Unless you’ve been robbed of power by Hurricane Sandy, you’ve probably heard that yesterday saw the biggest movie news story of the year — if not several years — break. Disney have purchased LucasFilm for $4 billion, and have announced that plans are moving ahead for new “Star Wars” movies, beginning with “Episode VII” in 2015 (the start of a new trilogy), with franchise creator George Lucas serving only as a creative consultant, and new talent coming in to write and direct the new films.
Lucas has gone back and forth on the possibility of new movies over the years. It was long rumored that, even while shooting the first film, Lucas had planned out as many as ten future sequels, and it was generally believed that three trilogies were sincerely in the works. And Lucas wrote in 1994: “As the saga of the Skywalkers and Jedi Knights unfolded, I began to see it as a tale that could take at least nine films to tell – three trilogies.” But Lucas told Vanity Fair ahead of the release of ‘The Phantom Menace‘ that, “It really ends at part six. I never had a story for the sequels, for the later ones.”
And more recently, he’s seemed to be even more definitive. He told Total Film in 2008, “I’ve left pretty explicit instructions for there not to be any more features. There will definitely be no Episodes VII–IX. That’s because there isn’t any story. I mean, I never thought of anything. And now there have been novels about the events after Episode VI, which isn’t at all what I would have done with it. The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader. That is the story. Once Vader dies, he doesn’t come back to life, the Emperor doesn’t get cloned and Luke doesn’t get married…” And only a few months ago, he said in the New York Times, “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
And yet something seems to have changed his mind, possibly vaguely related to the $4 billion that Disney paid for the company. Now, some in the film blog community are jumping their guns and starting to talk about potential directors, and while the “targeted” release of 2015 means that the studio can’t drag their feet too much, there’s a long way to go before a helmer is in place — for one thing, a writer is needed to flesh out the treatment that has already been completed. But there is one question on our minds: what direction could these new initial movies take? (And Disney have been open about wanting a new film in the franchise every few years until the sun swallows the Earth, so it’ll certainly move beyond “Episode IX: Resurgence Of The Ewoks“). Below, we’ve laid out five potential directions that the next few films could go in. Let us know your own views on the future of a Disneyfied “Star Wars” in the comments section below.
1. Direct Sequels, Featuring The Original Cast Reprising Their Roles
Arguably the option that would make the fanboys happiest would be to reunite the band — Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billie Dee Williams, etc — to reprise their roles for a new set of adventures, or at least to pass the torch on to a new set of heroes. Seeing Ford (who’s been looking for a bona fide hit of late without success) reprise Han Solo, or Hamill as an aged Jedi-master version of Luke, would undoubtedly see longtime fans climaxing publicly as soon as the news arrived. It would mean ignoring the Expanded Universe books, which might anger some, but few creative types would want to adhere to those, and we imagine even Lucas doesn’t know every detail of what happens in the hundreds of spin-offs he begat. While some of the original cast (Ford in particular) didn’t have the best relationship with Lucas, that he’d only be tangentially involved on a creative level might help. What this approach would need is a filmmaker willing to adopt the style Lucas set up in the original film: a 21st century equivalent to Irvin Kershner or Richard Marquand, essentially someone like “Captain America” helmer Joe Johnston, a one-time Lucasfilm employee. And a pick like that would likely underwhelm the movie geeks who are vainly keeping their fingers crossed for a Christopher Nolan or a David Fincher (which, for the record, is never going to happen). By the same token, though, does anyone really want to see a 70-year-old Han Solo, or a 60-year-old Luke?
2. Direct Sequels, Set Immediately After ‘Return Of The Jedi,’ With Recast Actors As The Original Heroes, Directly Adapting Expanded Universe Novels
So what if no one, filmmakers included, wants to see aged versions of those central characters? Or what if the treatments that Lucas have produced pick up right after the conclusion of Episode VI, rather than leaping forward in time? After all, the Expanded Universe is genuinely considered to be canonical in fan circles, and telling long-time fans (who are admittedly aging beyond the target audience for a tentpole) to disregard them would be a bit like chucking out the whole of the Old Testament past Joshua. So you use those novels, comics and whatnot, set in the period known as the New Republic (thank you, Wikipedia!), immediately after the death of the Emperor and Vader, directly adapting, or at least being inspired by, the stories. Short of ‘Benjamin Button’-ing the original actors, you’d have to recast, but fans have put up with such things in the past, and there’s plenty of material to work with: Luke training up a new generation of Jedi, Han and Leia having kids, and (*spoiler!*) the tragic death of Chewbacca. Perhaps the most obvious inspiration would be Timothy Zahn’s trilogy “Heir To The Empire,” “Dark Force Rising” and “The Last Command,” which see the gang reunited to battle a new threat intent on reviving the Empire. Or there’s the “Dark Empire” comic series, which sees the Emperor Palpatine resurrected through cloning. The problem, as you might have imagined from these premises, are these plots are pretty terrible — they make Lucas look like David Chase in terms of his plotting skills. But it’s certainly the most obvious jumping-off point, and the one that the “Episode VII” billing suggests that Lucas might have gone in with his treatments. Again, you’d likely need a filmmaker willing to stick to the aesthetics and style of the first six movies, as far as possible.
