It’s Not Too Late To Turn Things Around For Star Wars
Star Wars fandom is imploding like a Death Star collapsing in on itself.
2017’s The Last Jedi earned $700 million less at the box office than The Force Awakens. While still earning over a billion dollars, the difference in ticket sales amounts to about 62 million people who decided they weren’t coming back after The Force Awakens (at an average ticket cost of about $12). Then Solo bombed, struggling to inch its way toward $400 million globally, making it the weakest-performing Star Wars movie ever. The Last Jedi’s second-week DVD sales and overall toy sales also reportedly took sharper-than-expected declines.
In general, the media is blaming all of that on various kinds of “fatigue,” with too much Star Wars coming at fans too soon. But the battles being waged on social media between fans and current Star Wars creators are showing a fan base that is fractured, frustrated, and divided over the current direction Lucasfilm and Disney are taking Star Wars.
While Star Wars itself is seeing declines in various forms, social media outlets that have focused on giving unhappy fans a voice have seen their numbers increase. YouTube channels like Comic Artist Pro Secrets, Geeks & Gamers, and even John talks Star Wars have all seen their subscriber numbers rise after their hosts tapped into the feelings of the fan base and, judging by the comments on their videos, started saying what many fans are thinking.
Whether Lucasfilm and Disney want to acknowledge it or not, something is not working and the money they need to continue profiting from their $4 billion dollar purchase of the Star Wars franchise is getting harder to get from the fans’ pockets.
But Star Wars has been a sure thing for decades and it’s not too late for Disney and Lucasfilm to turn things around.
Here are 10 ways they can do it:
1. Stop Insulting The Fans
Disney needs to lay down the law with current Star Wars writers, actors, and directors and strongly discourage them from attacking the fans. It seems like there is a new article or video every week about someone on the Star Wars team lashing out against the fan base, accusing them of racism, misogyny, intolerance, immaturity, and, most surprisingly, of not understanding that these movies are (by their words) made for kids, not them. Even if all of that were true, it’s not true of the entire fan base and this stream of blanket statements and the online flame wars they trigger are becoming a public relations nightmare for Disney and Lucasfilm and they haven’t done a thing about it. More people are talking about the Fan Wars than they are about the product and the response from their talent has made it seem like the people behind the Star Wars brand feel it’s somehow above criticism and anyone who dares to do so must fall into some socially deplorable category, because nothing could possibly be wrong with Star Wars itself.
2. Hire A Goodwill Ambassador To Deal With The Public
What Star Wars needs is a goodwill ambassador going forward. Someone who isn’t Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, or J.J. Abrams, who have all in their own way contributed to the Fan Wars. This goodwill ambassador’s primary job should be to act as the face of the brand and address issues in a non-hostile and diplomatic way before they become major sources of dissension. They won’t please everybody and they don’t have to. But they need someone to be their spokesperson who has a better understanding of dealing with such a diverse fan base than anyone they currently have backing them. You don’t want someone who is going to respond to fan criticism by calling people “racist man babies.” You want someone who is going to say, “Look! We hear your complaints and we’re going to take them back and see how we can do better going forward,” whether that’s true or not. At least that would diffuse some of the anger and let fans take a “wait and see” approach, rather than inspiring them to boycotts.
They can also decide they don’t care if those fans jump ship, but those fans could be the difference between a $1.3 billion dollar gross and a $2.0 billion dollar gross. Disney just has to decide how much $700 million is worth to them.
3. Introduce Mara Jade From The Original Extended Universe
After Disney bought Lucasfilm, they didn’t get off on the right foot with a lot of fans by throwing out the entire Star Wars extended universe that explored the galaxy in books, comics, games, and cartoons outside of the material presented in the movies. All of it was made non-canon and rebranded as Star Wars Legends. It’s understandable why they did it since it gave them more narrative freedom and let them use characters in the sequels that were dead in the extended universe, like Chewbacca. But a lot of the characters introduced in the original extended universe were very popular and that material could be mined to win fans over who were turned off by the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens or by Luke’s out-of-character personality transplant in The Last Jedi. With those two main characters dead and Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, Star Wars needs classic characters the fans can get excited about seeing, characters who can bridge the gap between the new Disney Star Wars and the classic Star Wars for fans who may not be that excited about seeing a Star Wars without Han, Vader, Luke, Leia or Obiwan.
