News that Disney purchased Lucasfilm would have been a big enough story on its own, but the additional announcement that “Star Wars Episode VII” is already slated for a 2015 release date made this a huge deal with an immediate positive outcome (well, at least we hope it’s positive). The past thirteen years have been dark and cloudy for a lot of fans, and while another trilogy could in fact be a new hope for us all, there is a fairness to any skepticism regarding this sudden development.
However, there is sort of an ironic twist to Disney being the company to take over the property. While it isn’t out of left field given that Disney theme parks have featured “Star Wars” attractions, events and merchandise for 25 years now, the Mouse House seems to be the most agreeable of buyers given what we’ve seen them do previously with their acquisitions of The Muppets, Pixar (interestingly enough a studio originating at Lucasfilm) and most recently Marvel Entertainment.
Each of these brands has not only (for the most part) retained their creative reputations since purchase, but they have even retained key executive personnel who are invested in maintaining the quality of their properties, including Brian and Lisa Henson, Jim Lasseter and Kevin Feige. Depending on your opinion of George Lucas in the wake of the prequels, the fact that he too will remain involved in some creative capacity might either be a disappointment or a relief. (Disney announced that the new Lucasfilm head is longtime Steve Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy.)
This brings us to perhaps the most pressing “Episode VII” question: Who should direct this movie? Could Spielberg be interested in doing a “Star Wars” film? It has been said that he was the first choice for “Return of the Jedi” but was incapable of signing on due to Lucas’s conflicts with the Director’s Guild of America (non-American Richard Marquand took the helm instead). Spielberg is also credited as an assistant director on the last live-action installment, “Revenge of the Sith,” having helped out with some action sequences.
However, perhaps more likely is the hire of another director Kennedy has worked with, including M. Night Shyamalan (“The Last Airbender”), Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”), Simon Wincer (“Free Willy”), John Patrick Shanley (“Doubt”), Robert Zemeckis (“Flight”) or “Captain America: The First Avenger” helmer Joe Johnston, who actually worked as an effects artist on the first trilogy of “Star Wars” films.
Then there are filmmakers in the Disney stable, such as Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland”), Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), Joseph Kosinski (“Tron Legacy”), Jon Turteltaub (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), Kevin Lima (“Enchanted”), Simon Wells (“Mars Needs Moms” and numerous animated films produced by Kennedy), Joe Nussbaum (“Prom” and, funny enough, “George Lucas in Love”) and the Pixar regulars. Maybe Andrew Stanton could make up for the “John Carter” flop with a similar sort of picture with a greater pre-sold audience? Another interesting possibility would be Edgar Wright, who referenced “Star Wars” a lot in his TV series “Spaced” and who will soon be working with Disney/Marvel on “Ant-Man.” That film is set for 2015 as well, though, so if he was game or gutsy enough he’d have to direct “Episode VIII” or a later film.
As for what we’d see on screen with “Episode VII,” first thing’s first: no more 20th Century Fox fanfare leading into the “Star Wars” theme. While the music accompanying the Walt Disney Pictures production logo does have a climactic crescendo that would lead nicely into the familiar John Williams score, Williams might not be on board this time, leaving someone to work off his themes like Kevin Kiner did for “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and John Ottman for “Superman Returns.”
When it comes to the plot, Lucas has a full treatment for the next film and at least an outline for the following two episodes, as well as ideas for more. He also noted during the announcement that there are tons of books and comics and other materials that could be adapted in the future. But this initial trilogy is not to be based on any currently existing work, such as Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn” (or “Heir to the Empire”) trio of books, which take place relatively soon after the events of “Return of the Jedi.”
It’s for the best that those stories in particular aren’t being adapted, because obviously the major characters of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian would need to be re-cast with younger actors. They couldn’t and wouldn’t dare do that to even the marginal “Star Wars” enthusiasts let alone diehard fans. (Although some cameos from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and maybe Billie Dee Williams would be nice.)
With “Episode VII” hitting almost 40 years after the first film, the more likely literary series that would be mined from are “The Dark Nest” trilogy or the “Legacy of the Force” books. The latter, which follows Han and Leia’s son, Jacen Solo, as he turns toward the Dark Side and eventually becomes a Sith Lord, would be especially great fodder for the films as a complement to the first six episodes’ focus on the Dark journey of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.
If they don’t follow “Legacy of the Force,” there will probably be no room or reason to involve the Solos and Skywalkers, and therefore much of the original cast would not return (some may not want to anyway). Two characters who are presumed to feature in the new films, though, on account of their being the understood storytellers of the whole “Star Wars” series, are C-3PO and R2-D2. And since they’re not humans, with only actor Anthony Daniels’s voice needed for the former droid’s role reprisal, “Episode VII” could technically be set in any era.
However, in the accepted franchise canon, C-3PO and R2-D2 are usually with the Solo family throughout most of the post-“Jedi” decades. And if there is any time period in which they drift off for adventures not associated with the main characters we know, these episodes could feel too much like diversions, not unlike the fairly insignificant “Droids” cartoon and comic book series (published by Marvel’s Star Comics imprint).
But there is much that could be done with or without these characters in a storyline set in the “Legacy” era, which consists of about a century. At the start of this period, we could meet a new set of heroes and antiheroes mixed up in the events of the Corellian system (Han Solo’s home) seceding from the Galactic Alliance, which is the government at the time, or the subsequent Second Galactic Civil War, with all its space and planetary battle action.
How easily we would warm up to a whole new cast of characters — although again, the timing allows for a cameo here or there — and how interested we’d be in a conflict that might seem somewhat of a repeat of the original films’ dealing with the First Galactic Civil War, are big questions for the fate of “Episode VII” and its followers. Down the line audiences may grow an interest in side stories and protagonists unrelated to those we already care about, but there has to be some sort of tie-in (just not one including Ewoks or Gungans).
The thing is we may prefer the lack of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids as much as other fans couldn’t do without them. Because there’s always a chance of those beloved characters being ruined for people with any little action or dialogue believed not to be faithful enough. But one thing’s for certain about “Star Wars Episode VII,” it’s unlikely to please us all. But there are still very few of us who aren’t dying to see what it looks like.
(additional image courtesy of movieweb.com)