With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker finally out in cinemas, the sequel trilogy of the beloved space opera franchise has come to a close. Ever since the release of The Force Awakens, the Star Wars sequel trilogy has been a subject of intense discussion and endless debate among the fandom. While many criticize it for its lack of vision and scale, many praise it for its accomplishments in recapturing the magic of the original trilogy.
Disney’s A New Hope
A year after Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, the mouse house released its first entry in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a direct sequel to a saga that was supposedly concluded 32 years prior to its release. Using the original Star Wars (now titled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) as a blueprint, The Force Awakens would go on and share many similarities with the original film including its narrative, tone and aesthetics.
The initial reactions to The Force Awakens were tremendously well received. Not only were fans of the franchise pleased, critics at the time hailed the film as a ‘return to form’ for the franchise. Despite many elements of the film being derivative of the original film, many agree that the film’s direction was a means to an end, a film specifically constructed with the goal to ‘win’ fans back after the prequels alienated
I Find your Lack of Vision Disturbing
Capitalising on nostalgia was an easy win, but it’s not one that comes without its cost. Following The Force Awakens, many were intrigued by the characters and the ‘mystery box’ approach that Abrams introduced. Who are Rey’s parents? Who is Snoke? Why did Luke Skywalker vanish? In more ways than one, The Force Awakens kicked off the sequel trilogy by setting up multiple mystery boxes to explore in later installments.
Then came The Last Jedi, a film that’s committed to subverting expectations of the audience instead of the advancement of the narrative. Rey’s parents were nobodies, Snoke doesn’t matter, and Luke Skywalker dies. Needless to say, The Last Jedi divided the fandom. Whatever your stance is on the film, one thing was apparent — there is no vision for the sequel trilogy.
On top of its tendency to subvert expectations, The Last Jedi is also notorious for injecting social commentary in the expense of its narrative. Whether its Finn and Rose participating in an animal awareness campaign midway through the film, or the not-so-subtle approach in critiquing plutocrats through forced expositional dialogue (Rich people = Bad), The Last Jedi is more interested in delivering a film that’s “hashtag” worthy on Twitter, instead of a truly mythological based story.
Sadly, the sequel trilogy’s reluctance in committing to a singular creative vision becomes painfully apparent in The Rise of Skywalker. With Abrams back at the directing helm, many creative decisions made in The Last Jedi were subsequently thrown off the cliff. Guys wait! Rey’s a Palpatine, there’s a jar of Snokes, and Luke Skywalker catches his father’s lightsaber!
In spite of the sequel trilogy’s undeniable highs (such as the action sequences, beautiful cinematography, as well as some of the best performances in all of Star Wars), the sequel trilogy can be defined as reactionary, as opposed to genuine or even necessary. The Force Awakens was a love letter written for the original trilogy, The Last Jedi was made to subvert expectations of the audience, and The Rise of Skywalker is essentially damage control. As the sequel trilogy closes on such a disappointing note, one question still remains: What was the point of this trilogy?
A Case for the Prequels
As disappointing as the prequel trilogy was (Everything from its clunky dialogue, wooden acting and over reliance on computer-generated effects), it never lost sight of its vision. While many have found parallels between the rise of the Emperor in Revenge of the Sith and the Bush administration, the themes of corruption and absolute power could be applied to any point in our history and still remain relevant. Whether it’s the rise of Julius Ceaser or the eerie similarities between Emperor Palpatine and Donald Trump, the themes of the Star Wars prequels transcend beyond political agendas and Twitter hashtags.
On top of its timeless themes, the prequel trilogy also succeeded tremendously in its attempt in world building and its overall contribution to the lore of Star Wars. From Naboo to Kamino, Coruscant to Mustafar, every planet established in the prequel trilogy feels like a world of its own. From The Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith, the films of the prequel trilogy feels more like an extension of the original trilogy, instead of a retread of it.
The legacy of the prequel trilogy cannot be understated as well. From Rebels to the highly anticipated untitled Obi-Wan series starring Ewan McGregor, The Clone Wars’ revival to EA’s Jedi: Fallen Order, the critical reception and anticipation over these projects are all testaments to the amazing contribution that are only possible thanks to the groundwork laid by the prequel trilogy.
With Disney’s recent announcement that Star Wars films will be going on hiatus after the release of The Rise of Skywalker, it might be apt for the studio to take a step back and reevaluate. Following the immense critical success of both The Mandalorian and Jedi: Fallen Order, projects that places the narrative at the forefront, fans can only hope that the film side of the franchise can take a note or two. As Yoda once said, “Much to learn, you still have”.