It would be pretty exciting to see the Star Wars films introduce Mara Jade. Mara was created by writer Timothy Zahn in the novel Heir to the Empire and eventually became a Jedi master and Luke’s wife in the extended universe, as well as the mother to his son, Ben. Her presence would raise some fascinating questions for fans of the Legends extended universe. Was she married to Luke in the new continuity? What happened to separate them? Did she have his son? What role would she or her son play in dealing with Kylo Ren? Her presence could reconnect fans to the Skywalker legacy and make them feel they’re still invested in a part of the Star Wars universe. It would be great to see either one of them avenge Han and Luke by killing Kylo, since it’s appearing less and less likely that Rey is going to do it. One or both characters could be introduced at a funeral for Princess Leia.
4. Introduce Grand Admiral Thrawn From The Original Extended Universe
Another Timothy Zahn creation that fans have been clamoring for is Grand Admiral Thrawn, who stepped in to pull the Empire together after the events of Return of the Jedi, also in Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. Thrawn, a blue alien with red eyes, has been called one of “the most significant and popular characters in the Legends continuity” and many fans hoped he would be the central bad guy in the new movies. With the death of Snoke in The Last Jedi, the New Order has a power vacuum that Kylo Ren likely assumes he is going to step up and fill. Enter Grand Admiral Thrawn to derail his plan and become a much stronger foil for him than General Hux, someone unwilling and unlikely to tolerate the immature petulance we saw from Kylo in previous movies or whatever strange connection he thinks he has to Rey. It would be fascinating to see Thrawn put Kylo in his place and watch him unravel because of it, while Hux gloats from the side.
Of course, episode IX has already been written and production is already underway, and it’s unlikely the J.J. Abrams’ film is going to do much more to ingratiate itself to upset classic Star Wars fans than The Force Awakens did. But, seeing as how Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi closed most of the story doors Abrams opened in The Force Awakens, there is a slim possibility that he could have turned to the extended universe for much-needed storyline material and, even if he didn’t, Mara Jade, Thrawn, and other popular Legends character can always be brought in to deal with events after Episode IX.
5. Plot Out The Story For More Than One Movie At A Time
One of the main criticisms of The Last Jedi is that the plot seemed to come out of nowhere. Several of the storylines set up in The Force Awakens were dropped or ignored and replaced with nothing, making it seem like the writers are making up the sequel trilogy as they go along. Even if they give the writers of each movie some narrative freedom, each movie within a trilogy should feel like it’s moving toward something and complements the other movies within the trilogy. That would let them build up suspense and anticipation and use foreshadowing to give the series a cohesiveness that was lacking between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson pretty much left J.J. Abrams in a narrative dead end that could have been avoided if Lucasfilm had a basic outline for where this new trilogy was headed.
6. Bring Back Luke Skywalker
The Last Jedi’s treatment of Luke was the last straw for many fans, so the single easiest way for Lucasfilm to undo some of the damage that has been done is to bring back Luke and end his story on a much better note. Having this classic character die alone on an island in the middle of a trilogy was a bizarre and inexplicable decision by Lucasfilm. At this point, bringing him back as a force ghost, like Yoda and Obiwan, isn’t enough. Luke needs to come back alive and the writers need to retcon everything about his role in inspiring Kylo Ren to become evil by trying to kill him in his sleep.
They could claim that Snoke came across Luke and somehow trapped his true spirit in a crystal and replaced him with a fraction of himself that became miserable and angry in an effort to prevent him from training more Jedi successfully. Mara Jade can find out about the crystal and she and her son can set out to retrieve it. Only Kylo gets to it first and lies to Rey about its nature, pitting Rey against Mara and Luke’s son against Kylo, with Thrawn and Hux against all of them. Two fierce women in a lightsaber duel would be a first for Star Wars. Mara saves Luke, Rey realizes she was lied to and kills Kylo, Luke defeats Thrawn, and his son sets out to rebuild the alliance. But most importantly, the fans get back the true Luke in his original, inspirational form.
