So, I don’t want to shock anyone, but there’s going to be more Star Wars movies. And TV shows, and certainly video games and books and comics and all that jazz. Now, I was as disappointed as anyone by the prequels, but I’m fairly optimistic about the prospects for a decent Star Wars movies. It can be done. By the time 2015 rolls around, there’s a good chance that I will have long stopped caring due to the deluge of news and rampant, uninformed speculation, but for now…how about some rampant, uninformed speculation?
We know very little about the approach that will be taken to reviving this franchise, except that first on the agenda is episodes 7-9 (which is cause for some concern), so it could go any number of ways. As a Star Wars fan, here’s a rundown of the mindset that I hope Kathleen Kennedy and those perverts at the Magic Kingdom are bringing to this, and the type of announcements that will give me pause in the build up that I’m already getting a bit sick of.
George Lucas: He can be as involved or uninvolved as he wants at this point, and it won’t change my enthusiasm. I don’t think I would want to be at this point were I in his shoes, after the astronomical amount of shit he took over the prequels. But he’s not going to direct, so unless word gets out that he’s writing the scripts entirely by himself again, I’m not going to be too worried about the extent of his creative consultancy or whatever it ends up being called.
John Williams: Dude’s old. Get him working now. Tie his granddaughter up and suspend her over a meat grinder if that’s what it takes to keep the guy composing new Star Wars theme music from now until he croaks. That may sound a tad bit incredibly cruel to children and septuagenarian alike, but this is the only guy who, across all 6 films, never lost sight of what a Star Wars movie should be, and occasionally even made the prequels feel like one.
Directors: It feels wrong, being even mildly knowledgeable about the craft of cinema, to downplay the importance of a director’s contribution, but if ever there was a case where a director didn’t matter, it’s this one.
That’s not to say they aren’t important, just that Star Wars, even more than other franchises, has a distinct and fairly rigid visual style that even a true auteur is not going to be able to stray too far outside. For this reason, I don’t think we should actually hope for a Guillermo Del Toro or Darren Aronofsky or Alfonso Cuaron or even a Rian Johnson to jump on board. I want to see what those guys produce on their own. I want Star Wars in the hands of someone who is good with actors and can shoot a competent action scene. If they should have some experience producing or punching up scripts, all the better.
To that end, I love Tim Kelly’s suggestion of Drew Goddard, whose Cabin In The Woods was the best surprise of the year, and showcased an ability to simultaneously homage and deconstruct genre tropes while still being its own story with a consistent internal logic. Star Wars is essentially a genre unto itself at this point, so a similar approach, lighter on the deconstruction but similarly faithful to the spirit, would be ideal.
Barring that, I’d be fine with Jon Favreau, Neil Blomkamp or even a Martin Campbell or James Mangold. Hell, if his adaptation of The Stand should fall through, I’d be pretty happy with Ben Affleck taking on an episode, as he gets great performances from his actors, shoots straightforward, muscular action and has a geeky streak evidenced by his courting of various superhero projects and collaborations with Kevin Smith. It would be a departure from the R-rated thrillers he’s made so far, but I think as a country we should have learned by now that we underestimate Ben Affleck’s ability to stretch himself at our own peril.
Writers: [I learned while putting this together that Toy Story 2 scribe Michael Arndt has been picked to write the first movie. This stuff mostly applies to any episode or TV show or whatever they end up making]
This is, I feel, and even more important area than the director. This is where Goddard would double up, as he is a great hand at it and could potentially bring in some of Joss Whedon’s (who would himself be perfect for the job as I just described it if he weren’t busy godfathering the other humongous multimedia sci-fi adventure franchise in its big and small screen forays) Mutant Enemy writing stable to lend their hands. ME’s defining characteristic, to my mind, is mixing comedy into fantasy/sci-fi without undermining the sense of real stakes. The original trilogy might not be a laugh riot exactly, but that sensibility is exactly what the franchise needs after the frequently airless prequels.
I’m not worried about this, though, as the geeks are ascendant in the biz right now, and I’m sure every writer in Hollywood is clamoring for a chance to do Star Wars right this time. My one big worry would be that there will end up being too many cooks, if the producers can’t resist letting everyone who has sold a script in the last 10 years take a crack. My other would be that it ends up in the hands of Damon Lindelof, who is a worthy successor to George Lucas in that he comes up with great ideas, and created such a seminal property that it is difficult to reconcile such an impressive imagination with such a poor hand at the nuts n’ bolts of storytelling (that last season of Lost fails terribly at a lot more than justifying its own mythology, and then there’s Prometheus…).
