When George Lucas decided to sell his beloved creation to Disney, he handpicked a seasoned producer to run Lucasfilm. Not just any seasoned producer. Kathleen Kennedy has a fabulous track record in Hollywood. As Steven Spielberg’s go-to producer, she has helped turn out some memorable movies over the past three decades. Iconic films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET are just a sampling of what she’s accomplished in her long and successful career. However, her appointment was quickly overshadowed by Lucasfilm deciding to abolish all prior canon content post-Return of the Jedi. Years and years of the continuing heroics of Luke, Han, and Leia were now meant to be accepted as Legends material. It was not the worst move, but a completely surprising one. Fans wondered what would happen next if all the canon stories were obsolete. Kathleen didn’t keep us waiting long.
Before we could finish mourning the demise of the canon material, a new trilogy of films was announced and fans went mad with excitement and speculation. The first film was to be directed by JJ Abrams, himself a huge Star Wars fan. Anticipation reached a fevered pitch once we were shown the first new footage. That was followed soon by a full trailer and we were introduced to Rey, our newest heroine. Once Han and Chewie showed up at the end, and Han revealed that they were home, fans were ready for the movie. The Force Awakens was a huge success, earning more than two billion worldwide, including almost one billion domestically. And Lucasfilm promised more. In 2016, we got Rogue One, and if you have not seen the last six minutes of that film, you missed something that made Star Wars great back in the 70s: The iconic Darth Vader in full Sith Lord mode and the first appearance of one of our beloved Skywalkers. Rogue One went on to earn more than one billion worldwide as well and we were promised a new Star Wars film every year. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, to answer that question, Kathleen hired Rian Johnson. Once she did that, shots were fired. Only the fans did not know of those shots until the eagerly awaited Episode 8 came to theaters. We spent days attending Star Wars Celebration and watching repeat footage on YouTube. Rian Johnson seemed like he was the ultimate fan and ultimately fooled us all. But more on that later. Kathleen spent a lot of time that year telling fans how great Episode 8 was, and because we were all happy—at that point—at what we were hearing coming down the pipeline (Kenobi and Yoda standalone films), we soaked up her words and just knew she had fans' best interests at heart. She would not let us down. But she did. She just collapsed the entire franchise and she, along with Rian Johnson, released the travesty that was Episode 8 and divided the fanbase. The really bad thing about all of that is the treatment given to fans afterwards. It was as if there was no respect given from Kathleen or the company she was now the head of. This powerful Hollywood legend, who should be remembered for a plethora of great films, has now become known as the woman who destroyed Star Wars. But she had help, which brings us to reason two...
When Looper came out in 2012, it was well-received as a great sci-fi film and seemed destined to become iconic. Starring fan favorites Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt did not hurt its popularity. We all wanted to know who the director was and the name Rian Johnson became a household word almost overnight. After the success of The Force Awakens, it was announced that Rian would be writing and directing the sequel, and again, the fans went nuts. That excitement would only escalate as once again Star Wars Celebration was a huge hit. Rian was all over the place, taking selfies with fans, doing panels, and his joy at working on Episode 8 was contagious. Fans expected to see Luke take the lightsaber from Rey and together they would stop the First Order, or at least begin to in the sequel. Just like in Empire Strikes Back decades earlier. We learned the name of the film on January 23, 2017; The Last Jedi was a perfect episode title and hinted at great things to come. Once the trailer was released, all bets were off. The happiness I know I felt watching Rey practice lightsaber skills while Luke looked on took me back to my childhood. I, like many other fans, watched endless hours of Collider: Beyond the Trailer, Star Wars Explained and many other fan sites gave way to endless speculation.
Along the way, Rian repeatedly told us we were all wrong. Our Snoke theories sucked and things of that nature. Of course, we didn’t believe him. But it turned out he was not lying. Not one little bit.
Like so many other Star Wars fans, I was so happy to see the film that it was not until my second viewing that I realized how much of a disappointment it was. The questions and plot threads that JJ set up in Episode 7 were entirely ignored. Rian wrote what I like to call "Fast and Furious in Space." That aside, there was no connecting tissue to The Force Awakens or any other Star Wars film for that matter.
Then the fan backlash began. We were split: Those who loved the film and those who despised it. To the latter, Rian became increasingly antagonistic, even resorting to name-calling. His tweets became the fodder for angry fans everywhere, and even drew some who loved the film to switch sides. It was all a really bad time. So bad that both Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy have not been heard from for most of the year following the film’s release.
