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The Last Jedi: The state of the Star Wars galaxy, one year later

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Up in Snoke or on the Rey to victory?

A long time ago -- well, a year ago -- The Last Jedi came out. That's like seven in dog years! Or fifteen if it's the dog's first year? It does feel like longer to me though, since I first trekked out with my brother and dad, maintaining tradition, catching a Thursday night show after some fantastic Mexican food. So many beans. So much Hamill! So much... huh?

We're all pretty privy to the perfectly civil, wholesome, respectful and intelligent reaction that swept the Internet and watercoolers following The Last Jedi's release. From review-bombing to the harassment of an actor, to the point that she dropped out of social media, Internet "fans" spewed more toxicity than usual with the latest main entry, spawning sides of an argument that defend the film for its boldness, disappointed fans who wanted something different, and a fair share of angry, generally-unpleasant and prejudiced Internet trolls.

Before we start looking at where we are now, let me tell you where this particular Star Wars fan stands.

The Last Jedi, for me, confirms what The Force Awakens started: It's Star Wars by way of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Disney Channel. Humor consists of bumbling non-sequiturs, trivializing entire scenes; there's a strong disconnect between where we left off in Episode VI and where we pick up with Episode VII; there generally seems to be a missed opportunity to expand our reach beyond the "simple" Skywalker story, which, at least, The Last Jedi confirms as the focus of this New Trilogy. You want more I can talk your ear off, believe me, friend-o, but we've all heard these arguments time and time again. 

I like to think of myself as a rational man ("Good one, van der Meer!"), able to discuss why I think The Last Jedi doesn't do the franchise justice. But what prompted such an ugly response from the Internet, a place where ugly responses are more common than Rey's furrowed brow? "Entitlement" seems to be what I've settled on. Fans wanted one thing, they got something totally different. Fans wanted things to go this way, and not that. I think some cry "Disneyfication," which I agree with to an extent. A lot of things. Now, certainly, there were and are fans who are thrilled with the direction the series is taking, both long-timers and kids who don't know an E-11 from a DC-15, and that's great. But for the sake of understanding where this ship's headed, let's peek into the darkness.

So let's put The Last Jedi behind us for a moment. Jump forward five months and WHAM--new Star Wars movie! Again! What! Solo: A Star Wars Story had a tumultuous production, reported on quite publicly, rattling fans who had already been rattled so recently by Jedi. There was the general skepticism surrounding the "Star Wars Story" spin-offs (personally, I think Rogue One is the best Star Wars feature film outside of the Original Trilogy), so Solo was always something of a crapshoot. But after many were let down by Jedi, was there another bomb on hand? Well... sort of.

Most people thought it was mediocre.

(Author's note: I, along with our reviewer, think Solo was really good. As someone who wears Hawaiian shirts in January, I appreciate Lando's wardrobe. Bradford Young's cinematography is excellent, there's a tempo and simplicity to the story that doesn't bog itself down. And that ending! You see the guy! Remember him!?)

Box office numbers were "low" (in a world where we need billions to be a hit!), reviews were lukewarm-to-poor, and there was a sort of "sweep it under the rug" vibe about it. Womp-womp. But in a world where true garbage like Suicide Squad performs well at the box office, where's the cosmic justice in Solo doing so poorly? "Well the world is cruel and haphazard, Sam." Yes but what makes people actually take note of word of mouth (here in the form of "Solo--it's not very good.") in the case of Han and Chewie's bromance backstory? Could this be... the revenge of the sith? Last Jedi, the point is Last Jedi, but that was too easy and too good not to make. 

Those same rattled fans who stomped out of The Last Jedi, pelting the ushers with garbage (I've been there, be kind to your theater staff please) had Kylo Ren's high-waisted pants on the mind when Solo's opening weekend came 'round. To quote SpongeBob, "Naaaaaah, I don't really FEEL like it." The burning desire to rush out and see a new Star Wars film was dampened. "I'll catch it on Netflix," was no doubt the thought of many whose MoviePass (remember that?) was already starting to fail them. Star Wars wasn't dead, but it was hurting.

Hurting bad enough that, get this, the big cheeses actually seem to be working to fix things! From the Magic Kingdom came confirmation that Disney and Lucasfilm were reassessing their Star Wars feature schedule, Disney CEO Bob Iger mentioning "too much, too fast." Certainly, the length of time between Jedi and Solo had an impact, the wounds not fully scabbed and for Disney to come forward and actually admit misstep is sort of nice. But you're smoking death sticks if you think the Star Wars train is stopping.

Just this past week we got a cast update on Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian, which looks to focus on a lone warrior from, you guessed it, Mandalore. That's Jango Fett's home, yo. The Mandalorian is pulling in all sorts of talent, leaving me personally excited and somewhat optimistic we'll get a strong series out of it. 

