Star Wars: Episode IX is destined to be one of the biggest releases of the year. So, why are we asking if it can be saved?
Star Wars is one of the most beloved franchises of all time, perhaps the most. Far from the nerdy counterparts which have followed in its footsteps, the series has permeated throughout popular culture to reach an unprecedented market. The original trilogy is heralded as one of the all-time greatest and thanks to its iconic status, those who were to watch it for the very first time would have little surprises in store. It’s a global phenomenon; what’s happening?
J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens saw the series return after the much-debated prequel films. Although mostly discussed negatively, the prequels still maintain a sense of puzzling popularity. Abrams’ attempts to return the franchise to its roots, yet also to embrace modernity, definitely worked. The film was a tremendous box-office success and seemed to win over critics and audiences alike. Of course, some felt that it was way too reliant on the familiarity of the original trilogy, yet, in its defence, it perhaps needed that to prove how much fun the series could be after the tedium of George Lucas’ recent additions.
Fans and general audiences were on board and excited for the second instalment, which proved to be the franchise’s most divisive instalment to date. Rian Johnson - director of the phenomenal Brick - took over directorial duties from Abrams, bringing the world Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. Against all odds, the sequel was even more of a critical success; fans, on the other hand…
There’s a pretty funny saying which goes a little something like this: “Well, nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans”. This was certainly the case for The Last Jedi. Internet debate continues to this day and if you’re extra lucky, you’ll still catch punters at the bar giving it a good, loud bashing so everyone can hear; often, they’re wearing Star Wars t-shirts, obviously. There was uproar regarding plot details, narrative time-wasting, character arcs and most noticeably the addition of certain female characters. The film’s reception even triggered a debate surrounding sexism, with claims that its detractors had issues with women - some of which undoubtedly did. However, it’s too broad of a generalisation.
Star Wars: Episode IX is set to release at the end of 2019 and expectations for a blockbuster of such prestige and calibre have arguably never been so low. Even then, there are blockbusters that would kill to receive such buzz, but this is Star Wars we’re talking about. It was inevitable that the studio would retreat and go with someone other than Johnson, yet the fact they have chosen Abrams again to save the trilogy is perhaps indicative of what we’re going to get. Fans reacted heartily to the familiarity of his addition and then Johnson’s wildly contrary approach attracted overwhelming fanboy hostility. So, surely Abrams will just take the same approach again? It’s a little trickier than that.
It feels impossible, but today wrapped photography on Episode IX. There is no adequate way to thank this truly magical crew and cast. I’m forever indebted to you all. pic.twitter.com/138AprtFuZ— JJ Abrams (@jjabrams) February 15, 2019
A lot of the narrative decisions that Johnson orchestrated can’t exactly be reversed or forgotten but there’s reason to believe he’ll have a good crack at doing just that. There’s an immense amount of pressure on Abrams from a lot of fans to almost re-write the trilogy’s direction; pretty difficult when you’re handling the concluding chapter. At this point, we’ve seen him take the familiar approach, which means if he does so again he may just be called out on it. “You copied the formula last time, why not try something different now J.J.”... I can hear it now.
The Last Jedi left a disappointing, bitter taste on the tongue for plenty of audiences and the fans who hated it have - as they do - gone back to it multiple times to strengthen their arguments and fuel their anger. These audiences are going to flock to see Episode IX but they’ll be coming in hot. That’s not how cinema should be approached. If Star Wars: Episode IX is amazing, will it matter? Has the damage been done? There are those who will love it, as was the case for The Last Jedi, but in the case of this behemoth franchise, critique goes further than praise.
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