At this point, saying you enjoy “Star Wars” is like admitting you breathe oxygen: it would be weirder if you didn’t. And yes, the recent trailer for the upcoming “Episode VIII” gave me feels like you wouldn’t believe (particularly the shot of the late, great Carrie Fisher). But in the midst of all the hype, a quiet dread is building in my gut. And now that we have our first look, that anxiety is approaching a fever pitch. Because as incredible as that trailer was, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was watching a promo for a movie I’ve already seen – one that came out in 1980.
It isn’t exactly controversial to say that “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” was essentially a spiritual remake of the original movie. From similar beats, to identical plot points (seriously, they completed a hat trick on blowing up spherical death rays), “The Force Awakens” was more of the same. But it was also one of the most aggressively fun movies I’ve seen in a while. After the prequels, it felt like we were being eased back into the Star Wars universe with a palate cleanser to wash that “Bantha poodoo” taste out of our mouths. “Episode VII” was in no way a bold reinvention of the series, but for the first entry in 30 years to feature the original cast, it felt good to have the new wrapped in the familiar.
Yet I feel Disney may have learned the wrong lessons from “The Force Awakens.” The first red flag for me was the decidedly darker logo and title for “The Last Jedi.” Don’t get me wrong, they can go as dark as they want with this one. My concern, however, is that the filmmakers are embracing a darker second entry not because it fits any new or unique story they have to tell, but because it mimics the thematic arc of the original trilogy.
Just consider what we know about this new movie thus far: a young, aspiring Force wielder (who is due for a big family reveal) seeks proper training from a Jedi hermit on a remote world after his Order was destroyed; a black-clad villain returns to his master disgraced after failing to protect his superweapon; friends are separated and mercilessly pursued by vengeful bad guys (one could almost say they are “striking back”). There are even speeders approaching AT-AT walkers across an open plane. Does any of this sound familiar?
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Plenty of fans predicted an “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” remake walking out of “The Force Awakens.” What I find shocking, however, is how many of those fans see the writing on the wall and respond with instantaneous acceptance. “Hey, it’s more Star Wars,” they say. “Anything is better than the prequels.” To a certain extent, they’re right. A back-to-basics approach affords a nice high on the other side of disappointing entries. But a quick fix never lasts long. Continuing on the present course of unabashedly cloning the original trilogy threatens the longevity of the franchise moving forward.
For the sake of argument, let’s say I’m right. Let’s say “The Last Jedi” ends up being as similar to “Empire Strikes Back” as the previous movie was to the original “Star Wars.” Then what? Will Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) rescue Poe (Oscar Isaac) from a gangster on Jakku? Does Snoke (Andy Serkis) have yet another battle station up his sleeve? Will the First Order ultimately fall to a band of adorable teddy bear aliens (but this time they’ll be CGI, I’m sure)? And when it’s all said and done, how fondly will we honestly look back on paying to see the same three movies again with slightly different coats of paint? This sort of shameless recycling not only robs us of the opportunity for new adventures in a fictional setting we’ve grown to love, but also leaves the overarching story with virtually nowhere to go.
Now, I hope I’m wrong on this. Come December, I’ll be the first to eat my words if we’re treated to a nuanced entry that hearkens back to the emotional complexities that made “Empire” a classic. But if that turns out not to be the case, it’s incumbent on us to say so. If “Batman v. Superman” proved anything, it’s that we live in an era where audience feedback can actually change the course of sequels. Granted, the jury is still out on whether or not that change will be for the better when it comes to “Justice League.” But the point is this: we will continue to be spoon fed the same reprocessed baby formula if we say we like it. There’s no guarantee Disney will listen to what the fans have to say, but you can be sure they won’t change a thing if we say nothing at all. Frankly, that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.
Complacency will be the death of “Star Wars.” No franchise, not even the biggest one of all, is immune to fatigue, especially if it isn’t willing to take risks and deliver new thrills. As a die-hard fan, I don’t want to see this series suffer the slow death of joyless repetition. One day, I hope to take my kids to see a new “Star Wars.” And nothing would please me more than to have them exit the theater beaming from ear-to-ear because they’ve just witnessed something truly unique and special. Isn’t that why we fell in love with that galaxy far, far away in the first place? Simply put, there was nothing else like it. This saga can reach those heights once again, but it has to begin with a willingness to be unlike anything else. So help us, “Last Jedi.” You’re our only hope.