The Rise of Skywalker and the Decline of Star Wars
Ever since its launch in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has held a special place in popular culture worldwide. The first three films (the ‘Original Trilogy’, 1977-83), guided by director George Lucas, are regarded as classics. They created the most valuable film franchise in history. But the follow-ups to them have been less loved, particularly among core fans. The Rise of Skywalker, the final instalment in the latest Disney trilogy, is likely to leave many of them cold.
The ‘Prequel Trilogy’ (1999-2005) divided the fandom. While younger viewers were receptive to it, older fans found the films poorly written, stiffly acted and generally unsatisfying. Although profitable, it was less popular than the Original Trilogy. In 2012 Lucas sold his production company, Lucasfilm, and the rights to produce new Star Wars products to Disney. Disney set out to make a series of blockbuster movies to make back the hefty $4.05 billion price tag for Lucasfilm. But from the very start, Disney got things very wrong.
George Lucas handpicked as head of Lucasfilm a long-time colleague, Kathleen Kennedy. Kennedy had produced blockbuster movies for Lucas and Steven Spielberg. She was an industry insider with a track record of working on blockbusters. She was appointed as steward for Lucas’s vision for Star Wars.
Kennedy passed directing and writing responsibilities for the first Disney Star Wars movie (and the plot outline for the entire new ‘Sequel Trilogy’) to JJ Abrams. Despite his commercial success as a director with a distinct style, Abrams is regarded as a weak screenwriter. He is most interested in set-pieces, striking visuals and emotional story beats, and so finds it difficult to plot and finish stories satisfyingly. The visually lush Star Wars was already set up for stirring spectacles – what it needed was a writer-director who could helm a series of movies that built emotionally engaging stories through character drama in well-plotted scripts. Abrams was a bad fit.
Meanwhile, Kennedy stamped her mark on the sequels politically by assembling a Star Wars story group predominantly made up of women. She was famously pictured with a group of women wearing a t-shirt with the slogan ‘The Force is Female’. A certain antagonism towards the male-majority fandom of Star Wars became more apparent over the years, from Kennedy and those she brought on board. What also became apparent was that Kennedy has little feeling for Star Wars and did not understand its unique character and status.
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