When J.J. Abrams brought back the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens, which saw the return of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker to the big screen, his highly anticipated opening entry of a new trilogy captured audiences the world over. It grossed $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office, became the third highest grossing movie of all time, and was adored by legions of Star Wars fans. However, it was basically just a veiled remake of A New Hope with all the names changed: the Rebel Alliance becomes the Resistance, the Empire becomes the First Order, the Death Star becomes Starkiller Base, Princess Leia becomes General Leia, the bad guy who’s the father becomes the bad guy who’s the son etc. You can’t just change the names of things and pretend it’s a new story! What we wanted from Episode VIII, later revealed to be called The Last Jedi, was a more original story. We didn’t want a veiled remake of The Empire Strikes Back. We wanted something new, something fresh, something original. But then we did get an original story, the likes of which we had never seen in the Star Wars universe before, and we weren’t happy with it. It was a little too outlandish and different, to the point where it almost wasn’t a Star Wars movie. There’s a lot to love in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but it certainly has its flaws. Now, for the next one, Last Jedi director Rian Johnson is out and J.J. Abrams is back in, after Episode IX’s original director Colin Trevorrow went a little nuts with the asinine idea of actually shooting the movie in outer space. So, here are 15 ways in which Episode IX will be able to improve on The Last Jedi.
15. Stop playing it safe
If Rey is going to join the Dark Side, have her join the Dark Side. Take that plunge. If Kylo Ren is going to turn against the First Order and join the Resistance with his hand on his heart and his tail between his legs, then make it happen. They keep teasing these things, having Kylo trying to seduce Rey to the Knights of Ren and Rey playing on the guilt that Kylo feels after murdering his own father, and then the two fighting together on the same side – but they never reveal what that side is. They’re not making anything stick. Rey is a protagonist and Kylo Ren is an antagonist, and no matter what happens, they’re keeping that the same. Why? It’s a movie about people and a battle between good and evil. Make something happen!
14. Don’t waste characters with underwhelming deaths
One of the biggest mysteries from The Force Awakens was Supreme Leader Snoke. This weird, Palpatine-esque guy appeared as a hologram to Kylo Ren and General Hux and he was like thirty feet tall. Who is this guy? Where is he? Where does he come from? Why’s he so big? And, in The Last Jedi, it is revealed that Snoke is, well, just some guy. He was sitting on his ship the whole time, he’s normal-sized, and there’s nothing really that special about him. And Rey kills him in no time. He’s supposed to be all-powerful, but she outwitted him and cut him in half with very little thinking and skill. So, he was wasted. And then there’s Captain Phasma, the badass female Stormtrooper leader, whose death was also totally underwhelming and whose character was also completely wasted. And this is not to mention the waste of Andy Serkis and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie as actors.
13. Shorter runtime
Goodfellas is 145 minutes long and it’s a deep and contemplative examination of the criminal lifestyle that covers the rise and fall of an infamous gangster across 32 years. The Departed is 150 minutes long and it delves into the world of an Irish criminal organization in Boston as a dirty cop works with him and an undercover cop investigates him. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is 152 minutes long and all that really happens is Luke Skywalker decides the Jedi are cool again, Rey thinks she might like Kylo Ren but decides against it, Kylo Ren thinks he might like Rey but decides against it, Snoke couldn’t be killed but then was killed with ease, and Finn goes on a mission to disable a tracking device that he doesn’t even succeed in doing. The Last Jedi could’ve been much, much shorter. Cut the scene on Canto Bight, the character of Rose Tico, the unnamed character played by Benicio Del Toro, all the time the Resistance fleet wastes mulling over their options, and all the other unnecessary scenes and this could’ve been a much leaner movie. The only two Star Wars movies that are completely without fault are A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and they’re 121 minutes and 124 minutes long, respectively. Episode IX should aim for something like that.
12. Flesh out the conflict
The conflict set up for The Force Awakens was pretty lame. The First Order and the Resistance were just two organizations mindlessly at war with one another. In A New Hope, the Empire and the Rebel Alliance that they are carbon copies of are explained and make sense. The Empire rose out of Emperor Palpatine abusing his political power and grooming Darth Vader as his protégé until they both ruled the galaxy together. The Rebels are a small band of resistance fighters who are taking on the bad guys, led by the great Princess Leia. But none of the backstory behind the First Order – aside from how Kylo Ren turned evil – has been explained. As Rian Johnson himself explained, a movie is not a Wikipedia article. But if we want to care about this conflict and understand it, we’ll need to get some more information about how the First Order came to be.
