There Is No Single Vision For This Story
Whether you loved The Last Jedi or hated it, it’s probably for the same reason: Director Rian Johnson spent 150 minutes Force-kicking every plot thread introduced in The Force Awakens into the cold vacuum of space. The “Big Bad” who was set up? Dead. Rey’s true lineage? Pointless. Luke coming out of Jedi retirement to kick ass one last time, John-Wick-style? Not so much. I’m surprised that Johnson didn’t revive Han Solo and reveal that Chewbacca had always been nothing but a figment of his imagination.
The problem is that while playing with audience expectations is something that literally every great story does, TLJ wasn’t a story — it was the middle part of someone else’s story. That means J.J. Abrams, who will direct IX, must now reconcile the huge discrepancies between VII and VIII without simply shooting the entire cast into a dying star and turning the film into a King’s Speech reboot starring Benicio Del Toro’s stuttering character.
This wasn’t the original plan. When Abrams wrote The Force Awakens, he also wrote sample scripts for VIII and IX. You know, so that all three parts would be one consistent story, with clear character arcs. He probably didn’t expect future directors to adhere perfectly to every description of Rey’s hairstyles, but at least there was some sort of roadmap. However, once Johnson was attached to The Last Jedi, he started over from scratch. His rewrites even leaked into The Force Awakens, as Abrams was asked to send R2-D2 on the mission to find Luke Skywalker instead of BB-8 so R2 could later replay Leia’s “only hope” message for Luke.
Now Abrams is back in charge, but that initial roadmap is essentially useless. Does Abrams press forward with all of Johnson’s changes, or will he attempt to “course-correct” and return the trilogy to his original vision? Abrams might create all sorts of terrible half-twists, like “Just kidding, Kylo was lying about Rey’s parents, and actually Snoke embedded his soul in BB-8 so he’s not really dead,” or “Surprise, the Resistance fleet wasn’t mostly destroyed. They actually had some spaceships hidden in Random Sand Planet #74, and they all work,” or “Luke’s force ghost can function just like a living body, so his death was really just a technicality!”
There Is No Good Way To End Leia’s Story
Although Johnson’s story changes presumably wrecked Abrams’ original vision for the trilogy (ending with an all-cast twerk session on Snoke’s grave set to Smash Mouth), the biggest narrative hurdle is concluding Leia’s story. Carrie Fisher’s passing at the end of 2016 dramatically altered Disney’s plans for the Sequel Trilogy, forcing them to start over from square one. After all, Episode IX was originally supposed to be Leia’s story, in the same way that VII used Han and VIII used Luke. So now what?
Well as it turns out, they’re going to bring her back through unused footage that Abrams shot for Episode VII. And that’s … weird. At best. I’m certainly glad that they’re not going to try to digitally recreate her like they did with dead-eyed Peter Cushing in Rogue One. And I’m very pleased that they won’t recast her and hire someone like Meryl Streep to step in and do her best space general impression, which would’ve not only been distracting, but also ruined my Star Wars / The Devil Wears Prada fan fiction crossover.
However, what kind of footage will this be? Are we talking about full scenes, with dialogue? This isn’t like the Paul Walker situation — he had at least shot some of the footage for Furious 7, and then crews just had to patch in the rest (which was still an astounding feat, by the way). We’re talking about clips from the cutting room floor of a completely different movie with a completely different plot, somehow cobbled together to seamlessly create an epic, emotional sendoff for one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history.
I’ll say this: If they pull it off, they deserve all of the awards. Not just the ones for movies. All of them.
There’s No Way They’ll Take Any Big Risks
It’s hard to overstate how different the landscape is right now than it was in the aftermath of Episode VII. We’ve seen a vocal (and sometimes vicious) backlash to The Last Jedi, followed up by Solo‘s poor box office performance. For the first time, someone lost money on a Star Wars theatrical release. That didn’t even happen with that cartoon no one liked! That has to have been a shock to the system. It’s not about one movie; it’s about the infinity of movies Disney had intended to release over the decades, and the billions they’d planned to make off the brand. If audiences are souring on it this quickly … holy shit.
Add it all up, and it means they can’t settle for anything less than Episode IX grossing $2 billion and totally renewing everyone’s faith in that creative universe. That means now is not the time to take bold creative risks.
