The original Star Wars trilogy is known for revolutionizing cinema and building a fan base like the world had never seen. George Lucas built an empire that has persisted for 40+ years, but with that empire and fandom came 1 thing that haunts every piece of Star Wars content since the OT, the expectation of perfection.
When the decision was made to start production on the prequel trilogy, the world was as abuzz as it could be in a pre-broadband internet world. Expectations were higher than anything that could be considered reasonable, and the fans were ravenous for more content that expanded on the stories that they loved in the 70s and 80s. The Phantom Menace released to the highest box office gross that the world had seen since Titanic, but it could not escape the ghost of Star Wars past. Critics and fans panned the heavy emphasis on galactic politics and trade wars as well as the overly stiff portrayal of marquee characters like Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui Gon Jinn.
These types of reviews continued through Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and were supplemented with more negativity around the over reliance on visual effects. Overall, a majority of people saw the prequel trilogy as a flop, and George Lucas took these reviews from critics and fans to heart. By the end of the prequel trilogy, the backlash against ‘new’ Star War was clear. He shifted away from the silver screen and handed off development of The Clone Wars animated series to Dave Filoni.
Lucas had treatments for a sequel trilogy planned. The films would explore the micro-biotic world of the Force, according to JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, and continue the story of the Skywalkers through the familial bonds that we grew accustomed to in the previous films. But, the expectation of perfection and the sting of the prequels were too much for Lucas to deal with. He ultimately sold Star Wars to Disney for a staggering $4 billion with the hope that it could be resurrected without the ghost that has haunted it since 1983.
With Kathleen Kennedy at the head of Lucasfilm and the immense power of Disney to fund future Star Wars projects, things were looking very positive at the start. The Force Awakens opened to massive box office success and still holds the record for highest grossing domestic (US) film of all time. It seemed like the critics and fans had also embraced new Star Wars after TFA saw a Rotten Tomatoes score of 93%.
Rogue One, the first stand alone Star Wars film ever, continued the upward trend with over $1 billion at the box office and critical praise, but the ghost of Star Wars past was not ready to be laid to rest. The Last Jedi was expected to be the second coming of Empire Strikes Back and prove that Disney/Lucasfilm had done what Lucas thought was impossible, make Star Wars the invincible property it was after 1983, but the film was met with a vitriol that nobody could have seen coming. It completely divided the fanbase and spawned a rhetoric against Star Wars and Disney that has plagued since franchise.
Star Wars films now not only have to be objectively perfect, but they have to be subjectively perfect to each person who watches it. The story has to be in line with what each fan wants and expects to see, which is an impossible feat for any franchise. Disney exacerbated the issues within the fandom by rushing the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story and firing Colin Trevorrow as the director of Episode IX due to creative differences.
The ghost of Star Wars past has made its way back into the public, and it looks like Star Wars will never be the same again. Early reviews for The Rise of Skywalker are ‘mixed’, and the people who were complaining about The Last Jedi taking too many risks and feeling disconnected from its predecessor are now saying that TROS is too safe and reliant on nostalgia. The expectation of perfection has once again reared its head, and the only people that will suffer are the fans.
The phenomenon that we have seen with Star Wars since the late 90s and early 00s cannot even be seen within similarly popular film franchises, eg: Marvel. Clear duds like Ironman 2, Thor: The Dark World, and Age of Ultron were simply dismissed as one off films that didn’t work, and the Marvel fandom moved on without a second thought or petition asking for the removal of these films from canon.
Disney is now at a crossroad with the Star Wars license. They are seeing immense success with The Mandalorian on Disney+, but plans for the continuation of Star Wars on the big screen post-Skywalker saga are shaky at best. The Game of Thrones duo of David Benioff and D.B Weiss have dropped out of their planned film series, and there has been little to no news of whether Rian Johnson has started working on his series of films that were announced pre-TLJ.
The future of big screen Star Wars is unclear and the ghost of Star Wars past is as strong as ever. The only thing fans can do at this point is wait for news from Disney on the fate of the franchise and hope that we will see Star Wars on the big screen again.