11. Don’t rely on Force ghosts
Everyone was definitely surprised when Yoda turned up on Ahch-To in the form of a Force ghost to pass on some sage wisdom to Luke. He was left out of the trailers and all the marketing materials and even when they were shooting, Frank Oz wasn’t allowed to leave the set in case anyone saw him. It was a good idea to bring Yoda back to the screen in the form of a puppet, rather than a CGI fabrication, the likes of which contributed to the failure of the prequels. But still, having Yoda in the movie at all was completely unnecessary. He was just in there to give everyone in the audience a nerdgasm. What?! Yoda?! That’s awesome! We were all thinking that for about the first twelve seconds that Yoda’s spectral presence was on the screen. But now, in the cold light of day, it does seem to work against the movie. It wasn’t necessary. In Episode IX, the filmmakers shouldn’t rely too heavily on the appearances of Force ghosts.
10. No more Porgs
When everyone saw their first glimpse of a Porg in the trailer for The Last Jedi, their hearts melted. But that was just a brief second. That much was manageable. But my God, after two and a half hours, you just want Chewie to barbecue all the little bastards. The Porgs in The Last Jedi are not quite as irritating as the Ewoks are in Return of the Jedi, but they certainly come close. They’re just squawking little puffins with big eyes and cuddly fur who do nothing to serve the story and have no reason to exist beyond being cute. Can you think of any reason why Disney would want these things in the movie? That’s right, it was so they could sell toys over the Christmas season. It’s pretty shameless. Please, in Episode IX, no more Porgs.
9. Only use Maz Kanata if it’s absolutely necessary
Maz Kanata was a delightful new character when she was introduced in The Force Awakens, but in that one, she actually served the story. She’s friends with Han and Chewie, so she already has a reason to be there, and she gives Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to Rey, setting off her journey toward being a powerful Jedi. Maz set the stage for the third act of The Force Awakens and the entire setup of The Last Jedi. But she didn’t have a reason to be in The Last Jedi. She just crops up on a weird, shoehorned-in video call (and, by the way, the camera moves with her, hands-free, and cuts between camera angles, while she’s in the middle of a firefight – what?!) where she says that her recommended codebreaker “knows a lot of things,” suggesting that she’s screwed him, echoing her equally uncomfortable comment in The Force Awakens about Chewie being “my boyfriend.” Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o is terrific in the role, but that’s no reason to cram her into an already overstuffed plot for absolutely no reason. If Maz is going to be in Episode IX, it had better be completely necessary.
8. Less complicated plot
Thanks to member berries and the nostalgic value of having Mark Hamill back playing Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher back playing Princess Leia, a lot of people have forgotten that the spirit of Star Wars means it isn’t for us. It’s for kids. Kids go to see Star Wars movies so they can watch gallant knights clash laser swords with evil warriors and huge spaceships blow up other huge spaceships and people travel from planet to planet. We get to join them – that’s our privilege. Star Wars is supposed to be harmless entertainment, fun for the whole family, inspired by myths and legends and fairy tales. Someone should’ve given Rian Johnson that memo, because the movie he made with The Last Jedi was far too complex. I overheard a little boy talking to his dad after the movie had ended. He should’ve had wonder in his eyes, singing The Last Jedi’s praises as though he was a kid in the summer of 1977. But instead, this poor child had not enjoyed the two and a half hours he’d just sat through – he couldn’t follow anything that was going on!
7. If you want to be allegorical, don’t be so on the nose
Jedi is a religion in the Star Wars universe. It’s a belief in a higher power that controls everything. It teaches peace, but it leads to violence and death. It’s an allegory of the religions in our world. But in the earlier movies, the allegory wasn’t as on the nose as it is in The Last Jedi. In The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson’s screenplay uses the actual word “religion!” And there’s also social commentary in the unnecessary subplot involving Finn and Rose on that casino planet when they’re down at the track and they witness some animal cruelty. Rose tells Finn that it’s not right and they go and free a bunch of the oppressed and unfairly treated animals. It’s fine to use Star Wars to make an allegorical political statement – A New Hope is viewed as a commentary on Vietnam with the Empire as the American forces – but don’t make it so heavy-handed.