3. Ignore The Books, Ignore Grandpa Luke & Han, Create A New Story Set After The End Of ‘Return Of The Jedi’
The two ideas above are the most obvious, but let’s not forget that Disney aren’t just saying that they want to make Episodes VII, VIII and IX, they want to make a “Star Wars” movie every two or three years for the foreseeable future. That means they’d have to move away from Luke, Leia and co. at some point, and you might as well do that sooner rather than later. After all, it’s a big fictional universe out there. And the last word on what Lucas was planning as a continuation on the franchise was a live-action TV series, set around the fringes of the universe after the end of ‘Revenge Of The Sith,’ with Rick McCallum saying in an interview that the series would have involved “the Empire slowly building up its power base around the galaxy, what happens in Coruscant, which is the major capital, and it’s [about] a group of underground bosses who live there and control drugs, prostitution.” It’s not likely to follow that exact path (and that TV show, already written, could feasibly appear somewhere, but it’s doubtful even ABC could handle it), but it’s entirely possible that they may try and follow a similar tangent. One could pick up with a new set of characters in the aftermath of the defeat of the Empire, allowing more creative freedom, with a smaller shadow cast from the original trilogy. You could focus on a new Jedi, a bounty hunter, something entirely different — and that’s certainly likely to attract the younger, hungrier names that would make fans happier, people who’d want to put their own stamp on the franchise. Let’s call it “The Bourne Legacy” take on Episode VII — new characters, possibly a new tone, dealing with the political and social repercussions of the shift in power, but maintaining plot ties to the original movies in the background. Hell, if you wanted to bring in someone from the original cast in a supporting role (in a sort of J.J. Abrams/Leonard Nimoy kind of way), maybe you could do that to appease fans that need some familiar signifiers or faces.
4. Go Way Into the Future, With All New Characters; Essentially Carte Blanche To Start Again
As the opening crawl famously had it, the “Star Wars” films are set, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” That gives you plenty of leeway, even if you take it literally, so why should Episode VII and beyond focus on the aftermath of the original trilogy? The 2006 comic series “Star Wars: Legacy,” for instance, is set 130 years after the conclusion of the original trilogy, with Cade Skywalker, a distant relative of Luke, facing off against a new aspirant Sith lord. And why not stop there? The basic mythology — Jedis, Sith, Jawas, Ewoks, all of it — is solid enough to maintain a continuity, so why not set a new film a thousand years in the future? Let a new filmmaker remake the universe in their own fashion, and turn the whole thing on its head. Surely that’s the most interesting approach, and the one most likely to land intriguing creative figures to shepherd the new movies. And having squandered goodwill so severely with the prequel trilogy, the new films could use an exciting name to get people back on board. Of course, this is the riskier approach. It’s creating new on top of old, without characters or even necessarily iconographic ties to the original movies. And frankly, if Lucas has written these outlines, we suspect that it’s not the way the films are going to go, at least at first. But to us, it feels like the most exciting and creatively satisfying approach.
5. Don’t Go Forward, Go Back
Yeah, Lucas has said that he’s outlined Episodes VII, VIII and IX (and then at other times said he’d never thought of any further story). But how literal is he being? Does that mean an exact continuation of where we left off with ‘Return Of The Jedi‘? Or does it simply mean “more ‘Star Wars’ movies?” Because if it’s the latter, who’s to say that we can’t delve further into the background? The prequel trilogy might have disappointed, but in a way it’s because they hewed far too closely to the original films — the unnecessary backstory of Darth Vader, appearances from young Chewbacca, etc. Why not set the film during the original trilogy, with other rebel groups fighting against the Empire? Or follow the story of the popular-among-fans “Clone Wars” animated series, and pick up on that conflict? Or go smaller scale, and track smugglers and pirates and gangsters, like the mooted TV series, a darker take which would make an aging fanbase happy? Or you could go back even further, following the lead of the “Old Republic” video games, set thousands of years before “The Phantom Menace,” and which have proven to be a rich and resilient setting. The great benefit of what Lucas has created — and probably the reason that Disney paid $4 billion for his company — is the depth and richness of his universe, so why not go a longer, longer time ago, in a galaxy further away?
Thoughts? Do any of these ideas sound appealing? Have your own ideas? Sound off below on where you think the direction of the new “Star Wars” films should go.