When Disney first announced the acquisition of Lucasfilm earlier this decade and their intention to make more STAR WARS films, I was overjoyed. I remember thinking that the vitriol and divisiveness generated by the prequels was a thing of the past, that these new films would somehow unite the fandom. There was no possible way things could get that bad again. Then Rian Johnson released THE LAST JEDI in 2017 and tore the STAR WARS fanbase asunder. Fans had very strong feelings on both sides of the divide, some hailing it as the best film in the franchise while others felt it was a betrayal to the saga and a complete cinematic failure.
In the past few days alone several of the new trilogy’s cast members, including Finn actor John Boyega, have been criticized for expressing their displeasure over certain choices that were made. Abrams himself was accused of this as several of his comments were taken out of context and seen as perceived digs at Rian Johnson. Social media not surprisingly decided to run with it, and before long THE LAST JEDI was trending and its cinematic merits called in to question yet again.
However, in an effort to smooth things over, J.J. Abrams doubled down on his praise of Rian Johnson as a filmmaker, the choices he made in THE LAST JEDI, and what those same choices allowed Abrams to do with THE RISE OF SKYWALKER:
“Rian is an incredibly talented director. I don’t know if you’ve seen Knives Out but I loved it. Just an incredibly talented guy and a great storyteller. So when he came on to work on the next film, and we were just starting to shoot [The Force Awakens], I was really excited to see where he would go and what he would do. And it’s funny because one of the things that I was [thinking] at first [was], ‘Oh, I really want to see all the friends together.’ And in his story, they really weren’t. [Rey] doesn’t really meet Poe until the end. Rey and Finn are not really together in the movie. So in a way the story that he told in a lot of ways helped set up what we were doing in 9. But it also allowed Episode 9 to have the group together and out on an adventure in a way that was weirdly, even though it’s the third film, it’s the first time they all get to be together. But there were a lot of details [and] story points that Rian set up in Last Jedi that [we] run with in this movie. I don’t think this movie would’ve been nearly what it is without the choices that Rian made, so I’m nothing but grateful.”
Abrams makes some interesting observations here. I find it mindboggling that Rey and Poe didn’t even get to meet until the end of the second movie. While I was also disappointed that the new heroes were split up for most of THE LAST JEDI, that’s technically following the same narrative structure of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The fact that Poe, Finn, Rey, Chewbacca, R2, C3PO, and BB8 are all going on an adventure together in THE RISE OF SKYWALKER warms my heart. It’s made all the more sweet by the fact that they weren’t together much in THE LAST JEDI.
From my perspective, J.J. Abrams is in a damn near impossible situation here. He’s somehow supposed to reunite the fan base with this last film, honor the choices that were made by Rian Johnson, ignore some of the less popular decisions made by Johnson, not be an SJW poster boy, give us nostalgia, eschew nostalgia, build his own lightsaber, and on ad infinitum. I sincerely hope that Abrams was somehow able to tune out all of this noise and just focus on giving audiences a good film with an interesting story.
We will all know how things shake out soon enough when STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER ignites its way into theaters December 20.