The Star Wars blame game has started.
The final film in the new trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, hits cinemas next week — but it appears Disney insiders are already rushing to have their say on what went wrong.
In a lengthy article published in the The Wall Street Journal on the weekend, a number of current and former employees, some named and others anonymous, have painted an unflattering picture of Disney's handling of the $US4 billion franchise it purchased in 2012.
Rushed production, a lack of planning, bizarre narrative choices and the injection of contemporary social and political themes into George Lucas' "galaxy far, far away" have all been blamed for fan backlash and falling ticket sales.
"(Star Wars is) political in a sense that it has a foundation in historical politics — the rise of dictatorships, the death of democracy — but it has never tried to take a stand on present-day issues," former Lucasfilm executive Howard Roffman told the paper.
Mr Roffman, who joined the company in 1980 and left two years ago, said some viewers now "attribute contemporary motives to the content" of the new films.
In a separate interview with Rolling Stone last week, Billy Dee Williams — who played Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back and reprises the role in The Rise of Skywalker — made a similar comment when discussing the 2018 box office bomb Solo, in which his role was played by Donald Glover.
Williams praised Glover as an actor but said his hair was "not how I thought of Lando". "He was more Afrocentric with his hair. I have nothing against that. But when I created Lando, he was beyond all of that," he said.
Williams said Lucas hadn't written Lando as a specific race. He was also not a fan of the film's suggestion that Lando was in love with a droid. "I think that's the reason they didn't have the success they could have had," he said.
"Because they were going for something that was topical, instead of an adventure that's far beyond those questions. If you're talking about this huge, incredible story, why lock yourself into this tiny moment between a character like Lando and his robot friend?"
While highlighting the box office success of 2015's The Force Awakens and the positive reaction to the new Disney+ streaming show The Mandalorian, The Wall Street Journal delves into the fan backlash to 2017's The Last Jedi.
Ticket sales for the Rian Johnson-directed sequel were 33 per cent lower than J.J. Abrams' first outing. After the final film in the new trilogy, Disney says it will stop and reassess its strategy. "We're gonna hit pause," Disney chief executive Robert Iger told analysts last month.
Unlike the meticulously plotted Marvel Cinematic Universe, which culminated in this year's Avengers: Endgame, former employees say Lucasfilm has determined the overarching Star Wars storyline from movie to movie.
"When a video game division at Disney approached the Lucasfilm story group about a game that would take place in the time between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, video game developers were told the story group had no idea what was going to happen in Last Jedi, even though Force Awakens was close to wrapping production, according to one of the former employees," The Wall Street Journal writes.
"Since different directors were handling different films, Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was forced to wait to see how Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams would finish his movie before he could finalise his own script. While Mr Johnson was shooting Last Jedi, an instalment that took the series in unexpected directions, Lucasfilm executives had little idea how they would wrap up the trilogy in the film that followed, the one premiering this month, according to an executive who worked there at the time."
In an interview with Rolling Stone last month, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was asked about the difficulty in closing out the series, after J.J. Abrams was brought back in to replace Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow.
"Every one of these movies is a particularly hard nut to crack," she said. "There's no source material. We don't have comic books. We don't have 800-page novels. We don't have anything other than passionate storytellers who get together and talk about what the next iteration might be."
Die-hard Star Wars fans saw Ms Kennedy's comments as a slap in the face. Prior to the release of The Force Awakens, Disney took a chainsaw to the so-called "Expanded Universe" — decades worth of novels, comic books, video games and cartoons — declaring the semi-official stories no longer "canon".