The Stars: For starters, a helpful hint to Disney: for all the new roles, cast unknowns. People didn’t come back for prequel after disappointing prequel because of Natalie Portman. The actors are not the draw when it comes to Star Wars; save yourself the budget and don’t pay someone established to be Ben Solo.
The exception to this: the Villain. Pay whatever it takes to get the director’s first choice for the new Sith Lord. By setting Ep. VII close to ROTJ, you’re already in a hole in this regard. The prior episode saw the death of the most iconic villain in the history of cinema, and the archetypical evil puppetmaster to boot. Those are ridiculous shoes to fill under any circumstances, and if the main evil force is Imperial holdouts, you’ve compounded it. How big of a threat can the remnants of the Empire be when the heroes toppled it at full strength last time?
Shell out the bucks for the bad guy. He’s going to be the single most important factor in making this work.
Now, about the alumni…
The first batch of rumors have surrounded the potential involvement of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford. Of course they’re going to show up in some capacity, but the question is how, and by implication, why.
The obvious answer is that they played these iconic, beloved characters and it would be crazy not to have them show up for nostalgia’s sake. Here’s my take on that: these movies are going to be largely powered and defined by nostalgia for the originals no matter what, so there’s not much need to actively court it. To that point, the worst thing they could do is have the original trio be the protagonists of the new trilogy (or even the first entry in it).
I wish this being such a bad idea was completely self-evident, but we live in strange, self-indulgent times where well-off white kids enjoy an extended adolescence well into their twenties (yo!), and well-off white filmmakers defer their mid-life crises until their 60s, then drag the iconic characters of their youth back to the screen to sort them out. Not that it isn’t possible to make a decent movie about an aged Rocky Balboa, but in execution it seems like these movies go out of their way to show how Rambo or Indiana Jones or John McClane can kick just as much ass at 60 as they did at 30, which always comes off as affected and faintly sad to me.
Of course, The Expendables seems to be gaining steam as a legitimate franchise, and they just got Dolph Lundgren and Van Damme both back for a Universal Soldier reunion two decades after the fact, so maybe it’s me that’s strange for not enjoying old men pretending to kick 20 year-old ass more. But even if I’m selling the concept short, Star Wars is a young man’s game. It was a phenomenon because it was a movie that genuinely worked for kids 8 and (all the way) up, and I think it hit a sweet spot there because it mixed in a genuine reverence for the wisdom of age, while still being driven by the youthful energy of the core cast. Youth and energy being two words that have not appeared in the same sentence as “Harrison Ford” since 1988, I think it would be a mistake to have older versions of those characters be the driving force of this new story.
What about recasting with younger actors? No. At that point you’re inviting all the unflattering comparisons to the classic style, but losing the sentimental attachment that is the only reason to stick with these characters. Just no. It’s only a slightly worse idea than digitally de-aging them Tron: Legacy style, which will have all the sadness of watching the stars try to recapture their youthful spirit with the added bonus of rubbing the uncanny valley all up in our shit at the same time.
All that being said, there is ample precedent for a wise older jedi role in the series for an older actor, and that would be a natural progression of Luke’s character. Just remember that his role should be that of Obi-Wan in Ep. IV, a revered mentor figure for the actual hero(s), not Obi-wan in Ep. I, an underwritten and fairly inessential side character elevated to quasi-lead because of preexisting familiarity with the fans.
There’s also precedent for an elder maternal political leader, which Leia could fill in some fashion. But that’s a really ancillary role, and begs the question of whether it’s worth bothering to draw our attention to whether Carrie Fisher remembers how to act after 30 years of public struggles with addiction. And as for old Han, ugh, no. That is not a character designed to age gracefully under the best circumstances, much less when the actor has developed as acute a shit-giving deficiency as Ford has these last…well, a whole lot of years.
What I’m getting at here is that there will need to be a new crop of characters to carry a new franchise that will justify its own storyline, rather feeling like a postscript to the existing films. Because what this trilogy should absolutely not be is a sequel to the OT. It’s too late for that, and more importantly, they don’t need it in the first place. Whatever criticisms can be leveled at ROTJ, it is definitively an ending. I’m pretty sure Disney understands this on some level – I doubt they thought that people were just so desperate to check in on Princess Leia at age 60 that it was worth a billion+ dollars (plus another for each of her lil’ buddies) for the right to tell that story. For as packed with lame fanservice as it will likely end up, Ep. VII’s primary goal is to kick off a new story that people will want to follow through an entire trilogy, and beyond.
