WARNING: HELLA SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.
OK, I need to see it again. I am content with how things wrapped up, and I had fewer immediate nitpicks than I had for Avengers: Endgame. But the more I mull over what happened, I have come to two conclusions:
1) Too much of the new trilogy has depended on the books for explication. There’s an awful lot of “why” that gets tacitly answered with “it’s in the books.” One thing I need to do is reread the original early-90s Thrawn trilogy and see how it holds up because the current Thrawn books, and the Wendig trilogy and frankly all of the new canonical Star Wars books I’ve read all feel like the least impressive of the EU stuff from the late 90s. Could be age or generational bias, but when I was a kid we had the movies and that was it. If it wasn’t in the movies, it didn’t count. And you couldn’t staff out your storytelling to the book for the sake of speeding up the movie.
2) This is a bigger one, and I think the result of a hole Disney put themselves in when they first planned on a new movie every year: The Last Jedi is an excellent movie, but in retrospect, it’s a movie made at a point where they thought there would be more than nine episodes of The Saga, and the decision to curtail their ambition made it a poor choice in hindsight.
Think about it. Rian Johnson, deliberately or not, set out to deconstruct the Star Wars universe and rip up a bunch of things from previous episodes. Let the past die, kill it if you have to – that was the mission statement, and by its own lights, it worked. But you don’t do that in the next to last chapter of the story. If IX was going to be the end for the Skywalkers, and a notional 10-12 the story of Rey and Finn and Poe, then yeah – rip up what we know and reinvent.
As it happens, once IX became the last episode, Johnson had painted the story into such a corner that Colin Treverrow had to quit rather than figure out how to resolve it. JJ Abrams found a way to do it, with a lot of hand waving and breathless action and don’t look too close at the details, and is getting hammered for it – unfairly in many ways, because no one planned for Carrie Fisher to die, and apparently nobody had planned on IX being the true end of the road for a while. So he had to crash-land this bird without notice, and by those lights, he did yeoman’s work and came up with something emotionally satisfying.
But the whole “Emperor Palpatine plots his future return in the Unknown Regions after decades of laying the groundwork for his eternal Empire” storyline, while at the back of almost all the new books, felt like it was shat out of a cannon at the last second on screen. It was a hotshot angle, to borrow the old wrestling term: a sudden change in storyline on the fly to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. And as a result, you can literally throw away everything in The Last Jedi that doesn’t involve Luke, Rey and Kylo until the Resistance lands on Crait. “They fled and this is where they wound up” would cover everything else: the mutiny, the hack, Canto Bight, Rose, DJ, the sneak aboard Snoke’s flagship, all of it. Not that any of that was the strong point of VIII to begin with, but IX definitively renders it all superfluous to requirements.
Which is a shame. It would have been nice to have things plotted from the start and a coherent story for 7-8-9, and somewhere along the way rejigger everything for 10-11-12 and Johnson’s vision for the franchise. As it is, it’s done, and probably for the best, because The Mandalorian has shown the future for Star Wars: smaller stories, more human scale, no lightsaber battles or Sith Lords, and time enough to tell the story at prestige-TV pace and let it breathe. What’s done is done, and if the future of this franchise lies elsewhere?
Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.