When Disney acquired the rights to produce new Star Wars films in 2012, a lot of people were understandably nervous about the iconic franchise's future. Three years later, The Force Awakens premiered, and no definitive opinion was reached. Some people have loved the new Star Wars films and some people despise them. If you've been on the internet in the past few months, you're aware of the divide among the Star Wars fanbase at the moment. If we, as fans, put our emotions and nostalgia aside, we can probably admit that the new Star Wars films are flawed but still fun.
If we're being honest with ourselves, the original trilogy was the exact same way. You can go back and forth all day discussing which set of films was more flawed, or why some flaws just ruin the whole film for you, but the fact is, Disney's new direction for the Star Wars franchise has improved on a lot of the original trilogy's shortcomings, and fallen short of some of its strengths. Living up to a legendary film trilogy is hard, but there's a lot to be appreciated about the new films. CBR takes a look at 10 things they improved on (and 10 things they failed hard at.)
- Kylo Ren/Darth Vader art in feature image by Zork Marinero.
20 BETTER: CINEMATOGRAPHY
Of the three new Star Wars films, we've gotten so far, The Last Jedi has without a doubt been the most controversial and most criticized. Whether that criticism is deserved or an overreaction is a debate from another time, but one point that NO ONE has ever criticized is the film's cinematography.
Even if you despise the story, characterization, dialogue, etc, you have to admit it's an outright beautiful film to look at from start to finish.
The same is true for Rogue One and The Force Awakens. While the original trilogy has its fair share of great shots, cinematography (and filmmaking in general) has come a long way since the late '70s - early '80s, and Disney has spared no expense hiring some of the best cinematographers in the business.
19 WORSE: EXPLAINING WHAT'S GOING ON
The Force Awakens dropped us into the middle of an ongoing quest. Poe Dameron is getting a missing piece of a map to Luke Skywalker from... some guy. Why does he have a piece of the map? Did Luke Skywalker give it to him? Why does a map to Luke even exist if he never intends to leave the island?
Soon after, we meet Kylo Ren and eventually learn that he was a former pupil of Luke turned to the dark side of the force by Snoke, leader of the First Order. Who is Snoke? How did he build the First Order after the fall of the Empire? How did he know Kylo when he was Luke's pupil? And what is the First Order anyway? Are they the new galactic government? A massive separatist army? What is going on in these movies?!
18 BETTER: MYSTERY
While the new Star Wars films don't do a very good job of giving us the basic political situation of the galaxy or the backgrounds of important supporting characters, they also manage to turn ambiguity into a strength with mysteries that were built up from the beginning. How is Rey so attuned to the Force? Are her parents really nobody important? Was there more to Snoke than what we saw?
As great as the original trilogy was, there was no air of mystery to them at all.
Everything was pretty straightforward. Sure, we got huge twists like the revelation that Vader was Luke's father, but we were never made to ask who Luke's father was before that moment. The biggest "mystery" in the Original Trilogy was probably, "Who is the Emperor?" And the answer was simply, "He's the Emperor." He didn't even get a name until the prequels.
17 WORSE: CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS
The three main characters of the original trilogy were Luke, Han and Leia. Han and Luke end the trilogy as great friends, brothers in arms, but Han initially sees Luke as a naive child, while Luke initially sees Han as a selfish and arrogant scoundrel. We get to see their relationship develop as they go through challenges together. Leia has a similar transition toward the two, from cold and spiky to compassionate and loving.
In the new Star Wars films, Finn helps Poe escape, then they're separated for most of the movie. When they reunite, we're expected to buy their excited bro-hug like these guys have spent more than 20 minutes together. In The Last Jedi, they're separated almost immediately. Rey is also gone for the entire film, and Poe meets her for the first time ever in the last five minutes. Our three heroes have barely met.
16 BETTER: LIGHTSABER BATTLES
This one is obvious. When the average person thinks Star Wars, they immediately think about the lightsabers. A lot of people claimed the prequel trilogy had better lightsabers than the original trilogy, but the choreography for Episodes I-III was more like dancing than fighting, with a lot of fancy spinning and flipping.
In the new Star Wars films, every lightsaber strike is raw and emotional, with strength behind it.
The choreography often reminds you of Luke's final battle with Darth Vader, striking angrily and violently. The new films take that raw emotion and add impressive 21st-century choreography, while still making it feel like a real medieval-style sword fight. Even if you hated The Last Jedi with every fiber of your being, you have to admit the throne room battle was pretty awesome.
15 WORSE: THE HERO'S JOURNEY
There's really no comparison between Luke and Rey's journey. Luke starts off as a whiny farm boy who tragically loses his parental figures, learns about his role in a bigger universe, and takes on the responsibility of saving the galaxy. He goes through intensive training with an ancient Jedi master to fight the dark lord of the galaxy, and he loses in his first attempt!
