The Star Wars Sequels Had its Moments

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November 12, 2021

The Star Wars sequels earned over $2 billion at the box office. According to Forbes journalist Scott Mendleson, this makes them nearly as profitable as George Lucas’ own prequel trilogy. That means that the first effort to make Star Wars independent of its creator’s vision was a success. The Mandalorian, Bad Batch, along with another Disney Plus series, Kenobi, are building off of the sequel’s box office success.

There were many fans and even people involved with the creation of the new trilogy that had strong misgivings about the series, however. The most glaring was Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy during the 1970s and 1980s and renewed the role of a much more cynical Jedi Knight for the 2010s sequel trilogy.

Hamill had praise for the cast chosen for the sequel trilogy and also said that he had been “impressed” by Lucas’ previous prequel trilogy. (It is worth remembering that, at the time, criticism for those movies was fierce.) After appearing as a much younger Luke Skywalker on The Mandalorian (with CGI used to make him appear younger), Hamill expressed gratitude, saying that he was “so grateful to have been given the unexpected opportunity to revisit my character when he was still a symbol of hope & optimism.”

It is worth noting that despite his misgivings about how Luke Skywalker was portrayed in them, Hamill did participate in the sequel films. When I first heard his misgivings about his role, the thought did strike me that he may have found the cynical, miserable Luke Skywalker insulting. Hamill’s film career didn’t quite transpire predictably, with his biggest role after Star Wars being Joker in the Batman: The Animated Series, hardly an optimistic character. Hamill’s social media account reflects a person with a great deal of cynicism and condescension toward the larger world, and seeing that reflected in Star Wars canon likely didn’t sit well with him.

There are a lot of problems with the sequel trilogy, especially the last installment, Rise of Skywalker. But, like the prequel series, the addition of streaming shows, to add layers to the story, improves its flaws greatly. However, the attempt by the sequel trilogy to extend Star Wars canon past the prequel and original trilogies added to the mythos and was generally in line with the larger series.

Shaken Faith In The Jedi

What is striking about the sequel trilogy is that, after the end of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, we see a galaxy in which Kylo Ren’s First Order seems to reign even more unchallenged than the Empire. 

This is in line with the original trilogy. Right before the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker expressed anger at being lied to about Darth Vader being his father. This introduced us to the idea that the Jedi are not entirely honest actors.

The character of the Jedi was further explored in the prequels, where, in Revenge of the Sith, after being ordered to spy on Chancellor Palpatine, Palpatine asks, “They asked you to do something that made you feel dishonest, didn’t they?” Anakin later laments, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” In the Clone Wars series, we see Ahsoka Tano purged over false accusations by the Jedi. Her appearances in both the Rebels series and The Mandalorian demonstrate someone who continued to use the force while rejecting both the Jedi and the Sith.

A Family At Odds

In the larger Star Wars canon, the novel Bloodline reveals that the attempts to set up a “New Republic” by Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo and all of the original trilogy heroes were devastated when it was publicly revealed that Darth Vader was the father of both Luke and Leia. The New Republic was thus seen as a fraud, due to such close ties with the Empire of old; and so, even if their aesthetics were similar, the First Order was able to portray the New Republic as corrupt and fill the power void in the galaxy.

Ben Solo was essentially stamped with the legacy of Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader, and so it was no surprise that he would create a Vader likeness for himself and reject, by force, his family by becoming Kylo Ren. In The Last Jedi, when Rey discovers that Luke Skywalker even tried to kill Kylo Ren, this begins to even seem justified to her.

Luke attempting to kill Kylo Ren seems extreme at first, but it also fits with a key scene from Return of the Jedi. In ROTJ, when Vader threatens to turn his sister Leia to the dark side, Luke flips out with a wild look in his eyes, much like when he attacks Kylo Ren in TLJ. In both instances, Luke does not actually kill either figure. Luke didn’t stop Kylo Ren from becoming leader of the First Order, and shame over the incident drives Luke to become a cynical hermit.

Ghost Han

One of my favorite scenes from Rise of Skywalker was when Han Solo, who was struck down by Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, suddenly appears to his son while he is alone. Han is not a force ghost like we saw with fallen Jedi knights. We don’t know the nature of his appearance at all. Kylo Ren dismissing him as a memory suddenly throws the cynicism back toward the other side and adds a layer of mystery into the nature of the Force. His sudden appearance is a big contrast with the freakish appearance of a reanimated clone Palpatine. I thought this contrast was a good balance with TLJ because it demonstrated there was still a mystique to the force.

As a series, Star Wars has only ever been enjoyed by critics in retrospect. The original trilogy was panned by critics, the prequel trilogy was panned by both critics and older fans, and the sequel trilogy was panned by all of the above along with even those involved in its production. I have no doubt that, as time goes on, many fans will revisit these films and see something they may newly appreciate.

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