From A New Hope To No Hope: The Rise & Fall of a Franchise

It takes a lot for me to say that a movie that is easily going to make a billion dollars is in trouble, but that’s what I’m about to do. Okay, the movie to a lesser extent, but definitely the franchise in general. I’m talking, of course, about Star Wars. At 40+ years old, the franchise has been rebooted, reimagined, and rereleased ad nauseam, but these days it feels more like retread.

Rise & Fall

This week has seen a couple of serious blows to its near-term future. Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker will complete the trilogy of trilogies, and it is set to have the weakest opening of this set of three. According to Box Office Pro, it’s only tracking to have an opening weekend of between $185-$225 million (US). that’s well behind The Force Awakens, possibly even worse that The Last Jedi. And believe me, the phrase “even worse than The Last Jedi” is not a phrase any movie wants to hear.

Also this week, the pedigreed producers and writers for the next set of Star Wars movies dropped out. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were the minds behind HBO’s epic Game of Thrones, with imagination galore and geek cred like none other! Now they’re out. They just inked a $200 million dollar development deal with Netflix and say there just isn’t enough time for the galaxy far, far away. I tend to believe that one of two other reasons are behind the departure. If their story is true, then it’s a sign of just how much luster the force has lost. If Disney/Lucasfilm is losing top notch talent to Netflix it means Star Wars ain’t all that. Disney is launching its own streaming service and could have put together a development package beyond the Star Wars galaxy universe.

The other is that D.B. and David had creative differences with their Imperial Corporate Overlords. Colin Trevorrow was hired to write and direct Episode IX, and was fired after two years of work. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired from Solo: A Star Wars Story while they were in the middle of production. Rogue One reshot its entire third act with a different director. There’s a good chance that they were butting heads with Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy over stories, scripts, and/or other creative aspects. The fact is, once the Skywalker saga is complete, interest is gonna drop off. Waaayyy off.

Take It Back

The backstories and spinoffs that we were been getting during the Skywalker saga off-years are on indefinite hold. I enjoyed Rogue One, it had the feel of the original, Episode IV: A New Hope. Plus Peter Cushing looked damn good considering he’d been dead for more than 20 years.

But Solo was a boring, ineffectual genre exercise despite (or because of) Ron Howard taking over midstream. Then there was a plan for the Boba Fett backstory. I got enough of that in Attack of the Clones.

Then there was the aforementioned Last Jedi. Thanks to Phantom Menace, it won’t be regarded as the worst movie of the franchise. It’s not better than the Star Wars Holiday Special. As cringeworthy as it was, it has a camp factor that propelled it to cult classic status and makes it more iconic than anything that’s been released since Return of the Jedi.

A Long Time Ago..

The fact is: this franchised peaked in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back. The original, A New Hope, made history with its state-of-the-art, boundary-pushing effects. Empire dove into the characters and gave us a real story to sink our teeth into, making it more than a space based soap opera.

The first sign of trouble was Return of the Jedi. A second death star..?? That should have been our clue that the ideas were running dry. But hey, it had Ewoks, I was 11 and therefore was suitably entertained despite not even cocktailing yet.

Star Wars lives off the glory days of its first trilogy, a legacy frozen in carbonite time.

The prequels were terrible. The Phantom Mess Menace was Galactic C-Span. Clones was better, but could have been combined with Revenge of the Sith to create a story that was watchable and engaging.

Force Awakens was the best since Empire, but Last Jedi was a waste of time and nothing more than a third rate bridge movie.  And unless Rise of Skywalker is amazing, Last Jedi will go down as a bridge to nowhere. And the final trailer didn’t even give me goosebumps!

Yes, there are other aspects to the Star Wars canon than the big screen releases. Video games, animated shows, and The Mandalorian is anchoring the launch of Disney+.

The House of Mouse is definitely recouping its $4 billion investment. But while it may have slightly elevated Skywalker et al from the depths of the prequels, it hasn’t raised the franchise to anywhere close to Empire levels.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

I’ll have whatever they were having in the Cantina on Tatooine in Episode IV. I’m sure the drink, like the franchise back then, was good.



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