Friday, January 25, 2013

Cinema Speculation: Can Star Wars be Saved?

The latest rumor, again, is that J.J. Abrams is going to direct Star Wars Episode VII Assuming this is going to actually pan out, and not be another bogus rumor, it brings up some interesting discussions. The first on my mind is: can he resurrect Star Wars the way he has Star Trek? Or more directly: can Star Wars be saved at all? Or... is Star Wars worth saving?

The answer is yes, but please keep reading.

“Wah, wah, George Lucas ruined my childhood by making the prequels.” Before you even suggest that I’m one of those people; no, he didn’t. Let’s get it out of the way. Star Wars is still there. The original trilogy still exists in its original format (albeit as 4:3 letterbox DVD port), the books are still there (Heir to the Empire and the Rogue Squadron series were great), the West End RPG can still be found (in PDF format), and all of my memories of the good times are fresh.

Many people are of the opinion that the prequels ruined Star Wars. I’m not so harsh. I don’t think the prequels ruined Star Wars any more than the film Alien vs. Predator ruined Alien or Predator. However, it’s pretty clear that just about everything that’s been done since Episode I came out in 1999 has been utter and complete garbage (with a few exceptions, Knights of the Old Republic comes to mind). And as long as Lucas remained at the helm we’d just keep getting more of the same. But then something curious and amazing happened; Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney.

“What? Disney? The c*nts that made The Lion King?”
Yes, but also the c*nts that made The Avengers.

While the sale to Disney had a lot of unknowns, one thing was certain; Lucas was not going to touch Star Wars any more. If Disney turned around and did more of the same, so be it, but like voting for the American president, you always go with the one that you hope will do the least damage and Disney’s track record has been that.

So the speculation began. Disney has Star Wars, but now who will write it? Who will direct it? A lot of names got thrown around, chief among them was J.J. Abrams, who vehemently denied he had anything to do with it. Then we heard Guillermo del Toro and Zack Snyder, both also denied the rumors. Even Steven Spielberg’s name got tossed out there… and thankfully tossed right back into the trash. Finally, it seems after months of searching for the right candidate they’ve settled on… J.J. Abrams.

“What? J.J. Abrams? The c*nt that made Lost?”
Yes, but also the c*nt that made Star Trek.

What was their thinking here? Why him? I don’t mean that in any negative way, I don’t dislike him. I rather enjoyed Star Trek and thought Super 8 had some good moments in it. But why did they fight so hard to get him? Why not Jon Favreau? Disney has worked with him, he has sci-fi cred, he has Harrison Ford cred, and he can turn campy schlock into fun adventure stuff.

I have two theories. I’ll start with the one that I like the least.

First Theory

He’s done all the things that comprise Star Wars before. Special effects intensive stuff, sci-fi, sugary sweet heart string pulling nonsense. He’s also proved that he can balance dozens of projects at once and not let it get in the way of the quality of his work. He’s perfect!

Second Theory

He reinvented Star Trek without actually destroying it. I loved Trek, but I’m the first to admit my interest trailed off after TNG went off the air. The movies were terrible, I watched a little DS9, but Voyager and Enterprise never caught my interest (I’m sure they’re fine shows, Trek fans, don’t get on my case about it, I just never gave them a chance). Star Trek needed a shot in the arm to bring it back without giving a big middle finger to the fans. He did that. Yes he reset the time line, but that was intentional. That was so he could say “Don’t worry, Kirk’s original adventures, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and so forth all happened, but my new stuff is its own time line that doesn’t break any of that.”

Anyone notice Scotty’s throwaway line about killing Archer’s beagle with a transporter mishap? Yup, Enterprise happened, but if you didn’t like Enterprise you can just pretend it was some other guy called Archer who had a beagle. It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t like the plot of Star Trek hinged on some bad guy from Enterprise returning and threatening the Federation.

This is what I hope their intent is with bringing J.J. Abrams in. To create a continuation of Return of the Jedi, in the spirit of Star Wars, that doesn’t completely ignore the weaker material (i.e. everything but the original trilogy), but sure doesn’t go out of its way to acknowledge it. This is a much easier task than he had with Star Trek. No really, it is. With Star Trek he had to use time travel and sci-fi shenanigans to break all the stuff that came after and start everything over. All he needs to do with Episode VII is not at all acknowledge the events of Episodes I – III.

“That’s nuts! Then he’d have to leave out Darth Vader, clone storm troopers, and that the Death Star was built by termite men... c*nt!”
Is it that crazy? And please stop using that word.

Start the story 30 years after Episode VI. The victory at Endor was short lived. The spine of the Empire was broken, but it wasn’t completely out of the fight. The Galaxy immediately splintered into rival factions, one of which is still the old Galactic Empire, centered on Coruscant and controlling a lot of territory. After years of buildup they’re on the move again conquering new planets. You’ve established a villain that we’re already familiar with. The villain has a clear goal we understand and isn’t totally foreign to us.

Our heroes are several new characters we’ve never heard of and aren’t related to any of the characters we’ve met before. They’re in their late teens and early 20s so they were born after the events of ROTJ. This isn’t a good time to take risks, so it may be safest to replicate some of the archetypes we saw in the original trilogy. The goal here is to restore the audience’s faith in Star Wars, not turn Star Wars into something else.

One of the characters should be some kind of half-assed Jedi (again, so it’s familiar and we’re clear that this is Star Wars) trained in secret. Jedi themselves aren’t a secret, but they are still not trusted and are actively hunted by the Empire (and other factions), so they are constantly on the move.

