The Star Wars series returned in an unusual position. While it was one of the most popular and beloved series in media history, its most ardent fans also felt insulted and beaten down by years of abuse from the man who began it all. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams, USA 2015) was essentially an apology for George Lucas’s crimes. As a way of showing that he was gone and his asinine qualities were gone with him, J.J. Abrams created a paint-by-numbers remake of Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope (George Lucas, USA 1977) with noteworthy improvements. The stilted acting of the original film was replaced by a cast that universally performed well. The “save the princess” plot was turned on its head, giving us a female protagonist who was even stronger than Princess Leia (Who was not anything close to the prototypical damsel in distress herself.). The comic relief was largely provided by Finn and BB8 and was never annoying or groan-worthy the way C-3PO had largely been. The effects were improved. The originality meter was very low on the film, but it worked well for what it was trying to do, and seemed to set us up for a second film that would introduce us to a real new Star Wars chapter.
I only returned to watching the Star Wars series because of my love of Rian Johnson. I think Johnson is the best director currently working in American cinema, and I don’t think that’s an overstatement. When he was announced as the writer and director for the second film in the new trilogy, I was on board. And I thought he was set up to be able to bring in all of the originality that was missing from the first film.
It turns out, his marching orders were clearly something quite different from what I expected.