It's a trilogy that, in all honesty, probably should've been left alone as a relic of the 80s, a sci-fi surprise that could easily stand the test of time. However, it wasn't, as Disney dug it back up from the grave to spit on its decaying carcass.
For clarity, I loved The Force Awakens (2015), it was a great way to bring people back into the franchise through familiarity. It was a lot like A New Hope which would have been fine had The Last Jedi (2017) changed things up. It should've been a gateway that opened a door to newer and more exciting things but what we got instead was an Empire and Return mixup that's messier than Revenge of the Sith (2005).
My problems mostly stem from The Last Jedi, a film I loved in cinemas but grew to hate the more I watched it. All of the plot threads are jarringly cut, all of the characters are poorly developed and it ends in a way that immediately dooms its sequel. We could jump on the 'fuck Rian Johnson' bandwagon and blame him for everything, but the issues are much deeper rooted than that.
Kathleen Kennedy is the figurehead, so naturally, she has become a scapegoat for hatred, but a lot of that energy should be directed at the faceless corporation that is Disney, who drag up classics to make hollow live-action remakes and milk their IPs to death. The sequel trilogy wasn't planned out at all, as soon as they gained access to the Star Wars kingdom, they wanted a film out as soon as possible.
Disney should've waited, they should've planned and they should've organised. What we got instead was a sequel helmed by a director with a completely conflicting vision, working on the foundations set by a man who had no eye for the future. It wasn't going to work, it was an impossible task and Rise of the Skywalker is banking on nostalgia to sell. Palpatine returning wasn't thought out, it's a reaction to declining sales. 'Duel of the Fates' in a teaser? All about hooking you on nostalgia so that you ignore the flaws piling up.
What went wrong, then? Well, as much as Kennedy has become a scapegoat, there are pieces of evidence to suggest that she has a hand to blame in the state of Star Wars. There's the idea that she went back on Lucas' vision, unlike Filoni who embraced it with the TV side of things. Then there are the reports from Variety that state that she promised creative freedom to filmmakers only to pull the red carpet from under them before strapping the puppet strings onto their backs. Why do you think Solo (2018) and Rise of Skywalker have gone through the ring in terms of crew shifting? Somethings up and that messy production bleeds into the final cut.
Now, I'm not one of those angry fans that believe Luke was completely ruined as my problem with the sequel films in terms of storytelling stems from the complete blandness of the new characters. Luke, Leia and Han were iconic in their brilliance, and yet Finn, Poe and Rey are completely lacklustre. Finn was wasted in The Last Jedi, Poe was turned into a complete idiot and Rey is a blank slate waiting to be given some personality. Then there's the villain, a complete rehash of Anakin Skywalker, only there's no one better looming beyond. Snoke was a complete joke, and his death was a welcome goodbye.
George Lucas is a great ideas man and a terrible director. His prequels are some of the worst films that I have ever seen, but they spawned a fantastic era that could be delved into in other media. He had an eye for story and it's commendable. The sequels lack that, they have no greater world to build upon, other than a carbon copy of the Original Trilogy with less gusto and personality. Without that brain and heart behind the films, they just feel empty. At least, from the prequels, we got standout stories in The Clone Wars, the games, the comics, etc.
So, how would I fix the sequels? I'd keep Lucas on as a creative consultant for every project, I'd have Filoni in charge or at least holding a bigger slice of the pie and I'd plan the future trilogies out, rather than rushing into them with no clear vision. Feige may not plot every single detail but he has an overarching story in his mind and that's why Marvel works - Star Wars lacks that, and it's so evidently trying to imitate the superhero success, but without the soul or guidance.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is released nationwide on December 19th. Tickets available now.