6. Better humor
The very first moment of The Last Jedi, the moment we’ve been eagerly anticipating for the past two years, features a joke. Well, it’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s not very funny. It sees Poe Dameron contacting General Hux on board the ship he plans to blow up and pretending to be “on hold” and making comments about Hux’s mother. It’s the kind of thing you’d find in a bad episode of Robot Chicken, and it was an awfully odd choice for Rian Johnson to open the film with. And the humor only gets worse than there. Everything gets undercut with a crappy joke. It’s fine to have humor in a Star Wars movie – necessary, even – but it needs to be a lot better than this. Luckily, with Abrams back in the director’s chair, we can have more gags like The Force Awakens’ “That’s not how the Force works!” than The Last Jedi’s “Let’s go, chromedome!”
5. Stick to the rules of the Force
One of the most controversial moments in The Last Jedi is when Leia gets blasted out into the depths of space and then flies back into the ship like Peter Pan. Everyone was watching it and thinking to themselves, What the hell is this?! The idea behind it is that Leia has the ability to use the Force running through her blood and she’s never used it, so she has this pent-up excess of Force that allows her to do an Iron Man, but that comes from a very vague and tenuous grasp of the rules of the Force. That’s in the same ilk as the midichlorians. The same goes for Rey and Kylo Ren’s pseudo-Skype calls across the galaxy and Luke traveling from planet to planet as an indestructible projection. Episode IX will have to stick to a tighter Force rulebook if they want audiences to take it seriously.
4. Lightsaber battles!
There wasn’t a single lightsaber battle in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and that’s a damn crime. That’s what makes Star Wars Star Wars. The only time we get a clashing of lightsabers is the quick flashback of when Luke noticed Kylo Ren turning evil back in the day. And Kylo has what is perhaps the greatest lightsaber kill of all time when he and Rey are fighting Snoke’s guards, but that’s not technically a lightsaber fight. And then there’s Luke’s so-called ‘duel’ with Kylo Ren at the end, which is supposed to be the climax of the movie, but to serve the twist that Luke isn’t really there, they never actually have a duel. Kylo keeps coming at Luke with his ignited lightsaber and Luke keeps ducking out of the way. So, there’s never any actual lightsaber battles in The Last Jedi – someone, please, for the love of God, rectify that for Episode IX.
3. No detours
Star Wars: The Last Jedi was two and a half hours long, and it could’ve easily been trimmed down with some simple script editing. The story takes a bunch of totally unnecessary detours, like Finn and Rose’s little excursion to Canto Bight. As Empire magazine’s review put it, “The middle section loses its shape and is subject to longueurs. Finn and Rose’s mission takes them to Canto Bight, a kind of Monte Carlo peopled by extras from Babylon 5, and feels like it is just ticking the Weird Alien Bar box started by the Cantina. A ride on space horses also feels like a needless diversion, as does Benicio Del Toro’s space rogue, whose strange, laconic presence never really makes its mark.” So, in Episode IX, the filmmakers need to keep the script and the story tight. No more unnecessary detours!
2. Have the character arcs change the characters
Every character in a narrative needs an arc. They need to go through some sort of transformation and be changed by the end of the story, whether that’s being the wizard who saved Hogwarts or the dad who gave his family a great vacation. In The Last Jedi, the character arcs were really great and groundbreaking. The characters were really changing. Rey was being seduced to the Dark Side and Kylo Ren was going soft and sympathizing with the good guys. It seemed like The Last Jedi would really shake things up for the big finale. But then, at the end, Rey went right back to being unconditionally good and Kylo went back to being unconditionally evil. Nothing in the events of The Last Jedi did anything to alter the characters. It’s not that Rian Johnson did give them arcs – he just didn’t have them change by the end of them. What Episode IX needs is for the characters’ lives to be changed by what’s happening. These are life-altering events. The end of the trilogy needs to reflect that. You can’t watch people die, kill people, blow up spaceships, be in spaceships that get blown up, and fight members of your own family with lightsabers and still be the exact same person when you come out the other side. Something definitive has to happen.
1. Reveal Rey’s parents!!!
They need to stop teasing us. There was no mention at all of Rey’s parents in a The Force Awakens, but just because they didn’t say who her parents were, diehard fans and social media users became obsessed with figuring out who her parents were. Is she Luke’s daughter? Is she Han’s daughter? Is she Obi-Wan’s granddaughter? So, in The Last Jedi, they decided to mess around with us. That was our biggest and most burning question going in, and they teased us throughout. They had Rey ask that mirror to show her parents to her, and two murky silhouettes merge into one and reveal Rey herself. And then there’s Kylo Ren’s ‘reveal’ that Rey’s parents are a pair of nobodies, but we’re not so sure we can trust him. So, we want to know, once and for all, who Rey’s parents are. If Episode IX reveals nothing about her parentage, we’ll be very disappointed.