Following the release of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, the Star Wars fanbase fractured as many fans labelled this film the worst that the franchise had ever seen. Whilst there were and are many Star Wars fans who will defend the film and the direction that Disney is taking the franchise, it is now undeniable that Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm will go down as one of the most controversial events in the history of modern science fiction. Since the eradication of the original Legends canon, the new lore that Disney has introduced has seen the entire plot of the post-Return of the Jedi era of Star Wars reworked from a hopeful and steady continuation of the adventures of Luke, Han and Leia to a tragic dissolution of the Jedi Order, the New Republic and the marriage between Han and Leia – a decision that has definitely rubbed many fans the wrong way. Gone are fan favourites like Kyle Katarn, Mara Jade Skywalker, and Jacen and Jaina Solo, and even some characters from the expanded universe that had nothing to do with the post-ROTJ era at all, such as Darth Revan and Bastila Shan from the KOTOR series. The question remains – was all of this loss from the vast and diverse Star Wars canon worth it for what Disney has given us since?
Before we answer that question, it is important to note two things – first, anyone who wishes can still experience Star Wars Legends in all its glory, as the rebranding of the original canon into Legends has been accompanied with re-releases of the novels featuring the ‘Legends’ brand, and Disney have no desire to wipe the original canon of Star Wars from the face of the planet as many of the old comics and games are still available to buy at retailers. Secondly, the new story that Disney has written is just that – a story. Regardless of how one might feel towards The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Star Wars has always inspired children and the new films have continued to do just that, meaning that their existence can never be truly written off as a waste of time and effort despite negative fan reaction to the more recent Disney Star Wars products.
Yet the issue remains – Disney’s Star Wars is controversial among fans, and it cannot be denied that specific aspects of the brand such the Star Wars video games have suffered a decline in quality under Disney’s rule – or rather, EA’s rule, since Disney licensed Star Wars games exclusively to the controversial publisher – with titles like the new Star Wars: Battlefront and it’s sequel being poorly received due to EA’s blatant attempts at money-grabbing. Microtransactions, a system that essentially amounts to luck-based gambling with real money in video games that was introduced to mobile games but has since spread to all corners of the gaming world, were one of the main issues with the new EA Star Wars games – gone are the days of open sandboxes, diverse heroes and characters and dozens of playable maps, now much of the content in EA’s Star Wars games are locked behind paywalls. This obvious drain on the ‘soul’ of Star Wars may seem ironic considering George Lucas has always treated the franchise as a mass-marketable cash-cow, but something about the apparent lack of respect for the franchise, its history, and the great games that came before have had many fans up in arms demanding that EA lose their exclusive rights to make Star Wars games to allow other, more passion-driven developers to take the helm.
Moving back to the cinematic side of the Star Wars franchise, so far Disney have released four Star Wars movies since 2015 – that’s one each year – and for many the Star Wars ‘burnout’ is a pressing problem. Fans of Star Wars are used to waiting for their movies – there were 3 years between each of the movies in the original trilogy, that were released between 1977 and 1983, and a gap of 16 years between the original trilogy and the prequels, which also released 3 years apart from each other. Under Disney’s rule, each main Star Wars film releases two years apart, with the year in between being filled by an ‘anthology’ film (more on those later) meaning that the once sporadic and highly anticipated release of a Star Wars film has been reduced to a yearly event in a transparent attempt by Disney to turn Star Wars into a bloated cinematic universe akin to the Marvel movie franchise. Whilst a cinematic universe suits the vast cast of characters that Marvel has under its belt after 50 years, the ultimate irony is that this marketing strategy would only have worked for Disney had they kept the original expanded universe intact – Revan: A Star Wars Story would only work if the pre-established continuity of Darth Revan still existed, which in the new canon, it doesn’t. Hardcore fans can take solace in the fact that, by eliminating the original canon, Disney have seriously shot themselves in the foot.
Oddly, however, the two ‘anthology’ movies that have been released by Disney have been excellent – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastically made love letter to A New Hope that doesn’t blatantly rip off its plot like The Force Awakens did, and Solo: A Star Wars Story is surprisingly good despite the fact that it’s poor performance at the box office. The unfortunate truth, however, is that the relative quality of the ‘anthology’ movies only serves to frustrate fans who wish that the same care and attention had been put into The Last Jedi, as Rian Johnson’s incongruous attempts to make his mark on the franchise in the middle of a three-act trilogy have made the future of the sequel trilogy uncertain. Fans knew where they stood with J.J. Abram’s new interpretation of Star Wars, but Rian Johnson seemed to go out of his way to subvert viewer’s expectations with The Last Jedi to the extent that the film tries too hard to be not what J.J. Abrams would have done, sabotaging many of J.J.’s open-ended plot threads like Supreme Leader Snoke, Rey’s parentage and Luke’s character arc to such an extent that The Last Jedi is a deflating and thoroughly disappointing follow-up to J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens.
While views on both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi differ across the far-reaching spectrum of the Star Wars fanbase, the most obvious conclusion is that the former is superior to the latter. Whilst The Force Awakens stuck to the basic plot of A New Hope almost beat-for-beat, it was in keeping with the spirit of Star Wars and was generally better received than its sequel, which divided the fanbase on release and has received ratings lower than The Phantom Menace in several rankings. The question remains – what can Disney do to resolve this problem and help re-unify the Star Wars fanbase? Clearly everything hinges on Episode IX – amid rumours that Disney are delaying all other Star Wars projects, it seems that the follow up to The Last Jedi will have a lot to prove. Getting J.J. Abrams back as director was a good choice, but it may be too little too late as many Star Wars fans are considering boycotting Episode IX entirely. Clearly, therefore, Disney should consider the fan-favourite suggestions of a standalone Obi-Wan movie starring Ewan McGregor, set between Episodes III and IV, as Obi-Wan himself represents a well-liked character in the franchise who is more deserving of a spinoff than a significantly more minor character like Boba Fett. Outside of the movies, Disney should consider re-canonising many of the now ‘Legends’ games and stories – characters like Revan who existed thousands of years before the events of the Star Wars saga deserve a comeback in the new canon. EA should pay closer attention to Star Wars games that succeeded in the past, focusing specifically on why fans loved them so much, and how EA can emulate the more fun-loving and less money-grabbing feel of 2000s Star Wars games.
It would seem, therefore, that in the aftermath of Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars and the release of The Last Jedi, the future of the Star Wars franchise is uncertain. However, provided Disney, EA and Lucasfilm learn from their more recent mistakes and aim to improve their handling of the Star Wars franchise in the future, it may yet not be too late to restore the brand to its former glory.