Back in March, I wrote about how Mass Effect 3 served as a catalyst for the state of fandom today. When fans aren’t being breathlessly enthusiastic about a thing they love, they’re pissing each other off (and everyone else off) by being just self-aware enough to know they’ve got a problem, but not self-aware enough to actually grow as a person. In this game of fandoms and franchises, there’s not really a winner, and that’s especially true for poor old Star Wars in the Disney era.
Of the three films that make up the Sequel Trilogy and exemplify Disney’s inconsistent control of George Lucas’ sci-fi fantasy epic, it’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi that enters the conversation the most. It’s now five years old, but folks just can’t keep Rian Johnson’s film out of their mouths, and for different reasons: either it’s one of the franchise’s boldest steps to date alongside the likes of Andor and Ahsoka Tano making the wise (and narratively convenient) conclusion to leave the Jedi order, or it’s where the franchise really nosedived and everything that followed is simply righting the ship that Johnson somehow managed to highjack from a billion dollar corporation.
Ahead of writing this, I rewatched The Last Jedi, which I hadn’t seen since probably seeing it in theaters a second or maybe even third time. Beyond thinking that it’s still mostly pretty good—I think my opinion on Canto Bight has now firmly settled on “good concept, well-intentioned but ultimately hokey execution”—what sticks out is how secure in itself it remains. More often than not, Star Wars (and the people involved in it) feels like it’s actively taking refuge in its decades-long nostalgia, and mainly wants to play with toys that it already knows folks like.
When it’s willing to break out of its already well-established mold, you can see the promise of the entire franchise snap into focus, as we’ve seen most recently with Andor. The same is true of Last Jedi, which is really does feel like it’s trying to widen the scope of Star Wars beyond the bloodlines and faction cycles it fell into across two separate trilogies and ancillary material of debatable canon. Even if some of the places it goes to get to that point don’t fully stand the test of time, if they ever did for some, the ultimate core is rock solid and confident that it can stick the landing.
But for a film that’s about characters trying to break out of cycles they may or may not be aware they’re actively in, that message sure didn’t soak in in real life. It really can’t be understated how much of a fire Last Jedi lit underneath the Star Wars fanbase, and how ill-equipped Disney ultimately was to handle the blowback from those pockets of fans. Most fandoms experience their own degree of trouble in some form, but the combination of fandom becoming a corporate-approved weapon, and fans’ refusal to tell bad actors to cram it and get lost, resulted in a beast that may never actually go away. Things are looking up, at least as of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it frankly shouldn’t have taken several harassment campaigns against its actors (one of whom was nearly written out of the following movie) for Disney to speak up and protect its talent.
Much like with Mass Effect 3, it’s hard to look at the aftermath of Last Jedi and say that anyone on the creative end walked away from it a clear winner. While Johnson’s got new Peacock series Poker Face and the Knives Out franchise over at Netflix, that appears to be at the cost of his own Star Wars trilogy getting backburnered until the end of time. Even with it being a box office juggernaut ($1.3 billion may be less than 2015's The Force Awakens, but it’s still impressive), Disney has spent years being in a weird nostalgia tug of war with diminishing returns and insisting that more films would be made, and then not making them. And its direct successor, The Rise of Skywalker, spends a good amount of its runtime actively going “Um, Actually” to Last Jedi’s character and plot beats in a way that has more often than not been read as vindictive—or at its most charitable read, something that probably felt like a better idea in its conception stages.
Any hopes that Star Wars will be boring to talk about and conversations won’t eventually steer toward Last Jedi are basically nonexistent at this point. We’ll never truly be free of it, this one film—all three sequels, but this especially—because of the plot and character choices Johnson made. It used to be that after something came out that folks were mixed on, it was possible to get away from it all and move on. But letting the past die is no longer an option. Maybe in this age of franchises and nostalgia hits, this is always what it was meant to be.
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