Or, they can simply say Luke never really died. Fans just saw him disappear and assumed that meant he died. He could have been teleported onto a passing ship. It’s possible angry fans would give Lucasfilm a lot of leeway in how they decide to bring Luke back, just as long as they do it.
7. Keep Most Modern-day Politics Out Of Star Wars
Star Wars is supposed to be set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The best of its escapist appeal starts to become lost the more the characters echo our modern-day problems. That’s not to say important political issues can’t be raised. For all their failings, the prequels did a good job of showing how public opinion and corruption in a power base can be manipulated to the point of despotism. Seeing the emperor rise to power by manipulating wars is certainly a political fear that resonates in modern society. But that is the universal politics of war and it has a place in a series about war.
But using Star Wars as a platform to lecture about gender equality or environmentalism is on par with having a story arc that deals with people kneeling before flags at a galactic sports ball game or debating how the rich should pay more to support programs for blue milk addiction. That kind of thing lacks all subtly and takes people right out of the story because most viewers know what they are watching has crossed the line between entertainment and indoctrination. It would be just as unacceptable, awkward, and inappropriate if they claimed the Jedi were able to force legislation on people to make them act in accordance with Jedi ways just because they are the predominant religion in the galaxy. It becomes obvious to see how wrong pushing politics in Star Wars becomes when someone else does it using political positions you disagree with. If Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, and J.J. Abrams want a platform for their personal politics, they should get themselves a blog.
8. Include And Feature Older Characters
People old enough to be a part of Star Wars mania in the 70s are now in their mid to late 40s and older. Do they really want to see a movie killing off all the older characters and continuing to emphasize the theme, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to”? There is plenty of room in Star Wars to include both perky young people and more seasoned characters that can appeal to a more mature audience. Mace Windu, Qui Gon, Obiwan, and even Yoda are all fan favorites throughout the saga, proving that likable characters can have significant roles without having to be under 30.
9. Don’t Stray Too Far From The Style And Tone Of The Original Movies
The original Star Wars trilogy and the prequels fit well together, because George Lucas had a hand in all of them, so their style and tone is very similar. Lucasfilm can play with that successfully to a degree. Rogue One worked in spite of being darker and grittier than the rest. You could watch it and slide right into A New Hope and not feel jarred by it. But the scene on board Han’s freighter in The Force Awakens, with the creatures escaping and eating people, wasn’t really a great fit. It felt more like Aliens. And the comedy scenes used in The Last Jedi felt more like Marvel. Star Wars can be and has been funny several times from the beginning. Leia calling Chewbacca a walking carpet. Han chasing off Stormtroopers only to come face-to-face with a squadron. C-3PO and R2-D2’s banter. But excessive or slap-stick comedy doesn’t work in Star Wars. When Yoda was introduced, he was pretty funny for a reason. But if he stayed that way throughout the entire movie, he would have ruined it the same way Jar Jar Binks and his never-ending comedy antics came off as a very unwelcome distraction in the prequels. New writers and directors tend to want to “make it their own” and they can as long as fans still feel like they’re watching a Star Wars movie.
10. Lure George Lucas Back For Episode 10
As mentioned earlier, episode IX is already shooting, so it’s probably too late to use it as a vehicle to turn things around for Star Wars. Since the media is now using Solo’s behind-the-scenes turmoil as a scapegoat for its box office performance, it’s unlikely that Disney and Lucasfilm want to get the same kind of press for episode IX by firing writers and directors and doing major last-minute reshoots the way they did for Solo. But, announcing that they brought in George Lucas to work on episode X would be a huge move that might reignite the passions of Star Wars fans that were turned off in recent years.
Granted, fans were not that happy with Lucas’ prequels, but it’s not uncommon to hear fans say that the sequels have given them a new appreciation for the prequels. But more than that, having Lucas back on board would send a message to fans that Disney is getting back to basics when it comes to Star Wars and trying to give them something more in tune with the Star Wars universe they know and love by bringing back the man who created it, even if just for one episode. The prequels covered new ground, filled in the blanks to known stories, expanded the universe, and introduced mostly likable new characters or younger versions of old characters, all while maintaining an overall cohesiveness with the original trilogy. As long as Lucas doesn’t try to bring back Jar Jar Binks, he could be just what the franchise needs to get fans excited again.