Appeasing fans is a tricky thing, and right now Disney seems to be failing.
It is a common story. An artist creates something unique that captures people’s attention and imagination. People fall in love and become devoted fans. Then the artist wants to create new things, but the new material must walk a fine line between giving people a taste of what they already love while broadening their horizons with the new.
This isn’t easy. Many fans of the Beatles were upset when the boys grew musically and came out with different styles of songs. Tom Hanks was appreciated for his comedy early in his career, but people weren’t keen on seeing him try new roles — until Forrest Gump came along and changed their minds.
And yet if you don’t change, people lose interest. ZZ Top had big success in the early to mid-80s, but then people started complaining that all their music sounded alike.
When Disney bought the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas in 2012, we all knew what was coming. Lucas himself had said that he always envisioned there being three trilogies: the first three movies, then a trilogy set in the distant past and then one set in the aftermath of the destruction of the Death Star and the death of the Empire’s two highest leaders. As long as it took Lucas to make the prequels, folks figured the guy would die before ever giving us a third trilogy.
So when Disney took control and said Lucas would stay on as a creative consultant, we all assumed it was to work together to make the last three films.
Well, that’s not exactly what happened. Lucas feels like he was kicked to the curb so that Disney could go its own direction.
Rabid fans of the series have gone all over the internet to deride the president of Lucasfilm for her uneasy tenure and attitude toward fans.
What do I mean by uneasy? Here is a recap of some of the Star Wars drama under Disney and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy:
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt departed The Force Awakens, leaving J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan to re-work the script late in the process. Writer Gareth Evans was sidelined during major re-shoots of Rogue One, overseen by writer Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton).
Colin Trevorrow reportedly left Star Wars: Episode IX over creative differences, but others in the industry have said he was fired after Lucasfilm lost confidence. And then directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were canned unprecedentedly deep into filming on Solo and were replaced by Ron Howard.
The Force Awakens was overly derivative, basing too much of its content off The Last Hope. Some fans liked it, but many others felt like they were riding on retread tires.
So then it seems that Disney has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. The Last Jedi went so far away from the source material that it rubbed long-time fans the wrong way. Luke Skywalker would never act that way, they argue. I won’t give spoilers for that film, but I agree that the character did feel wrong.
Luke was always the beacon of hope for the galaxy. Even when everyone else said Darth Vadar was equal parts machine and evil, Luke said he could still feel good inside his father. When it looked like Luke might lose his calm and slip over to the Dark Side in the final battle with Vadar and the emperor, the young man found a way to regain his composure and recommit himself to the Light Side.
Rey travels a long way to find Luke to get that beacon of light back for the rebellion. And she finds a bitter, cranky old man?
Mark Hamill himself has complained about his character’s role in the film. Harrison Ford only signed on for The Force Awakens if the writers agreed to kill him off. And now Carrie Fisher has passed away. So none of the three stars will be part of any movies going forward.
Luke, Han and Leia were never really integral parts to this third trilogy. The focus has really been on Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren.
And since that is the case, I will revisit a complaint I had from six years ago.
When Disney announced its purchase in 2012, there were many questions about Star Wars’ future. The company said it planned to make more movies (as expected).
I was excited because I was hoping for a trilogy of movies based off the books of Timothy Zahn.
Who? At one time, Lucas was very protective of his brand and wouldn’t let anyone else touch his characters. Zahn, a young but established science fiction writer, approached Lucas with some ideas about the future of the characters, set five years after the end of Return of the Jedi.
Zahn convinced Lucas to allow him to write the Heir to the Empire trilogy with the characters, and now there are shelves of books at bookstores written by other sci-fi novelists about Star Wars.
So when asked specifically about Zahn’s books, Disney said nope, it wasn’t interested in his version of the future. It would be creating its own stories, and none of the books that fans have been reading for the past two decades are considered canon (or factual in the Star Wars universe).
Bam, just like that, Disney trashed every novel written from 1991 to 2012 — 21 years of books suddenly declared fake news. Good job, Disney.
And why? Because Zahn’s books were only five years after Return of the Jedi. In order to film a movie 30 years later, the roles would have to be recast. And nobody can play Han Solo except Harrison Ford, right? Well, until this past week when Alden Ehrenreich played Han in the new movie Solo.
If the original actors were never intended to be the focal points of the movies anyways, then why not go with Zahn’s excellent books as the source for the movies?
P.S. Solo was expected to earn $150 million over the holiday weekend and only earned $83.3 million. Rather than admit to mishandling things, Disney says the problem must be Star Wars fatigue because of four movies in two years.
And yet that didn’t hurt Avengers: Infinity Wars, which has earned $621 million this month despite a glut of Marvel movies the past decade.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.