Media) is correct. The Star Wars universe is incredibly limited and there are few stories that they can currently tell.
In large part, this is because they have not made the effort to push the universe beyond the boundaries of what Star Wars is and could be. (Basically, Star Wars needs a Deep Space Nine.) By bringing back the original characters, they locked themselves into a world of fan service and rehashing images and stories from prior films. The limited themselves creatively.
Why would they do that?
To be fair, it’s not entirely Disney’s fault. As Just Write points out, films are so expensive today that one failure can hobble a studio. This means that they try to be completely loyal to the source material, even at the expense of making a good film. Lucasfilm is so terrified of doing anything other than rehashing prior films that they cannot make the decisions that they need to make the universe more expansive. (For the most part.) We need to encourage creative people to be creative and to use pre-existing stories as a jumping off point for their own visions, and we need to encourage fans to be open their visions.
It’s far too early to guess how Episode IX will end and how the film will be received. (I have very little faith in J.J. Abrams, see Star Trek Into Darkness.) It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Mike Stoklasa’s prediction that Episode IX central conflict will involve a giant Super Weapon that’s shaped like a sphere ultimately comes to pass. But if the trilogy is ultimately disliked, I truly believe that it will be because they decided to include Luke, Han, and Leia in the film. In a most unfortunate blessing, Carrie Fisher’s death will give the filmmakers the opportunity to create a film without the original cast members. And yet, I fear it may be too late to undo the damage.