With the conclusion of the latest Star Wars trilogy, and supposedly the end of the Skywalker saga, I’ve been thinking about the series as a whole and its legacy. I liked each movie in the new trilogy upon first watching them. They were all enjoyable and exciting in-theater experiences with seemingly had everything you’d want in a Star Wars story: the Force, the Dark Side, lightsabers, space battles, aliens, planets, robots, Jedi, Sith, old masters, young apprentices, new characters, old characters, science fiction concepts, and more. I truly had a great time watching each movie the first time around, but it was only upon later reflection that I realized the parts didn’t quite add up to the whole. The acting, writing, and direction were all top-notch, especially compared to episodes 1-3, but the problem with this new trilogy, and the one area where the prequels were superior, is perhaps the most important part of all: story.
The reason why the new trilogy (7-9) didn’t work (aside from the three films being directed by two different people with totally different visions) was because two trilogies worth of story were condensed into one trilogy. To see what I mean, look at the previous two trilogies for comparison.
Episodes 1-3 were about the rise of the arch-villains (Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine) and the fall of the heroes (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Padme, Anakin, Mace Windu).
Episode 4-6 were about the rise of the new heroes (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leiah, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando) and the fall of the old villains (Vader and Palpatine).
Episodes 7-9 should have been about the rise of new arch-villains (Kylo Ren and Snoke (or others)) and the fall of the old heroes (Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, Lando).
Episodes 10-12 should have been about the rise of new heroes (Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, Maz Kanata, Rose (or others)) and the fall of the old villains (Kylo Ren and Snoke).
They introduced all these new characters in the new trilogy (some promising) while also keeping almost all of the characters from the original trilogy, so they had double the amount of characters to develop in the same amount of time (three films). It’s no wonder they weren’t able to develop the character arcs as fully as George Lucas did.
The best part of the prequel trilogy was seeing the tragic story of a powerful Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader. We got three full movies of that story, and we were there every step of the way to see how his character made that turn. Story-wise, it all made sense. The only weakness was the stiff acting and dialogue, which were Lucas’s weaknesses. His strengths were always characters, worlds, mythology, and story, modeled after Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.”
The prequels were endlessly mocked and criticized for their weaknesses, and those problem areas were all fixed in the new trilogy. J.J. Abrams is also great at creating worlds and characters, and his new ones were mostly fine. He and Rian Johnson are also more talented at writing dialogue and directing actors. The new movies moved faster, had great action and special effects (which all nine movies had thanks to ILM), and there were no boring parts discussing galactic politics, taxes, and trade federations. However, the new trilogy failed to retain the one good—and most important part—of both original trilogies: the story and mythology.
They tried to build mythology in the new trilogy, but the story was too disjointed and ultimately too rushed. They did the first step of creating a great new villain in Kylo Ren, but they failed to properly show his rise. They begin with him having already turned to the Dark Side and only through flashbacks do we see how and why. This was their fatal mistake. The entire trilogy should have been devoted to Kylo Ren’s fall to the Dark Side. It should have begun with Ben Solo training as a Jedi with Luke. We should have grown to love Kylo while he was good, then slowly turn against him as he succumbs to the Dark Side, pulled by Snoke (or some other Sith villain), who would be the Palpatine of this new trilogy.
As an aside, I think reintroducing Palpatine was a major mistake and is emblematic of the problems with the new trilogy. Sure, it was cool seeing the Emperor in his hood again, shooting lightning from his hands, but it didn’t make a lick of sense story-wise. He was defeated in Return of the Jedi—thoroughly. He was dead, end of story. To bring him back retroactively makes ep. 6 worse. It means the Rebels didn’t win.
It would have been much better to have a new Sith and a new villain, which is what I thought they were going to do with Snoke. Snoke needn’t have been the ultimate villain. I actually would have liked Kylo to kill him in 8 or 9 to become the ultimate villain in next trilogy 10-12, in which he would try to pull Rey to the Dark Side with him. The key to Star Wars was Darth Vader, the villain. He always was the “star” of Star Wars. That’s why this new trilogy didn’t match up. It didn’t have a villain to rival Vader. Kylo Ren had the potential to be a new Vader, and they tried to make him be that villain, but they didn’t have enough time to build his mythos. Instead, they resorted to retread Palpatine as the ultimate villain.
We needed three full films of story to see Ben Solo turn against his parents and Luke and become Kylo Ren. It was a disservice to all the characters involved to have Kylo’s downfall as mere backstory. Likewise, it was a disservice to the new heroes, Rey, Finn, and Poe, to not have enough time to show their rise in becoming heroes. There wasn’t enough time to properly build them up, so they had to skip the training and learning and foils along the way and get straight to the showdown with Kylo Ren and the Emperor. Rey should not have been in eps. 7-9, except maybe only introducing her peripherally toward the end, just as Luke and Leia were introduced in ep. 3.
