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It’s Time to Let the Past Die

After 42 years, the binary suns have finally set on the Skywalker Saga once and for all.  It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, but all stories must, and should, come to an end. The Sequel Trilogy aimed to start something brand new and tie up the nine previous films all in one go. This led to three movies that were attempting to tell their own story while simultaneously building on previous ones. The ways that each film approached this led to their most common critiques. People said that The Force Awakens was too much like the originals and that The Last Jedi was too different, while The Rise of Skywalker attempted to split the difference. The films were constantly forced to have a conversation about the originals and rarely got a chance to tell a story that was truly their own. Going forward, the best thing for the movies would be to close the door on the Skywalker Saga for good.

In retrospect, the most difficult thing the sequels (and prequels) had to wrestle with was fitting into the saga as a whole. The Force Awakens was a nostalgic adventure, but it was smart enough to make that part of the point: its main characters live in the shadow of the Original Trilogy. When we meet Rey, she is digging around the wreckage of an Imperial era Star Destroyer, harvesting the past to make use of the best parts. Kylo speaks to a monstrously melted helmet that whispers old darkness into his mind. Their respective ties to the saga are often at the core of the characters’ struggles. The pressure of Ben Solo’s lineage and Luke’s struggle with the Jedi’s legacy lead to the birth of Kylo Ren. Rey struggles to find where exactly she fits in with the whole thing, tragically thinking of herself as a means to an end rather than looking for solutions within herself.  Choosing to approach the story from a metatextual perspective leads to some of the best ideas in the trilogy. But if it tips too hard one way, the characters start feeling crushed under the weight of what came before.

A few years later, The Last Jedi tried to pull Star Wars out from the weight of what came before. It built a story around challenging the audience’s idea of the saga by digging down to the core of what it all meant. TLJ doubles down on TFA’s mining of the past by focusing in on the core thematic elements of Star Wars. The three main arcs have characters reevaluating their understanding of the world around them and themselves. The film asks the audience to do the same thing with Star Wars as a whole: figure out just what it’s all about and use that to anchor itself going forward. The Last Jedi harvests the best ideas from the past and uses them as a basis for the future. It attempts to free the films and the audience of the baggage it had built up so that we could all move forward. But the response to the film drove a wedge through the fandom that still exists today.

The discourse became increasingly heated in the past few years, with fans attacking each other as well as people involved with the film. Fans’ entitlement and ownership over the franchise reared its ugly head and lead to what felt like a decade of toxic conversation. The Rise of Skywalker chose to address this head on but wanted to do so while trying to keep everybody happy. It wrote a second hand love letter instead of a critical essay, leading to a movie that’s driven by pleasing people – which ultimately divided the fandom further: all this is to say that people’s expectations, and the film’s need to take those into consideration, have made it increasingly difficult to push the story forward. Now that the Skywalker Saga has ended, the creators and fans are presented with a golden opportunity that many of their favorite characters would kill for – the chance to start fresh.

We are about to tip into a totally new era of Star Wars, one that has the potential to break free from the shackles the last eight films have been bound by. We can start getting stories that aren’t as influenced by our expectations and personal ties. Lucasfilm can create all new characters and hopefully recapture the spirit of Star Wars through an understanding of what it is about rather than what people want it to be. It would finally allow fans and creators alike to discard their decades old baggage. This kind of thinking is where the future of Star Wars lies.

There are rumors that the films are headed five hundred years into the past. This is certainly the right idea: push away from what we know so we can build something new, but obviously some familiar things will play a part. The timeline is such that Yoda could still be around. Maybe he’ll have a full head of hair and some sweet abs. The Jedi will be in their prime, so we’ll hopefully get a taste of them before they fall victim to their hubris and the other downfalls of any major religious institution. Disney+ will continue to give us familiar characters and imagery giving fans the comfort that comes with anything familiar. But the films need a fresh start, hopefully one that understands that you can depart from the known narrative without cutting ties with Star Wars’ classic cinematic roots.  The magic trick they’ll have to pull off is giving us something totally new that still feels like Star Wars.

The entire basis of George Lucas’ original idea was to show audiences something familiar and make it feel brand new. Applying that thought process onto the new movies, without having to deal with things fans hold so close, is the smartest way to tell new stories.  It’s time to move on from the Skywalker Saga, that much is certain. The potential for the future of Star Wars is as vast as the galaxy itself, but that doesn’t mean it will be an easy thing to pull off.  All we can do is hope that Lucasfilm can once again capture lightning in a bottle.

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Patrick Mulligan
“The greatest teacher, failure is.” — Yoda

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