Last year around this time, I wrote an article where I said that Star Wars was becoming an oversaturated franchise thanks to Disney milking the franchise for all of the green milk that it’s worth. I talked about how Disney was content with making more sequels and promising directors like Rian Johnson entire trilogies without ever specifying what would those trilogies even be about. Disney was rushing ahead as fast as they could to make Star Wars even more popular than ever before, but in doing so made some pretty glaring mistakes. Battlefront 2 was universally reviled for the implementation of loot boxes. Solo: A Star Wars Story disappointed at the box office and generally inspired apathy from fans, and that’s not even mentioning how Disney or anyone barely lifted a finger at the sheer toxicity that was spewing from the “fans”, giving the brand disastrously bad PR. None of that mattered because Disney was making an ungodly amount of money.
Yet something strange happened when I sat down to watch the trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I sat down, interested in seeing what would be the conclusion to the sequel trilogy, and walked away feeling nothing. No hype, no disappointment, just nothing. When I finished watching that trailer for Dora and the Lost City of Gold I felt something. It wasn’t any positive emotions, but I felt something. This time… there wasn’t anything to feel. And a truth hit me that I knew was coming, but I didn’t want to admit it.
Star Wars just isn’t special to me anymore. It’s no different from any other blockbuster franchise now.
When I was growing up, seeing a Star Wars movie was an event. As a child of the 90’s, I grew up hearing about how the original trilogy were classics and essential viewings for anyone even remotely interested in film. Even when they were releasing, the prequel trilogy had a certain air of grandioseness to it. Sure, we can look back and say that the movies weren’t all that great, but you would be lying to yourself if you weren’t excited to see any of the prequel movies solely because they were Star Wars movies after years of nothing. Now Star Wars was always around in some capacity, whether it was in video games, books, or cartoons, but the movies felt like a landmark. This was a saga where each entry had weight and importance to it.
Fast forward to 2019 where in the span of four years there has been a Star Wars movie released to the public every year. The quality of the more recent entries is honestly irrelevant because not only am I not opening up another The Last Jedi debate because I value my life, but the overall quality truly doesn’t matter. Simply by association with the franchise, each film held weight and importance. Solo might have been a merely okay movie, but that took a back seat to the idea that you were seeing a Star Wars movie dedicated solely to Hans Solo, the baddest of badasses.
But that’s just the thing though. Star Wars’ biggest strength is its own reputation. Not just from the history of the franchise, but because even today its setting still stands out as being unique in pop culture. When I’m able to feel the space wizardry and be whisked to a galaxy far, far away, then I’m satisfied. But when I saw Rise of Skywalker’s trailer, this was the first time I felt that this was a Star Wars movie made by committee. The individual magic from earlier entries and even the spinoffs was gone. Say what you will about Solo, but at least it had a unique identity to it that made it stand out from the rest of the movies and felt like it had a place in the canon, as forced as it was. The Rise of Skywalker, based solely on its first trailer, feels like Disney made the most commercially safe movie to protect its precious IP.
To me, this is Disney and Kathleen Kennedy doing damage control on a franchise that saw a rough 2018. The brand became more associated with bile and rage than ever before, so all of the creative risks taken in The Last Jedi have been dialed back with safer elements introduced, or reintroduced, to calm the masses. Were you disappointed that Snoke was worthless and offered no impact on the story in any capacity? Well here’s a brief teaser of Emperor Palpatine laughing to let you know we brought back a classic villain! Now I am aware that this is all coming from a single, two-minute trailer reveal, but think about the previous first trailers for all of the recent entries. The first trailer for The Force Awakens inspired me. Rouge One’s trailer filled me with dread due to its omnipresent siren. The Last Jedi had me excited from the thought of seeing Luke again. Here, it comes across more like Disney is checking off boxes to make sure the “fans” who frequently harassed stars on social media don’t do that again.
So if Disney is being incredibly protective of its brand and making sure that no harm comes to it and is taking the franchise in the safest possible direction, then why don’t I feel this way about the MCU? The MCU took risks in 2018 with Infinity War and the revelation of Disney+’s MCU content makes it pretty clear that most of the ramifications from Infinity War are going to be undone and rendered null and void. Disney does not want any harm to come to the MCU, so they’re protecting it just as fiercely as Star Wars. But the truth of the matter is that the MCU just feels more special than Star Wars now.