I’m not going to invent an entire plot here, that’s not the point, but it’s a story about these characters overcoming some obstacle, one of them doesn’t have to be Space Jesus. They don’t have to topple the Empire. It could be a much smaller goal like the Empire is trying to take over a planet and these characters recognize the threat and are out to stop them. The Empire, the storm troopers, and the sub-villain (some kind of bounty hunter or Imperial warlord) that they struggle against need to represent real threats to the characters. The jedi character shouldn’t be able to just shred through them, he/she might even be reluctant to break out the lightsaber because of the trouble it will bring them should the authorities know he/she is a jedi. Some tertiary characters should die, but in such a way that they give our main characters a stake in the outcome of the film.

On top of everything this film needs to distance itself from the plethora of sh*t that was unleashed with the prequel films.  Storm troopers are just guys in uniforms. The Empire is run by some old admiral that rose through the ranks and seized power. The Jedi doesn’t fly or shoot fire out of his/her hands, but is more like Luke, Obiwan, and Vader were in the original films. Have Mark Hammil show up once as a total side character. The characters flee the planet they are on to get away from the Empire. The Jedi leads them to the secret place where he/she was trained, there we meet Master Skywalker. He gives them advice and shelter while they lick their wounds and plan their next move. The Jedi has lost his/her lightsaber in the previous battle. Luke gives his green lightsaber from Episode VI to this new Jedi at some point (passing the torch). Luke doesn’t have to die or anything, just have him exit the story gracefully. Maybe even reappearing at the end like Spock did in Star Trek to tell the young Jedi he’s proud to call this Jedi his student, and that his/her training is complete, everything else worth learning will be learned out there, among the people they’ve sworn to protect. Up to this point this “new” Star Wars was kicking and screaming, now the umbilical cord is cut and it’s free to be its own thing.

Write this “new” Star Wars so that it can stand on its own like Star Trek did. Knowing Trek made that movie fun, but if you’d never seen an episode of any series you would totally get what’s going on. Hell, Star Wars films start with an opening crawl that can get all the exposition out of the way for people who have never seen, or don’t want to see the other films. But at all costs distance yourself from the crappy prequels.

Episode VII
The Search for Schlock

It has been 30 years since the last great victory against The Empire at Endor. The galaxy is still in turmoil, rival governments have come and gone. The stability once known under the Old Republic has faded into memory.

Now the Empire is on the move again. A fleet under the command of the ruthless admiral [whoever] is en route to the planet [whatever], intent to make them part of the Empire or suffer the consequences of resistance.

Sensing this threat to [his/her] home world; a young Jedi apprentice has left [his/her] secret training sanctuary on [whatever] to get to the bottom of this sinister plot…

Done. We’re caught up. The stage is set, the players have been introduced, we’re ready for the action. Camera pans down from the scroll to reveal a planet as a fleet of Star Destroyers move in. They open fire on some specs in the distance, which come into view moments later as little star fighters with some smaller ships behind them (like the blockade runner size from Episode IV). They are quickly overwhelmed as sleeker, newer, TIE Fighters rush in and blow them to pieces. On the other side of the planet an X-Wing comes out of hyperspace. It’s our Jedi. While not at all obvious to dummies in the audience, the markings on the X-Wing match those of Luke Skywalker’s from the previous films. A hint that he is in some way connected to that character for those who see it. But the ship design alone is also an anchor to the legacy of the previous films. Our Jedi laments that the battle is under way and that he/she is too late to warn them (a later bit of exposition will reveal that he/she couldn't just call them and warn them because it would give away where the Jedi training sanctuary is). Now he/she has to get to the bottom of why the Empire wants this planet.

There will be ins, outs, what have yous. The Empire will be after something bigger than just another planet to fill the coffers with tax revenue. The admiral will have a henchman, a secondary-villain that the characters have to overcome at some point, maybe he is the one that kills some other secondary characters, giving us a reason to want or heroes to fight him. The sub-villain doesn’t necessarily have to be a Jedi, in fact leave that for the sequels.

The Jedi will be our main character, but he/she’s also been out of it, away from galactic politics and society so long that everything has to be explained to him/her, and thus the audience, so we’re not constantly confused like we were in the prequels.

In the end our Jedi, with the help of his/her friends, will defeat that sub-villain, undermine the Imperial plot, and set themselves up to be the heroes of this new adventure… which is only just beginning.

Roll credits… create molds for action figures… line pockets with cash… rinse… repeat.

Hey, J.J., need help writing this new movie? Call me, pal.


  1. One potentially good sign that was just revealed: Disney canceled the 3D releases of the remaining 2 prequals as well as making 3D versions of the original trilogy.

    This is remarkably un-whorish behavior, and possibly may be intended to distance the franchise from the prequals.

    1. I saw one of the links to this story, but the first I heard was that the plans were "on hold" while they focus on getting a new film out there. Now "on hold" could be industry speak for "yeah, we're not ever doing that", cleverly disguised so they don't have to call out Lucas as a total whore.

  2. What I'm waiting for is the geek community to implode upon itself when J.J. finally just says "feck it" and merges Star Wars and Star Trek together. Kirk and Spock actually created the Jedi due to the fact that midichlorians are actually the byproduct of a severely mutated, multi-species STD and their "no emotions" mantra is clearly a Vulcan ideal. R2D2 is really the brain of Scotty downloaded into a non-verbal robotic unit and all those beeps are really him warning that something is about to blow.

    The schism that will follow will almost destroy geeks as we know them.