To do that we will need new heroes, although you can have the droids and Chewie around in essentially the same old capacity, since those costumes don’t age like regular folk. This will probably mean a hatch of fresh-faced Solos and Calrissians, although for reasons I’ve expounded on I think they should distance themselves from the earlier characters. But the incestuous (in all senses) nature of the Star Wars galaxy is almost an established part of the formula at this point, so it’s probably inevitable.
Anyway, like I said before, you can cast unknowns here and can even get by without finding a bolt from the blue like Marvel did with Chris Hemsworth. Because the little secret here is that the characters are not the draw to this series. Don’t get me wrong, they can’t be bad, and they should be great, but these movies could be massive successes even if they don’t rise past serviceable.
By now you might be shaking your head, wondering what the hell it is that I think makes a movie good if the director and actors and characters don’t matter that much. I should note that for every other movie these are the most vital components to making something watchable, but Star Wars is its own thing. And the real appeal of the Star Wars brand is…
Star Wars has not endured 35 years of shitty novels, comics, video games and eventually an entire new trilogy of high-profile shitty movies on the strength of the characters of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, or even more colorful ones like Han Solo and Darth Vader. Those were factors, but the bigger one, the one that drives the biggest, most diverse array of Expanded Universe materials of any franchise ever, is that the galaxy far, far away was such an appealing place. It was more than a world, it was an endless series of worlds, teeming with laserswords and Cloud Cities and evil overlords and magical space samurai and bounty hunters with jetpacks and lovable sasquatch sidekicks and Billy Dee Williamses and 40 varieties of spaceship and Lobot.
The thing about the Star Wars universe is that it’s a place where literally anything can happen. A new Star Wars movie has to have a few things – an opening crawl, Across The Stars, lots of wipes, robot sidekicks, someone having a bad feeling about something. But the story could be anything. It could be your standard Campbellian Chosen One epic. It could be about a mob war between space slugs and yetis. It could be a Magificent Seven riff on a frontier world, or an Aliens riff on an abandoned space station, or a Die Hard riff on a Star Destroyer, or a heist film a la Ocean’s Eleven where the crooks have literal magic powers instead of just being impossibly cool, or a noir riff with a jetpacked bounty hunter playing the Sam Spade role, or a hard-nosed military drama following Rogue Squadron, or The Bourne Identity where the amnesiac can move things with his mind. Terminator where John Connor has a squidhead. The Great Escape on an unstable asteroid prison. Jaws with a giant sandworm. The Dirty Dozen with cyborgs and green muppets and smugglers and fishmen. Mutiny On The Executor. Dances With Wookies. A buddy cop movie where Murtaugh is an android and Riggs has a human butt for a chin.
Basically, any movie that features gangsters, aliens, wizards, cowboys, samurai, zombies, or robots (so, all the good ones) can be worked into the Star Wars universe. George Lucas did something back in 1977 that I’m sure would’ve been impossible if he had set out to do it specifically. He fused sci-fi with fantasy, and through some mysterious alchemy, created a potent hybrid with all the myriad story potential of both that somehow appealed to mainstream audiences that don’t have much taste for either. It was a world so vibrant, so teeming with life that seemed to extend for parsecs past the edge of every frame, that people didn’t care much that the dialogue could be clunky and the lead was a bit whiny and bland (he did get better as the series progressed!) and kinda wanted to pork his sister. That world is so overflowing with potential that it hardly seemed to matter that the prequels were flat out bad, and didn’t take advantage of it, instead focusing intently on familiar characters and setting up the things we already know all about. It’s why even though I don’t like a one of them, I can’t write off the possibility that Ep. VII might actually be good.
It’s also why I’m not interested in seeing how Han and Leia are doing in retirement. Do something else. Do anything else, because if you can think it up, it can fit in Star Wars. It’s too bad that Ep. VII has to be, well, Ep. VII, because it suggests that it will be trying to tie things fairly tightly to the prior series, most likely to its detriment.
I may not be able to still care when it comes out in 2015, but for now I’m trying to be guardedly optimistic. The news that will really perk me up, though, is when it is announced that the next movie/TV show in development will be set far away from the previous ones, like 100 years + past the OT, or way back in the era of the Knights Of The Old Republic games, thousands of years before The Phantom Menace. Something with that distance would be freer to be its own thing, and function as a homage to the originals, focusing on recreating the spirit and intangibles that made it fun and resonant rather than getting bogged down in hyper-specific references and servicing characters who received perfectly good resolutions in 1983. To get a story that is new and exciting while having a feel that is familiar and inviting. That’s the best we can hope for, I think. The worst…well, the worst is that we get another crappy blockbuster or two and a giant corporation is out a couple billion dollars. Call me crazy, but I don’t think I hate these odds.