The MCU is a sprawling franchise with over twenty films released in the span of 11 years that tell one single, albeit splintered, saga of The Avengers and Thanos trying to gather the Infinity Stones. The stakes are massive, yet there’s plenty of room for comedy, romance, action, and solemn moments. Star Wars, on the other hand, is complacent. It doesn’t want to rock the boat too much since what’s worked so far has made billions of dollars. The MCU built itself on experimentation and throwing everything onto a wall to see what stuck while Star Wars carefully recycles ideas, afraid that any changes will result in fans that have been around since the 70’s and 90’s deriding it and saying that “Star Wars is dead.” See midichorians, pod racing, TFA being scorned for staying faithful to the original trilogy instead of trying something new, and TLJ being scorned for trying something new instead of staying faithful to the original trilogy.
It’s hard not to come to the conclusion from this article so far that fans are to blame for the franchise’s decline, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a fan, and chances are you’re a fan of Star Wars. We’re rational enough to know that, at the end of the day, these are still movies with the sole focus of entertaining people. Yes, Star Wars holds a special place in our hearts, but not so much that we’re willing to ruin lives and spread hate over it. Like all fandoms, the majority of the fans are cool and awesome people that have a genuine love for the characters and the world and only 1% of the fans are vocal and toxic.
But man, that toxicity sure was rough, and Disney/Lucasfilm took notice of it. There has been some confusion regarding whether or not Disney is going to be taking a break from Star Wars movies in the near future, with conflicting reports coming out that Disney does want to franchise to take a break from movies despite new movies being in development, but then there’s still the TV shows, and it can all be a major pain in the neck to suss out.
We still know that the Rian Johnson trilogy is going to happen. That’s a fact that Johnson himself confirmed. We’re also pretty sure that the Benioff and Weiss trilogy of films will happen as well. Just because Bob Igor said that Disney wanted to take a break from Star Wars films means virtually nothing. The Mandalorian is still going to come out this year. The Cassian Andor prequel will still be made. Star Wars will still be around and Disney is still going to push it in your face, especially once Avengers: Endgame comes out and they’ll start to eye their next multi-billion dollar cash cow. Plus what exactly does a hiatus mean? Will it be for a year? Two years? Three? I can tell you that Igor’s definition of a hiatus isn’t going to be ten years like the wait between Episode 3 and 7 was.
But with this outrageous rush of content and marketing by Disney, I can’t help but think back to A New Hope. Back in the 70’s, sci-fi was seen as a cheap, low budget, and almost laughable genre of film. To quote A New Hope producer Gary Kurtz in a 2002 interview on Star Wars, “When we proposed Star Wars to the studios, no one wanted to consider it; primarily because it was science fiction, and science fiction wasn’t popular in the mid-’70s. There hadn’t been any real space opera type of science fiction since Forbidden Planet from the mid-’50s, so it certainly wasn’t considered popular then. But, what seems to be the case generally is that the studio executives are looking for what was popular last year, rather than trying to look forward to what might be popular next year.” In an ironic twist of fate, Disney seems to be looking for what was popular in the 1970’s and late 1990’s instead of seeing what fans want nowadays.
And maybe more fans want Star Wars. Maybe fans want to see the Jedi beat the Sith with no frills or challenges to its place in pop culture. Maybe fans want to relax and relive their childhood with new movies retreading already well-worn ground. I may not have personally liked some of the additions made in TLJ, but at least they offered change and something different. But based on the reception to the Rise of Skywalker trailer, I guess that’s what people prefer. They prefer what’s safe for them instead of wanting something new and different.
And that’s why I have no more interest in Star Wars. After decades of staying stagnant, it’s impossible now for it to become anything else without ramifications. Spin-offs are doomed to be met with apathy and any alterations to the franchise’s status quo will be met with derision until it gets changed back. Rise of Skywalker’s first trailer, and the reception from fans welcoming back a return to form, has only solidified that this franchise isn’t for me anymore. I would rather see a longstanding series take new risks or newer franchises try to set trends and change the industry than watch Disney keep repeating the same shtick again and again with Star Wars because they don’t want to risk damaging one of its box office darlings. It makes sense from a business standpoint, sure, but that’s not what Star Wars was originally about. Star Wars was special because it was so different. Now it’s so rigid in its structure that its uniqueness has gone from a burning sun to a flickering candle.