Eps. 7-9 should have focused on the old heroes—Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO, and Lando—and given them a proper send-off. They could have introduced Finn, but kept him as a Stormtrooper for the first two films, then show him slowly turn good (to contrast Kylo’s arc) rather than instantly doing it all at the start of Force Awakens. Again, they rushed through the story which weakens the characters. As a result, fans never fully connect with them.
The final trilogy (eps. 10-12) should have been Rey’s story. I think she’s a great character (or she had the potential to be at least), but the criticism of her being a Mary Sue is also fair to some extent. Rey should have been the new Luke Skywalker. Eps. 10-12 could have been her story of learning the Force (from Luke and/or Leia) and defeating Kylo Ren with the help of Finn and the new Han Solo, Poe Dameron.
Rey’s lineage is important because there needs to be a reason how and why her Force powers are so strong. But as I said, involving the Emperor in any way was a mistake. There are a ton of ways they could have gone with this, but one possibility would have been to make Rey a clone of Darth Vader. It’s already been established that cloning technology exists in the Star Wars universe. If they can clone Stormtroopers, why not clone someone more powerful?
Rey’s backstory could have been that Vader had made a clone of himself—or better yet two clones (one male and one female, reminiscent of his children, Luke and Leia)—to raise and train as Sith to replace him if and when he died. This could have been discovered early in eps. 7-9. After Vader’s death in ep. 6, Luke and the Jedi find the newborn clones of Vader and face a moral quandary: What should they do with them? Do they kill the babies who may turn into Darth Vader? Or does Luke try to train them himself to ensure they stay good?
Unable to decide, Luke keeps the boy (who I’ll call Var) with him to train as a Jedi, and sends the girl (Rey) away to be raised by a normal family on a remote planet (just as she was in the movie). Ben Solo and Var grow up together, trained by Luke, and become close friends. Meanwhile, the Sith lord Snoke discovers the existence of the Vader clones, finds the boy, and lures him to the Dark Side. Luke tries to protect Var, but ultimately loses. Var embraces his identity as the next Darth Vader (wearing the mask and all) and joins Snoke to build a new Empire.
Var then tried to recruit Ben Solo to join him on the Dark Side. Together they can be more powerful than the Jedi and completely rule the galaxy. Ben is truly torn because he feels allegiance toward Luke and his parents, but also toward Var, his friend and blood relative, which he didn’t know before as Luke lied about Var’s true identity. Ben’s dilemma of torn allegiance toward Var and Luke/Leia/Han, his pull toward the light and dark, would be the bulk of the drama of episodes 7-9. Perhaps Luke kills Var in a lightsaber fight. He doesn’t want to fight him, but Var insists and Luke kills him out of self-defense. This is the final straw that sends Ben Solo to the Dark Side—seeing his Jedi master kill his best friend. Ultimately, 9 ends with Ben killing his father (Han) to join Snoke and become Kylo Ren, the next Darth Vader.
The second trilogy (10-12) would be Rey’s story. Luke realizes she may be the only chance he has to defeat Snoke and Kylo, so he finds her and begins to train her in the Force, not revealing her true identity. When Snoke and Kylo discover Rey, they try to convince her to join them. The big “I am your father” twist would be Kylo telling Rey, “You are Darth Vader.” He tells her how Luke killed her clone brother and forced her into exile her whole life. Rey feels betrayed by Luke and feels a connection toward Kylo, technically her grandson, though they are around the same age. Rey’s arc would mirror that of Anakin’s in the prequels. Ultimately, she rejects the Dark Side and becomes “Ani Skywalker” instead of Darth Vader. She fails to save Kylo in the end, but she does save the galaxy.
Anyway, that’s just my half-baked idea for what could have been with episodes 7-9 and 10-12. (Another possibility could be Rey being the one to stay and train with Luke and the male clone being exiled. Rey grows up with Kylo and they fall in love, but Luke forbids the romance, causing them to resent him, etc.) The story need not have been this exactly—Rey as a clone of Darth Vader is just one of many potential ideas—but the story needed improvement.
The mythology and hero’s journey was always the most important aspect of Star Wars—the vital ingredient. The creators of eps. 7-9 had the bare bones of a new mythos but not enough story to flesh it out. George Lucas should have been more involved in the story development stage (his strength), then they could have hired younger filmmakers like JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson to write and direct the movies (Lucas’s weakness) based on his ideas. Perhaps then we could have gotten the best of both worlds and a new Star Wars trilogy or two that lived up to its name.