And of course, 'ol JJ is directing away with the pending Episode IX, and Game of Thrones scribes David Benioff and DB Weiss are lending their head-severing expertise to a "new series" of Star Wars films. And hey, Rian Johnson isn't done yet. He's got an entire trilogy for ya!

You get a contract! And you get a contract!

Perhaps most exciting was the Comic-Con announcement that the beloved Clone Wars series would be getting a seventh season after a muddled conclusion. Showrunner Dave Filoni's spiritual follow-up Star Wars Rebels also saw its fourth and "final" season this year, and another animated series, Star Wars Resistance premiered to... oh yeah, that came out!

Outside of the films and television, a steady stream of literature continues, and Marvel publishes more Star Wars comics than you can shake a gaffi stick at. Star Wars Battlefront II from EA and DICE continues to be a mixed bag of attempted support (let my brother talk your ear off with the ups and downs of that game!), and we have more Star Wars games on the way. I eagerly anticipate whatever it is Respawn Entertainment, the unsung heroes behind the Titanfall franchise, are up to with Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (a really goofy title now that I type it out). Things are direr elsewhere, with Amy Hennig, creator of the Uncharted series, leaving EA Vancouver and that team's Star Wars game. This following last year's closure of Visceral Games, another EA team that was supposedly working on an open-world Star Wars title. Can someone just make a sequel to Republic Commando? Pleeeeease?

That's a lot of Star stuff to chew on. Clearly, the gears aren't stalled entirely, though we've caught wind that maybe Disney's galactic empire isn't as fully operational as they might have thought. The Last Jedi, love it or hate it, was the first real sign of brand damage or backlash, despite the lukewarm response towards Rogue One a year prior.

Given this time to reel things in, and slow down, how have fans been taking it? Coping? Solo premiered in US theaters May 25th, 2018. Episode IX is currently set for a December 20th, 2019 open in the US. The return of Clone Wars and The Mandalorian's premiere are set for "summer," so perhaps we can count on those to fill the void, but that's more than a year and a half between feature films, longer than the recent gaps we've seen for Disney Star Wars releases. I don't exactly scour the message boards for signs of life in the Last Jedi Troll Brigade, but it seems the fervor of anger has dissipated for most into passing references. Even now, as we mark a year from Jedi's release, the articles that have popped up are largely ones reflecting on the reaction, rather than taking a side. If anything we seem to acknowledge The Last Jedi as interesting for just how much it shook the fanbase, for better or for worse and served as something of a wake-up call. Star Wars is life, but it's also... Star Wars. We can love something in the long run while loathing it (strong word) in the moment, and it feels like we're at that point of understanding that not everything is for everyone, and that's okay. 

That in mind, I leave you with a rambling anecdote.

It's a cold Saturday morning, the 16th of December, last year. I had seen Jedi two nights ago, and was thinking it a bit of a mess. I was out in the cold this morning with eight friends, standing in front of our two cars, as we prepared to drive down to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. We're New Yorkers, a day trip, some four or five hours in a car listening to The Beatles and fighting the urge to stop at Cracker Barrel. Why were we driving such a distance? To see The Last Jedi.

"What don't they have movie theaters in New York, you imbecile?" Yes, but the Franklin Institute was the theater nearest us playing The Last Jedi off of a 70mm print, and because my friends and I (chiefly our ringleader, Jeffrey, who deserves more commendation for his lengths to see movies in very particular ways than I can fit here) are insane enthusiasts. They had all not seen the film, I was the outlier. The spoilsport. The skeptic. The movie itself came up, and I'm shaking my head, "I won't say anything..." "Shut up Sam, you don't like anything!"

I didn't like Last Jedi. I've grown with it, thought about it. I wish I liked Last Jedi. Maybe one day. I think Episode IX will likely be an unsatisfactory, tried-and-(un)true finale to a weak "core" set of films. And you know what? I can't wait to see it opening night with my dad and brother, and then drive down again to Philly to catch it on film. Why? Because it's Star Wars, guys. For as long as I can remember, I was Boba Fett for Halloween, I lost my shit leaving school early to see Episode III, I felt tremors of excitement picking up Battlefront for my PS2 (after not being able to play it for awhile because it was too violent; look at me now, mom!). Star Wars, like for millions of others, is a part of me. It's like a part of the family. And we don't always love our crazy uncle all the time. We might not like grandpa any time. But being close, having that connection, there's a tolerance and a comfort. A familiarity. And that's my attitude towards anything Star Wars moving forward, and always has been. 

My opinions on the stylings of Star Wars these days are pretty set. Across this New Trilogy, things haven't changed from VII to VIII. Logic says I will be disappointed or dissatisfied with a lot of the content to come. But, y'know, never tell me the odds.

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Sam van der Meer
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