Star Wars has been under Disney ownership for nearly ten years, so it’s important to look back on each aspect (the films, TV shows, video games, books and comics) and see how they hold up, but also how they compare to their counterparts under George Lucas. The films are obviously the major part of Star Wars, revered by the fandom for their strengths. It’s fair to say the Disney films don’t have this same reverence, both in front of and behind the camera.
In an attempt to avoid the partisanship that has sprung up around the Star Wars sequels, I’ll refrain from going too deeply into my personal opinions. They are subjective after all, and there are a lot of people who both like and dislike the sequels for various reasons. However, it’s fair to say the sequels didn’t live up to what Disney hoped.
The lack of consistency is unfortunately very apparent across the sequel trilogy, and this is because Lucasfilm had no overarching plan, they didn’t know what they wanted to explore with the trilogy. Tones and themes differ from film to film, and The Rise of Skywalker is much more a sequel to The Force Awakens than The Last Jedi. The sequels (especially The Rise of Skywalker), were rushed. It’s clear there was no person with an overview of what the sequels were going to achieve, nor the specific themes that were going to be explored. The original and prequel Star Wars films had an undeniable political message behind their existence, whereas the sequel films didn’t, missing a key aspect of Star Wars.
The sequels having multiple directors isn’t an issue, as the original trilogy had three different directors. However, because they all operated from George Lucas’s vision, and looked at similar themes, they feel consistent with one other. If the sequel trilogy had a George Lucas figure to guide the three films, then it’s possible they would have felt more consistent with one another. To take another example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has grown to immense proportions, and one of the main reasons for that is because of Kevin Feige’s planning and vision. While there have been retcons and redoes, they are usually minor in the grand scheme of the MCU.
However, that isn’t to say Disney has completely missed the mark with its Star Wars films. Rogue One was very well received, and is regarded by most to be the best Star Wars film Disney has released. It managed to expand a part of the universe away from the main saga whilst still being an important part of it. The film introduced several concepts that are still being explored today. Solo, whilst not a perfect film, it’s better than the box office flop that it’s known for. Lucasfilm unfortunately continues to learn the wrong lessons from its failure, refusing to recast legacy characters.
Disney has also struggled with representation in the films. While on the surface it seems they did well, giving the lead for the sequels and Rogue One to female characters, this isn’t a leap forward for the franchise. Star Wars has always had strong female characters, be that Leia, Padmé or Ahsoka. Where Disney could have made strides is with its representation of characters from non-white backgrounds, it failed.
John Boyega in particular has faced the brunt of this, going as far to slam Lucasfilm for side-lining his character, saying “they [Lucasfilm] gave all the nuance to Adam Driver, all the nuance to Daisy Ridley,” and that Lucasfilm didn’t know how to treat a black character “you knew what to do with these other people, but when it came to Kelly Marie Tran, when it came to John Boyega, you know fuck all”. As Boyega points out, Kelly Marie Tran was also side-lined. As a new character introduced in The Last Jedi, her character is noticeably absent in The Rise of Skywalker. Many have attributed this to the character’s backlash, but as The Rise of Skywalker had to be written before The Last Jedi, this is unlikely.
The uneven quality of the films unfortunately is made worse through the continual collapse in relationship that Lucasfilm has with its directors. It started with the issue of Rogue One’s extensive reshoots, which saw director Gareth Edwards being side-lined and Tony Gilroy being brought onto the project. Unfortunately, the issues with Solo and The Rise of Skywalker would be more public, with the sacking of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and Colin Trevorrow. While the MCU has had some high profile issues (the firing of Terrance Howard, Edward Norton and Edgar Wright all come to mind), they haven’t compromised the creative vision for their respective projects, and they aren’t as recurrent.
Overall, while Rogue One and Solo represent bright spots in Disney’s Star Wars filmography, the lack of consistency from the sequels, a poor effort at representation and the director issues are unfortunately what will be remembered most when looking back at the last ten years of films in Star Wars. On the whole, the films have struggled to live up to the original trilogy. Here’s to hoping the future of Disney Star Wars films can fix that.