“Star Wars” will reach uncharted territory for the first time after “The Rise of Skywalker” is released and even Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy isn’t sure what will come next…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
When Disney paid $4 billion to purchase Lucasfilm — including franchises like “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” — from George Lucas, they weren’t buying it just to make special editions of all those past movies.
No, Disney is a money-making business so it didn’t take long after the Lucasfilm sale that they began plotting a new series of “Star Wars” films along with ambitious plans to expand that universe beyond the original films that Lucas first launched back in 1977.
First things first, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy had to plot a course for the three sequels that would take place in the aftermath of “Return of the Jedi”, which effectively finished the story that Lucas was telling at the time. Obviously fans were unbelievably excited to see legacy characters like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia return to the big screen but it was also a gamble to carry on that story following the original trilogy, which remains one of the most revered pieces of filmmaking in history.
The past two films — “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” — have been met with huge sums of money at the box office but mixed results when it comes to fan and critic reaction.
As successful as director J.J. Abrams was as reviving the “Star Wars” franchise with “The Force Awakens”, his film still dealt with a lot of blowback because it mirrored the original “Star Wars” film in almost every way possible. From the introduction of an unlikely hero (Luke and Rey) to a beloved character being killed (Obi-Wan and Han) to plans being smuggled away that led to the destruction of the ultimate weapon belonging to the bad guys (The Death Star and The Starkiller Base), it’s easy to see the similarities between the two movies.
Then came Rian Johnson’s divisive take on “The Last Jedi”, which received overwhelming positive reviews from critics but audience had a much different take. The film currently sits at an abysmal 44 percent with audiences over at Rotten Tomatoes.
That only serves to ratchet up the pressure for “The Rise of Skywalker”, which closes out the Skywalker Saga with Abrams back at the helm again. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Kennedy spoke about the difficulty in breaking the story for these films because the creative process is much tougher on a completely original concept like “Star Wars”.
“Every one of these movies is a particularly hard nut to crack,” Kennedy said. “There’s no source material. We don’t have comic books. We don’t have 800-page novels. We don’t have anything other than passionate storytellers who get together and talk about what the next iteration might be. We go through a really normal development process that everybody else does.
“You start by talking to filmmakers who you think exhibit the sensibilities that you’re looking for. And I would argue that the list is very small — people who really do have the sensibilities about these kind of movies, and then the experience and the ability to handle how enormous a job these movies are. So we try to be as thoughtful as we possibly can about making those choices.”
Once “The Rise of Skywalker” is released, Lucasfilm will go into even more uncharted territory as they look to carry on the “Star Wars” franchise without being anchored to the Skywalker Saga in any way, shape or form. The first taste of that new universe was unveiled with the launch of the Disney+ streaming service and the new series “The Mandalorian”, which loosely connects to the larger “Star Wars” story but doesn’t have any true ties to the original films or the new sequels.
Plans were originally in place for “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss to take a stab at three new “Star Wars” films but they recently dropped off the project while stating that they wanted to stay focused on their new nine-figure development deal at Netflix instead.
Unfortunately, Benioff and Weiss are just the latest filmmakers to exit the “Star Wars” franchise over “creative differences” but considering the lack of direction when it comes to the future, it’s getting harder and harder to put the blame back on the storytellers.
Case in point — Kennedy addressed the future of “Star Wars” in that same interview and she essentially said that there are no plans in place right now for where they will go next after “The Rise of Skywalker”.
“No [we haven’t decided what’s next],” Kennedy said. “We’ve got various things we’re looking at and various ways in which we can begin or not. As you can imagine. You know, do you go back? Do you go forward? All those questions are being asked.
“Do we stay in this galaxy? Do we go to another? The universe is never-ending. The good news and the bad news. They have endless possibilities. It’s liberating, it’s exciting, and it creates a lot of pressure and anxiety as well.”
That lack of direction should worry longtime “Star Wars” fans because in many ways it feels like that was the same approach that was taken with the most recent series of sequels.
After Abrams launched the new films with “The Force Awakens”, Johnson spent the better part of two hours undoing most of the character development started in that movie with his take on “The Last Jedi”. Now Abrams returns to the fold, presumably with a different idea in mind for how he plans to finish out the trilogy.
It begs the question — was there ever a real plan in place for these “Star Wars” sequels?
Because there was seemingly no grand design for “The Force Awakens”, “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker”, you have to begin wondering if “Star Wars” will ever correct course for the future beyond the Skywalker Saga. Maybe this third film will close out the trilogy in magnificent fashion but history says that’s not a guarantee by any stretch of the imagination. For better or worse, Lucas maintained control over the original films and ultimately told the story he wanted to tell. At this point, it’s not even remotely clear whose vision we’re witnessing in the latest “Star Wars” trilogy.
In fact if you really think about the 10 “Star Wars” films that currently exist, there are only two that seem to be universally beloved.
The first “Star Wars” film later retitled “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” are both hailed as cinematic genius but to this day there are fans who never quite got into the Muppet parade aka the Ewoks that took center stage in “Return of the Jedi”. Then came the prequels — and it’s fair to say those films were far from perfect.
“The Phantom Menace” failed to recapture the spirit of the original movies, especially with Lucas ditching traditional effects and opting to make everything shiny and new through CGI and advanced graphics. “Attack of the Clones” had a few solid moments but aging Anakin Skywalker from being six years old to a teenager — and then falling in love with a woman who was supposed to be at least 10 years his elder when they first met — was just creepy and kind of off putting. The most effective film in that series was “Revenge of the Sith” — and that’s mostly because the end result was going to lead to the downfall of the Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire and Darth Vader, which was obviously the easiest conclusion to reach with those prequels.
“Rogue One” was probably the most effective film that was released in the aftermath of “Return of the Jedi” but that was almost a stroke of luck after creative problems plagued that movie as well. The best moment of that entire movie — when Darth Vader arrives and goes HAM on the rebels trying to steal the plans to the Death Star — wasn’t even in the original version of the film.
Then came “Solo”, which was another movie that felt the brunt of those infamous “creative differences” that saw the original filmmakers exit the project midway through production only to be replaced by Ron Howard, who had to pick up the pieces as best he could. The end result wasn’t a terrible movie but it’s definitely not a film that even comes close to the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
With “The Rise of Skywalker” coming in December, Kennedy will have to brace for impact because if that film fails to live up to expectations, she might have an even tougher job ahead of her convincing people to stay loyal to this franchise.
You would hope that the masterminds at Lucasfilm would already have plotted the course for a strategy that would take “Star Wars” beyond the Skywalker Saga — perhaps with a series of films that take place even before the original prequels and then maybe a separate trilogy of movies that head off into the future in a completely different corner of the galaxy far, far away.
Instead, the giant question mark looming over Kennedy’s plans for what comes next puts the entire future of “Star Wars” in jeopardy.