Though there are many things to be disappointed in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, one of the most prominent is just how derivative they are of the original trilogy. Say what you will about the prequel trilogy, and they are just as awful if not worse, but they at least tried to broaden the world and types of stories told in it. Not so much the sequel trilogy.
It would be exhausting to list all the elements the sequel trilogy rehashes: the main character starting their journey on a desert planet, the exact same evil empire vs scrappy rebels dynamic, the huge death moon superweapon the rebels have to destroy after it blows up an idyllic planet, a villain who’s related to the main characters, the sequel where the rebels are pursued by the empire, and the final movie where they face yet another superweapon and the same emperor.
There really isn’t an ounce of originality in the sequel trilogy. And the most irritating thing about it is that there’s plenty of fascinating directions the trilogy could’ve gone, more interesting thematic and plot avenues for it to explore. Today I’m going to list just a few.
The Limits of Redemption
There’s an irritating trope in fiction that not just Star Wars is guilty of, whereby an evil character will be redeemed by sacrificing their life at the end of the story. What makes it irritating, is that this ‘redemption’ is essentially cheap. Sure, Darth Vader did a good thing by killing the Emperor, but does that single act redeem him from the last twenty years of fascism and violence? One good act doesn’t wash away a life of bad ones.
Another reason the sacrifice trope is cheap, is because it lets the evil character off the hook: they don’t have to live with the pain of what they’ve done, don’t have to face it, don’t have to put in the work to make amends, don’t have to change their world views.
This idea, of the limits of redemption, could’ve been fascinating to explore through the lens of Luke coming to terms with his father’s legacy. Or, one of the new younger characters could’ve been the victim of Darth Vader’s violence, one who distrusts the Skywalker name.
The Messiness of Revolution
I already wrote about this fairly extensively in my critique of the Mandalorian, but all revolutions are messy and just because the evil empire has fallen doesn’t mean that an idyllic republic will immediately spring up from its ashes. Realistically the empire from the original trilogy would splinter into a dozen remnant groups ruled by admirals and generals unwilling to surrender. To Quote what I wrote in my Mandalorian post:
Werner Herzog’s speech really makes it clear what a missed opportunity the series is as a whole. There’s a far more interesting story to be told about the messiness of revolution and the chaotic vacuum that’s formed when even an evil regime is displaced: the crime syndicates armed with abandoned imperial equipment (not unlike the real world ways when the soviet union fell AK-47′s became the weapon dejour of terrorists and third wold militias) that would rise up to take control of the areas the new republic doesn’t have the resources to annex, and the scrabble and infighting of different moffs and imperial warlords.
While a mainline Star Wars movie might not have been able to delve into the infighting between imperial remnants as easily, there are still a lot of fascinating avenues it could’ve explored: is there resentment for stormtroopers who were forced to throw down their arms? Were they punished? And what about rebel troopers? Fighting in a righteous rebellion is different, after all, then peacekeeping for a government.
The Role of the Jedi Order
What happened with Luke’s Jedi school in the sequel trilogy? Besides Kylo going murder happy on them, it’s not really clear. What was he trying to achieve? What was he trying to change from the Republic era? As cool as the Jedi were, they were a deeply flawed organization; denying people attachment from a young age is less likely to give you wise monks and more likely to create janissaries.
How can Luke create a new Jedi order? Will he follow the old dogma? What needs to be changed? Is there even a role for a paramilitary police force that operates without governmental oversight? And if there is no need for the Jedi, then what role does the force play in the universe?
For all that the prequel trilogy is rightly maligned, it does create an interesting through line that thematically enhances the original trilogy on this front. Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side comes because of his inability to detach from the world: in the end he is willing to do anything, including slaughter children, to keep her from dying.
It is exactly this pipeline from attachment to the dark side that Yoda tries to warn Luke about in The Empire Strikes Back, that he must let go of his friends and let them die. But where his father fell because of attachment, Luke is able to balance his own and stay on the light side. This is a theme and idea that could’ve been expanded on in a trilogy of its own.
A Note On Price: even Jedi fall on hard economic times. And when they do, they rely on title loans to get them through. If you find yourself in a difficult position yourself, do as the Jedi do and avail yourself of one.