Rey starts off as a confident, battle-ready warrior who's great with a blaster, an incredible pilot, and a technology whiz. Without ever having ignited a lightsaber before, she nearly defeats an enemy who's literally spent his entire life training in lightsaber combat. After a few days training with Luke, she takes out an entire room full of elite warriors tasked with protecting the Supreme Leader of the galaxy. What growth could she possibly go through when she starts off completely OP?
14 BETTER: THE ACTING
The original trilogy had its share of legendary actors -- James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Cushing, Sir Alec Guinness -- but none of them had material that really pushed their skills to the limit. On top of that, the main characters were basically unknown newbies. The original trilogy is great, but Mark Hammil was a pretty weak actor throughout the whole thing. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher weren't much better.
Compare that to Hammil's performance in The Last Jedi, where he steals every scene he's in, even among the incredible emotional performances from Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and pretty much everyone else. Harrison Ford gives his best Han Solo performance ever in The Force Awakens, and Rogue One could be the subject of an acting master class.
13 WORSE: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
We already touched on this with regards to Rey's "Hero's Journey," but the new Star Wars films have a serious problem with good character development. Luke went from a farmboy to a Jedi Knight, Han went from a selfish rogue to a hero for the rebellion, Leia went from a cold diplomat to a compassionate friend.
The only meaningful character development has been with Luke.
In contrast, Finn ran away from being a stormtrooper, tried to run away from Han and Rey, then tried to run away from the Resistance in The Last Jedi. He hasn't grown or changed in any definable way from where he started off. Neither has Poe or Rey for that matter. The only meaningful character development has been with Luke (developing quite drastically from the original trilogy) and Kylo Ren trying to find his place within the balance of the Force.
12 BETTER: SHIP BATTLES
Nobody ever brings it up, but the ship battles in the Original Trilogy were kind of... boring. It's not really anybody's fault. The technology just wasn't there yet to create the kinds of epic aerial dogfights we have today. Before The Force Awakens premiered, some people even expressed their hope that ship battles would be kept to a minimum.
However, The Force Awakens changed all that and took things to a place that we had never seen before. From the opening escape with Finn and Poe to the Millenium Falcon chase on Jakku, and perhaps best of all, the X-Wing assault on Maz Kanata's castle. Rogue One and The Last Jedi continued that trend, crafting visually stunning space and planetary battles the likes of which we've never seen before.
11 WORSE: THE MUSIC
Look, John Williams is a genius and one of the greatest theatrical composers of all time, if not THE greatest. However, sometimes he creates scores that are truly iconic, and sometimes he creates scores that are "merely" great. The music of the new Star Wars films is still fantastic and some of the best in film scores today, but you can't fault a guy for not recreating the magic of the Star Wars opening theme or the Imperial March. Decades later, you can still hear the Cantina Band in your head.
The new Star Wars films just haven't had that iconic score yet.
Think about it, can you recall any musical score from the new Star Wars films that didn't originally appear in the Original Trilogy? Rey's Theme is a possible exception, which you might remember if you saw it recently.
10 BETTER: THE BAD GUY
We know! We know! Some of you just rage-quit the page at the mere suggestion that Kylo Ren or any villain in cinematic history could be better than Darth Vader, but hear us out. Kylo Ren and Darth Vader are two distinct types of villain, and Kylo is arguably the more interesting type. Why? Because he's not entirely sure he's on the right side.
Ren may not be as good at his job as Vader, but he's a lot more interesting to watch.
True, Darth Vader turned against the Empire in the eleventh hour, but there was no indication of internal struggle before then. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, has been in a proverbial battle for his soul from the very beginning, and you're never quite sure what he's going to do. He's much more susceptible to his emotions as well, which means he may not be as good at his job as Vader, but he's a lot more interesting to watch.
9 WORSE: THE BAD GUY'S BOSS
Whether you prefer Vader or Kylo, there's no denying that Supreme Leader Snoke is a poor substitute for the Emperor. While it's true that we didn't learn much about the Emperor in the original trilogy (his real name included), we got hints of his machinations throughout three films before seeing how powerful his manipulation of Darth Vader was. And when he couldn't turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side, we got to see the extent of his true power.
Snoke, on the other hand, appears as a giant hologram in The Force Awakens. He promises to complete Kylo Ren's training, then spends most of his screen time in The Last Jedi showing how worthless he is. Then he goes the way of Darth Maul, but for all his talk of worthlessness, Snoke wasn't half the villain Kylo Ren is.
8 BETTER: DRAMATIC TENSION
What's the most tense moment from the original Star Wars trilogy? Not just surprising, but physically tense? A moment where you can feel your heart beating with anxiety about a choice that could go one way or another. Maybe Luke coming close to striking Vader down in Return of the Jedi? You know he's not going to, because then he'd be evil, but it's kind of tense.
Meanwhile, the new movies are full of dramatic tension.
