Warning: spoilers ahead.
The finale of “Star Wars” has made less money than “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”
Having grossed $1.065 billion, “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker” is hardly a financial failure, but such numbers are somewhat underwhelming for a film that supposedly concludes a 42-year-old story. The film is the culmination of an incoherent vision for the “Star Wars” franchise, yielding a conclusion to the sequel trilogy that never fully reaches its potential by trying too hard to appease its divided fanbase.
Much of the controversy from the sequel trilogy of films started with “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi,” which broke many conventions of the series. The film purposely writes off questions set up by its predecessor, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” as unimportant, such as Rey’s origins or the significance of Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo Ren’s helmet and Luke’s original lightsaber are destroyed to symbolize that the characters are more important than items in the “Star Wars” universe.
Such narrative changes to the franchise caused widespread controversy for “The Last Jedi,” with some audiences going to great lengths to hurt the film’s reputation. A petition to retcon the film from the “Star Wars” canon attained over 116,000 supporters, while Rotten Tomatoes eventually removed pre-release comments for films after review-bombing for “The Last Jedi” and “Captain Marvel.” Discourse on the former became vitriolic to the point where many suspected it to be the work of Russian bots.
With “The Rise of Skywalker,” Disney clearly wanted to play it safe, giving the directing helm back to J. J. Abrams, who directed “The Force Awakens.” Unfortunately, the film overcorrects from the controversy of “The Last Jedi,” seemingly reversing many of the disputed plot elements from the second sequel film. Rey is revealed to be the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, while Kylo Ren’s helmet is repaired, as if to fix the damage incurred during the previous film. Another controversy also took place when the film seemingly sidelined Rose Tico, a prominent supporting character introduced in “The Last Jedi.”
The back-and-forth changes throughout the sequel films prevented the franchise from moving forward. With the series being handed off between J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, the overarching plot of the trilogy goes in one direction before making a complete turn to another. By never fully committing to a specific vision and trying too hard to please everyone, the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy never fully satisfies any portion of the fanbase.
Moving forward, Disney needs to create more coherent stories and character arcs if it wishes to fully utilize the “Star Wars” brand. If audiences cannot come to expect consistent and sensible stories for their cherished characters, they will inevitably lose interest in subsequent installments. Disney should already know it cannot entirely ride off the “Star Wars” name for success – “Solo: A Star Wars Story” made only $392 million off its $275 million budget, demonstrating that even a “Star Wars” film is capable of flopping if the story fails to resonate with fans.
If anything, the heavily divided “Star Wars” fanbase appreciates consistency. While George Lucas’ prequel trilogy has received mixed reception for shaky writing and its reliance on CGI, it receives praise for delving deeper into the “Star Wars” lore and universe. Regardless of how people feel about the characterization or aesthetic of the films, at least Lucas had a solid vision of what the prequel trilogy should have been. Thus, the prequels have been looked upon more favorably as time has passed – but the same might not hold true for the sequel films. The sequel trilogy excels in no particular area because it spends its screen time trying to appease fans rather than tell a consistent story.
That said, each installment in the sequel trilogy has its share of fans who are still craving more “Star Wars” after the saga’s conclusion. The financial and critical success of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “The Mandalorian” demonstrate that the “Star Wars” franchise still has many compelling stories to tell – provided they are told correctly.
With the Skywalker saga now concluded, hopefully the “Star Wars” franchise can be freed from expectations built over the course of 42 years. Until then, audiences will have to settle for their Baby Yoda memes.