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Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Coming into the release of The Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars fans are coming off a heated and polarizing debate that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi fueled. Episode VIII faced all sorts of criticisms following its release, but who can deny the writer/director subverted and challenged what could be expected in a Star Wars chapter? Two years later, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy is still defending the 2017 blockbuster, with these words:

I mean, I love what Rian did. It’s an absolutely wonderful movie. I think he’s an extraordinary filmmaker. And I really appreciated the bold moves that he did make. I think people forget that, especially when you’re doing a trilogy structure, the first movie is setting things up, the second is usually the conflict, and the third is the resolution. So you’re bound to have that second movie, much the same way Empire Strikes Back was probably the darkest and most dramatic of the three. We talked about it with Indiana Jones! You know, we did Raiders of the Ark and then we did Temple of Doom, which was dark and created a lot of controversy, and people were surprised at where it went with the storytelling, but, frankly, that’s the whole point!

Interesting! Kathleen Kennedy still stands by the decisions made in The Last Jedi despite all the backlash. She also chalks up the movie’s discord to being the second movie in a trilogy where “conflict” is central to its objective. She references back to Lucasfilm’s other sequels, including Empire Strikes Back from the original Star Wars trilogy and Temple of Doom from the Indiana Jones movies. They were also apparently subjects of controversy when they were first released.

Although J.J. Abrams took back the helm for The Rise of Skywalker after working on The Force Awakens, the studio hasn’t cut ties with Rian Johnson creatively. Although, Lucasfilm seems to be taking its time to release more Star Wars movies moving forward, Johnson is still on board to write his own trilogy of films. It shows Kathleen Kennedy is still confident in her decision to place him on the Star Wars creative team.

When you think about it, the writer/director had a tough debut coming into the middle of a trilogy like he did with The Last Jedi – it’s not the same as building up from your own ideas. And it’s bad enough there are already massive expectations from fans for the franchise; they had certain hopes going into the 2017 film after J.J’s The Force Awakens as well. Rian Johnson recently spoke out about the hate, harkening back to his own experiences as a fan of the series for decades, where the fandom has always been a bit hectic.

In her recent interview with Rolling Stone, the Lucasfilm president also shared how much she loved the fan criticism of The Last Jedi. Engagement with the material was a win from where she stands, and she felt it showed how much fans care about the franchise. Kathleen Kennedy said she does listen to the feedback the fanbase gives and thinks of it as a “kind of partnership” to the process.

Going forward, Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm are still trying to decide how to continue the franchise, and while a Star Wars movie is reportedly still scheduled for 2022, it's unclear what it will be about. It's also worth mentioning that while Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige has his own Star Wars movie in the works, it's a ways off. The Rise of Skywalker comes to theaters on December 20.

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