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As we approach our first holiday season without a new Star Wars movie since the franchise returned in 2015, all eyes are on Star Wars: Episode IX. The film is still shrouded in the standard mystery, but a recent report has indicated that Episode IX is intended to be a course correction for the franchise, with director J.J. Abrams seemingly tasked with fixing Star Wars' issues with his Episode IX.
What such a course correction could entail is worthy of speculation, but in order to theorize about how to get Star Wars back on track, we must first operate under the assumption that it is off track. Opinions will vary, but it should be obvious that the franchise doesn't look quite like the unstoppable juggernaut it once did. Following the lackluster box office of Solo: A Star Wars Story and the divisiveness of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the franchise has been left reeling from a fan backlash, and perhaps worse, apathy. So Star Wars: Episode IX has to unite a fractured fanbase and get people excited about Star Wars again.
For some, Star Wars may not need fixing, but it is clear that Lucasfilm and Disney think it does and they've tasked J.J. Abrams with doing so. J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode IX now only has to close out a trilogy, provide a satisfying end to the Skywalker Saga and fix the franchise's issues, all in one film. No pressure. With all that said, it's time to muse about how J.J. Abrams might try to get Star Wars back on track.
Give Luke Skywalker More To Do
Whether you liked the approach Rian Johnson took with Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi or hated it, there is no question that it was surprising and not at all what we expected from the hero of this franchise in the sequel trilogy. The disillusioned Luke espoused the failings of the Jedi, and then, in an awesome display of power, he offered the galaxy a new hope once again before perishing.
Needless to say that only one movie's worth of Luke is not what most fans were imagining. However, we know that Mark Hamill is returning for Star Wars: Episode IX and I fully expect J.J. Abrams to give the Jedi Master much more to do. Although he will presumably stay dead, his Force Ghost could play an important role in the film. Yoda showed the very real world powers Force Ghosts have and Luke could do the same. Rumors have also claimed that Luke Skywalker will be ridiculously powerful in Episode IX, powerful enough to bring down a Star Destroyer.
In addition to whatever he does as a Force Ghost, flashbacks could show Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Master, forming his academy, bringing down Empire ships single-handed and igniting his green lightsaber in battle. This method would allow all of these wished for things to happen without undoing Luke's death. By giving audiences some of the Luke Skywalker that we've been imagining for 30+ years, J.J. Abrams can satisfy fans who wanted to see this version of Luke without taking away from his arc in The Last Jedi.
Deliver Fan Service
Fan service carries a somewhat negative connotation to it, like a band simply playing the hits instead of trying to invent new, creative music. But Star Wars is as fan driven as any franchise, and there's nothing wrong with giving the fans what they want, just so long as its done in a way that still delivers a great film. J.J. Abrams is a dyed in the wool Star Wars fan. We saw that with The Force Awakens and I think we'll see that with Star Wars: Episode IX.
By just bringing back Billy Dee Williams' Lando Calrissian, Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker and, thanks to unused footage, Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia, J.J. Abrams is giving the fans more of the characters they have loved for decades in this final installment in the episodic series. We've also heard that Episode IX could tie into the Prequels, thus uniting all three trilogies. We may not be getting an Obi-Wan standalone film for the time being, but having Ewan McGregor's character show up, as well as Hayden Christensen's Anakin, would be a great bit of fan service that can bring some full circle closure to this Saga.
Star Wars has a high nostalgia quotient, and fan service such as this could bring back those warm fuzzy feelings for the series and get audiences to show up and embrace Episode IX in a way that Solo: A Star Wars Story could not.
Modify The Last Jedi's Most Controversial Answers
J.J. Abrams set up a few big questions at the start of this trilogy that Rian Johnson answered in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It is those answers that are one of the biggest reasons for the backlash to that middle chapter. Snoke was killed before his history could be explained, and Rey's parentage, the subject of infinite theorizing, proved anticlimactic.
Since we are speculating about how J.J. could fix Star Wars' issues, and if Lucasfilm identifies The Last Jedi's answers as issues, then altering them could be an option. It seems like J.J. Abrams had someone different in mind for Rey's parents when he posed the question in The Force Awakens (the problem with this franchise not having a rough story arc planned out ahead of time). Therefore, I think J.J. Abrams is going to change that answer, making what Kylo Ren told Rey about her parents a lie, as well as maybe give us some Snoke backstory.
Personally, I don't need Rey's parents to be changed to important figures. That said, I also don't mind it if it's done well, and I think such a change could appease fans who invested so much in that question. This is a tight rope to walk, but hopefully revising The Last Jedi's answers in a careful way will appease fans that felt burned, while also honoring that film's arc and the fans that loved it.
Find A Balance Between Rehash And Originality
Although this is an oversimplification, the prevailing complaint about Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that it was a rehash of Star Wars: A New Hope, while Star Wars: The Last Jedi was criticized as not feeling like Star Wars at all. If J.J. Abrams is to fix the franchise's issues, he needs to channel his inner Jedi and find balance between these two extremes.
It is an abstract thing to quantify, but Star Wars: Episode IX must feel like Star Wars. That means it should feel like a natural progression of the stories told by George Lucas, capturing some of the intangible magic that made those films so memorable. At the same time, too great a deference to the style of the Original Trilogy will again produce complaints about a lack of originality; this shouldn't be a remake of Return of the Jedi. Audiences want to see something new from Star Wars, the lack of enthusiasm for Solo is evidence of that, but originality can't extend to the point where it is unrecognizable.
This is perhaps the most difficult course correction to make and the perfect balance might not be the same for everyone, but with the right story, J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio can deliver a movie that fits with the Original Trilogy, while also breaking new ground and ending this Saga on a high note.