It’s been almost four months since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was released, closing the book on Disney’s “Sequel Trilogy” that began in 2015, as well as the overarching “Skywalker Saga” that comprises nearly every Star Wars movie since 1977. To say that the results were divisive is an understatement. Despite grossing more than $1 billion, the film was met with a tepid critical reception and continued online fan discord that began with 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that a new narrative is emerging around the Sequel Trilogy about what went wrong or who is to blame for a general dissatisfaction with the overall effect of the three movies. In this context, film editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey were put in the unenviable position of discussing their thoughts of The Last Jedi while appearing on the Mission: Impossible podcast, Light the Fuse. Brandon, who was an editor on both J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, and Markey, who worked on The Force Awakens, have impressive credentials between them that also include Super 8, Star Trek (2009), and Mission: Impossible III. All of which were directed by Abrams. However, what piques interest is when they’re asked about the recent “Skywalker” movie that Rian Johnson instead directed…
After an awkward beat when the podcasters bring The Last Jedi up, Brandon said, “It was just a different take on the Star Wars saga. And to Rian’s credit, he stuck to what he wanted to do, and he wanted to deconstruct the film and open it up to go a different direction. That is the film he made. I know it is controversial, but isn’t that kind of good in a way?” Brandon did add though, “That’s why I feel very much in hindsight that the trilogy, the last part of the trilogy, needed one vision.”
Markey was far more blunt: “I couldn’t agree more. It’s very strange to have the second film so consciously undo the storytelling of the first one. I’m sorry that’s what it felt like.” However, Markey disputes that The Rise of Skywalker tried to undo The Last Jedi.
“I don’t even feel that’s true about the third film,” Markey said. “It took where the second film ended and just tried to tell a story. I didn’t feel like it was consciously—it just didn’t feel that way to me.”
Brandon also agreed with the podcasters when she said, “[The Last Jedi] was polarizing, and it was hard for J.J., the writer, to know what to do with it… It’s like someone wrote the middle of your novel. Okay, now how do I get to the end of the novel?’ I think any big film, like action-adventure, sci-fi, they’re very hard to get on paper, and I think as editors… I think that’s why you end up doing so much work in the cutting room. Because you can’t really write these things out.”
And to Brandon and Markey’s credit, it seems quite clear in retrospect that Lucasfilm and Disney needed to have a general road map or “series bible” for the trilogy, even if they were going to allow individual filmmakers influence and shift elements within that narrative. However, the trilogy was never actually intended to be Abrams’ “novel.” He was only intended to direct the first film, with the third famously having Jurassic World writer-director Colin Trevorrow attached. Indeed, you can find many details about Trevorrow’s ultimately rejected The Duel of Fates here, and how it far more coherently followed up on the plot developments of The Last Jedi than The Rise of Skywalker ended up doing.
We respect these filmmakers and understand their disappointment with Johnson’s choice to ultimately go his own way with the Star Wars saga after The Force Awakens. That first 2015 film was a glorified nostalgia remake or “legacy sequel” of the original trilogy and made $2 billion as a result. But considering that The Rise of Skywalker leaned even more heavily into nostalgia and repeating narrative beats—right down to pointlessly bringing back Emperor Palpatine so the climax could retread the much more satisfying ending of Return of the Jedi—we would argue that following Johnson’s bold new direction would’ve been more interesting than just standing in place and listening to a proverbial “Greatest Hits” record for nearly 150 minutes.
The Rise of Skywalker is on VOD now.