Take Han Solo on the bridge of Starkiller Base with Ben in The Force Awakens for example. You basically knew what was coming but you were still on the edge of your seat wondering if they'd really kill off Han Solo. Cassian getting ready to shoot Jyn Erso's father in Rogue One. Kylo Ren preparing to shoot the ship his mother is on in The Last Jedi. These moments aren't just genuinely surprising, they're seat-grippingly tense!
7 WORSE: ORIGINALITY
Let's be honest with ourselves. It's not like the original Star Wars trilogy is all that original. It's your basic hero's journey where an unassuming nobody learns of his secret destiny and becomes a hero. That doesn't take anything away from it being a great saga, but it's wasn't exactly a brand new formula even then.
The new Star Wars movies, however, not only reuse that same formula pretty much beat-for-beat, but they reuse a lot of the ideas that actually were original in the original trilogy. A New Hope had a moon-sized planet destroying death star? Well, The Force Awakens has a planet-sized multi-planet destroying Starkiller Base! The Last Jedi reused the formula of our hero going off to train with an old Jedi hermit before leaving. Even Rogue One basically just tells us a story to which we already knew the ending.
6 BETTER: DIALOGUE
Dialogue in film has changed a lot in the past 40 years. It has become more polished, more emotional in general, and more realistic to the way people actually speak. There's no denying there are some great lines in the original Star Wars trilogy, but things are written in a far more wooden and stageplay-like way.
Because we've seen them a thousand times and thanks to a heavy nostalgia factor, we tend to overlook silly-sounding lines like, "The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master," and the terrible comeback, "Only a master of evil, Darth." Sure, it gives insight into their relationship, but it's such awkward phrasing. If a line like that showed up in Episode IX, it would be this generation's, "I don't like sand."
5 WORSE: THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE
In 1991, the Star Wars expanded universe kicked off with Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, the first book in the Thrawn Trilogy. Over two and a half decades later, they're still considered some of the best Star Wars novels ever written.
The expanded universe novels were being published right up until 2013 when Disney officially de-canonized everything previously written.
While quality varied quite a bit in the EU, it was much beloved by fans overall and featured tons of developments in the lives of Han, Luke and Leia. Of the handful of official canon novels released since Disney took over, most fans agree that the magic has never been quite recaptured again. Even Thrawn, written by Timothy Zahn, just couldn't live up to his original creation.
4 BETTER: REPRESENTATION
This is another obvious one, and it's the very thing that a small number of vocal fans are upset about. Most people today would agree though, that better minority representation is a good thing. Back when all StarWars fans had was the original trilogy, it was something of a sad joke among fans that Lando Calrissian must be the only person of color in the galaxy, because every other actor in the original trilogy was white.
Thanks to Disney's new direction, our main hero of the sequel trilogy is female, and her supporting heroes are black and latino. Finn teams up with the main saga's first Asian hero in The Last Jedi, and Rogue One starred Mexican actor Diego Luna, Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, and British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed, among others.
3 WORSE: ALIEN CHARACTERS
Sadly, one of the most disappointing aspects of the new Star Wars films is the startling lack of good alien characters. In the original trilogy, we were introduced to Chewbacca, Yoda, the sand people, Admiral Ackbar, Jabba the Hutt, the Ewoks and more. All of them were living, breathing characters who felt like they had their own distinct cultures, they mattered to the story, and they were often surrounded by other alien races.
The sequel trilogy, on the other hand, has given us Maz Kanata, Snoke (maybe?), and they brought back Chewbacca, but that doesn't really count. Even in the much-praised Rogue One, the entire main team is human (apart from a droid) and all the enemies are human. It's almost like the new Star Wars films are afraid to show us any aliens we're not already familiar with.
2 BETTER: THE JOKES
This may be one of the more controversial opinions on our list, but if you think about your theater-going experience for The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, or even the mostly serious Rogue One, you can probably remember a lot of moments that made the audience laugh out loud, whether you personally found it funny or not.
Now think back to your first viewing of any of the original trilogy films, or anyone else's first viewing. There are definitely funny lines in the original trilogy, but they're not as "laugh-out-loud" and they're certainly not as frequent. To be clear, being funnier does not necessarily mean the new films are better. In fact, many have criticized the comedic direction the new films have taken. It just depends on your own preference of what Star Wars should be.
1 WORSE: THE HUMOR
Before you raise your eyebrows, yes, this is different from "the jokes." It's one of the biggest criticisms of post-Disney Star Wars. The humor in the original trilogy always arose organically from the situation. For example, Han's famous conversation to the stormtroopers on the intercom. "We're all fine. Everything's fine here now... How are you?" It was just a response to the situation, doing his best to keep the enemies at bay.
Compare that to the new trilogy, which has joke beats. They wait for laughter from the audience and push in jokes just for the sake of having jokes, like Poe Dameron's "I'm holding for General Hux" bit in The Last Jedi. It's not that it wasn't a funny bit, but the character was specifically trying to be funny, rather than just responding to the situation in a natural way.