I wouldn’t be surprised if in their desperate attempt to reestablish Star Wars, Disney plays it safe by cranking out a solid, boring Return Of The Jedi soft remake. That’s probably why they brought Abrams back in the first place — he is nothing if not risk-averse. The Force Awakens and the Star Trek reboot were both basically rehashes of A New Hope, and both were incredibly successful. Let’s see if the first trailers mention them building a new Starkiller Base.
Keep in mind, three out of the last four directors in this franchise have been booted partway through production. Disney (and Star Wars overlord Kathleen Kennedy) weren’t exactly working with a broad margin of error before. There is a sprawling merchandising empire at stake, and a whole new theme park on the way. It’s easy to imagine that the primary directive here will be “Don’t screw this up.”
There’s No Good Way To Conclude This Story And Also Tease The Future
Abrams says IX will conclude the Skywalker story. The spinoff Star Wars films are currently on hold, though Rian Johnson’s unrelated trilogy is moving forward. Star Wars isn’t going anywhere, even if nobody really knows what’s coming next. That includes the people who actually, you know, create the damn things. With all that in mind, the ending of Episode IX will be insanely difficult to write.
Return Of The Jedi felt like a definitive end to the first trilogy (it would be decades before we found out all they did was force the Empire to rebrand itself), and Revenge Of The Sith both wrapped up the prequels and led directly into A New Hope. But where the hell does Episode IX end up? Rian Johnson’s movies will include “all new characters” in a setting where “everything is new,” but will Disney really create a story that never mentions the Sequel Trilogy? Kathleen Kennedy claims there will be more stories with sequel characters, but Daisy Ridley says she’s finished playing Rey. Except she also left the door sort of open, in case she changes her mind and/or somebody offers her a bajillion dollars and a private island shaped like her head.
The point here is that the direction of the franchise is still very, very wide open, which means the ending of Episode IX has to leave them with options. Can they wrap up this relatively aimless story in a way that feels conclusive but also leaves room for future films? Also, which characters can be killed if nobody’s sure whether they’ll be needed again? Hell, Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso was very clearly vaporized at the end of Rogue One, but Jones still has a contract option for a potential sequel, just in case. Imagine how complicated The Return Of The King would have been if while writing it, the rest of the Inklings pitched Tolkien dozens of ideas for origin stories, like how that Gothmog orc got his fucked-up melted head. The movie would need at least another 30 minutes of crying and waving goodbye.
So let’s do what I do every day at 4 p.m. and think about The Dark Knight Rises for a minute. It too was tasked with concluding an epic trilogy while also hinting at potential future films. Batman retires, but Robin discovers the bat cave and … four years later it’s all gone and Ben Affleck’s screaming about his mom. DC conveniently reboots their franchise whenever they want to ruin their legacy a little more, but Star Wars doesn’t have that luxury. Whatever happens in a Star Wars movie becomes canon forever.
It’s Written By The Guy Who Did Batman v Superman And Justice League
If there’s one point I’m trying to hammer home here, it’s that turning all this chaos into a coherent, enjoyable film will be a Herculean feat. Abrams can’t do it alone. He needs a writing partner with a history of handling huge sci-fi franchise films. Someone who can balance creativity and commerce. Someone who has penned such classic scripts as … Batman v Superman? Aw, shit.
OK, so Chris Terrio’s written some garbage films, but he also wrote Academy Award winner Argo. He’s not just some terrible writer; if anything he simply tries way, way too hard. For example, he once claimed the notoriously stupid Justice League was “the most rigorous intellectual exercise I’ve had in my writing life.” Dude, if coming up with a plot focused on people in ridiculous costumes punching parademons pushed your brain to the limit, concluding 42 years of Star Wars movies will probably give you an aneurysm.
But Terrio is nothing if not a serious man, and he found Batman v Superman to be quite “dramaturgically arduous.” To whit:
“I began to think Batman and Superman occupy different parts of the mythic imagination. In superhero stories, Batman is Pluto, god of the underworld, and Superman is Apollo, god of the sky. That began to be really interesting to me — that their conflict is not just due to manipulation, but their very existence. In the end, there’s a common humanity which I think is discovered at a certain moment in the film.”
Honestly, Terrio sounds like a script-writing robot that understands certain dramatic needs, but with no knowledge of how real humans operate. He’s aware his story requires rapport between Batman and Superman, and he’s heard that some humans love their mothers, so of course the sudden realization that both characters have a mom named Martha works as an emotional turning point. He plugged in all the numbers, and the math checks out!
He’s also working under the understanding that no matter what creative choices he makes, half of the fans will hate it. The Last Jedi made that clear. So, uh, good luck with all that.