'The Last Jedi'
I rewatched The Force Awakens yesterday and had a blast. There are so many cool scenes, it is hard to pick a favorite, though for a time the Force Back vision was it. I still love that and I was hoping to see the answers to everything Rey saw revealed in the sequel. So did many other fans it seems, and we were all let down. Tremendously. Let me say that I am a huge fan of Rey and I feel Daisy Ridley portrays her as best she can with the content she is given. JJ did a much better job with her than Rian. But then again, JJ created her character, so of course he knows who she is. And that shows when both films are watched back to back. Some say Rey is a Mary Sue who does everything right all of the time, but I do not believe that is where JJ Abrams was going with the character. Episode 7 was called The Force Awakens, and that is what it did in Rey. All at once, mind you. And as such, she had no idea what was going on inside of her except she was suddenly powerful. She knew about Luke Skywalker and the Force, but since she was just a scavenger, it never occurred to her that she could have such power. Her awakening began on Jakku, and came to a head once she touched Luke’s blue lightsaber and had the vision. She became powerful and had no idea why. The Force was guiding her more and more as Kylo himself stated later in the film. Everyone was looking for her, as the phrase "what girl?" became a mantra throughout the film. As if she was expected somehow. But I digress.
Despite Rey being the catalyst for having our questions answered and seeing her grow as a character, we were subjected to the opposite. JJ Abrams is on record stating he had a plan for the entire trilogy, which Rian Johnson chose not to follow. Instead, he wrote his own original script, and in doing so, ripped Star Wars to pieces.
The first time I saw the film, I thought the opening was amazing. The camera maneuvered through the escaping Resistance ships until it showed the boots on the ground witnessing the First Order coming out of hyperspace above the planet. It did not look good for our heroes. The film changed almost immediately after that scene, and in my estimation, never recovered.
Literally, the entire film is about the First Order trying to catch up to the Resistance ships because they are too far out of range for the Destroyer cannons. Well duh, it was proven in the film that TIE fighters could catch the Resistance ships and fire on them as Kylo did in his ship. One of his TIE fighters even destroyed the bridge Leia was standing on. We saw the interior of a First Order Destroyer in The Force Awakens. There were tons of TIE Fighters docked there and in The Last Jedi, the Resistance was being pursued not just by Destroyers, but Snoke’s flagship as well. One hundred Ties would have wiped out the fleet long before Finn and Rose made it back from their side mission to save the fleet.
While the Resistance was channeling their inner Fast and Furious, Rey meets with Luke who is nothing like the Luke we left in Return of the Jedi. There, he was victorious, having learned the Force and brought his dad back from the dark side. Everything was looking up for future Jedi training. Instead, Luke loses one student at his school and decides to play anti-Yoda. The sheer stupidity of his reasoning boggles the mind. In The Force Awakens, he left the map with Lor San Tekka so he could be found. In The Last Jedi, he declares he did no such thing, but flew to Ahch To to die. Okay. So he proceeds to show Rey why he won’t train her. At that point, fans realized the trailer had been bait and switch. In fact, some of the scenes we cheered for in the trailers were not even in the final film.
The biggest letdown though was in Rey not really growing as a character. In fact, she regressed a bit. She was still powerful, but not very focused. And she lacked motive in a lot of things. At the end of TFA, she is shown handing Luke his lightsaber and that was significant because she had expectations and she needed answers. She was let down both times, as were we, the fans.
The final nails in the coffin though came at the end of the film, and later in real life. Luke perishes while using the Force he had admittedly closed off from. And we lost Carrie Fisher to a heart attack. And considering JJ killed off Han Solo in TFA (which was kinda okay really), Star Wars fans never got a chance to see the original trilogy cast on the big screen doing one more great mission together. Just one last time. And now that opportunity is gone forever. I remember how good it felt to see the Return of the Jedi trailer as a boy. When the clip was shown of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie approaching Vader’s Star Destroyer, I remember being happy to see my heroes together again. Especially after seeing them get their butts handed to them in The Empire Strikes Back. This new trilogy missed every opportunity to have even the semblance of that happening. Having lost Han, I at least expected the Skywalker twins to put some wrecking on Kylo and crew, but nope. Instead we got the nails in the coffin.
There are other things that I can name that are also killing Star Wars as a brand. The increasingly bad cartoons that don’t even come close to the grandeur of Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars. The greedy corporations attacking and threatening to close down Star Wars Theory due to the Vader fan film. And all of the above is going on with Star Wars Celebration being just two months away. I personally would love to attend just to hear if there will be any boos when certain people come onstage. The bad treatment of the fans has earned them those boos. I am personally not as excited about the franchise as I used to be. I plan to see Episode 9 only because I am a huge JJ Abrams fan and I have seen him work magic with his storytelling. But afterwards, I think I am done. I personally have beyond hope that Disney fires Kathleen and throws out plans for a Rian Johnson trilogy. Because of what he did, I have zero interest in even his non-Star Wars films at this point. And as I stated before, Kathleen did really good work in her early career, but her legacy seems like it will only be that of the woman who killed Star Wars.