Monday, November 5, 2012

Star Wars: What Happens Next?

Last Wednesday I got a text from my girlfriend, which is how I learned Disney has paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm and would begin production on Star Wars: Episode VII with the intention of releasing it in 2015, followed by sequels in 2017 and 2019. My reply text was a combination of shocked excitement and confused nonsense. I spent the rest of the day thinking about it, without ever quite figuring out quite how I felt. I'm still not sure, but I've at least had time to organize my thoughts into (semi) coherence. In Part I I wrote about the place the Star Wars galaxy has held in my life. Now I try to examine what the Disney deal means to me.

Because I know how immensely popular Star Wars remains (my job as an elementary school teacher makes that clear on a daily basis) , I know there's no chance I'll actually make it the rest of my life without seeing Episodes 1, 2, and 3 again, even though I'd prefer not to. Someday I'll have children, and while I like to imagine I can somehow keep the prequels a secret, their dopey friends and the world at large will make that impossible. I'll tell them the new ones aren't good and maybe buy myself a little extra time, but realistically, at some point I'm going to be sitting on the couch while Jar Jar Binks pontificates on the meaning of life to my kids.

I am sure this deal means we're going to see a lot of crossover between the Star Wars galaxy and the world of Disney. There's already an ad with Darth Vader visiting Disneyland and I imagine that's only the tip of the iceberg. I expect that before too long, Star Wars will have it's own theme park, much like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. I could do without seeing Chewbacca and Donald Duck in a screaming match over a heated game of Holochess or the Millennium Falcon in a race with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but as someone who's favorite commercial ever involves the use of Darth Vader to sell a car, I suppose I can't get too bent out of shape about this sort of thing. But I reserve the right to do just that once I see how bad it can get (and seriously, that VW ad is brilliant, a far better use of a young Darth Vader than Episodes I, II, and III).

One of my first reactions after hearing the news was to wonder what this means for future Blu-ray releases of the movie. George Lucas insists that the newer "Special Edition" of each film is the only real version that exists. That's a shame, because the "Special" versions are a major downgrade from the versions that existed throughout my childhood. Most infamously, Han Solo now only shoots Greedo after Greedo has shot at him first. This particular change caused such a stir that you can now find "Han Shot First" printed on any number of t-shirts and inked onto body parts. Is that an incredibly minor thing to quibble over? Not if you follow the thread of why such a choice would have been made by Lucas, and what it says about the character.

In addition, a horribly awkward scene featuring a poorly CGI-ed Jabba the Hutt is crammed into Star Wars as well. The changes to the other two films are less severe, but seemingly every other shot has had additional CGI work crammed into it, giving the movie a glossy, fake look. George Lucas seems to have little idea what made the originals so special, because every time he's gone back to fuss with them, he's taken away far more than he's added. I'm sure there are shots in Citizen Kane and The Godfather that didn't turn out exactly as Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppala first imagined them, but the films are fantastic and there's no need to go back and mess with them.

Anyway, I hoped this news would mean Disney would want to rush its own DVD/Blu-rays out, to start profiting as soon as possible, but it turns out 20th Century Fox will retain the rights to the existing movies until 2020, and to Star Wars itself forever (unless of course it makes its own deal with the Mouse House). I suppose my best hope now is that no longer feeling the need to do as Lucas wishes, Fox releases the original version on Blu-Ray. I'm not buying the "Special Edition" set. Not now, not ever.

And what of the newly announced trilogy?

George Lucas is said to be handed over the reins now, meaning that the biggest problem in the prequels (far too much creative control in Lucas' own hands*) should be eliminated. A more nuanced storyteller can write the scripts, a superior director can coax better performances from the cast and rely less on CGI to tell the story. Someone who grew up with the originals and loves them the way I do can be in control of the important decisions.

* It should be noted that while creatively, I haven't been happy with Lucas, as a man, he's about to do a hell of a thing, donating the majority of the $4.05 billion from this sale to various children's charities around the globe. The world will be undeniably bettered by this massive act of generosity.

I would like to be excited about the prospect, but in the end, while I know I will go to see them all (and will probably have talked myself into being excited about them by then), I wish they weren't happening.

It has not yet been announced if the new movies will take place shortly after the events of The Return of the Jedi, with a new cast playing familiar characters, or if the story will jump further ahead and center around new characters. If it's the latter, what's the point? If we're going to be introduced to an entirely new story with new characters, what exactly makes it Star Wars? The Force? Lightsabers? Space battles? If the new trilogy is so far removed from what's come before, the connection merely a tenuous thread such as the existence of Jedi and Wookies, then it's little more than product branding, a cash grab, "call it Star Wars because it will sell better." It seems to be the only creatively worthwhile endeavor is to attempt to pick up the story where it left off (in 1983). But I don't love that idea either. The most obvious fear in that scenario might be that I don't want to see anyone but Harrison Ford play Han Solo, etc. But potential casting fears are of less concern to me than this: If the question is, "What happened next?" there is no answer I will really be happy with.

There are two possibilities for what happened when the Rebel Alliance's celebration with the Ewoks finally died down: Either some other danger quickly revealed itself, or everyone got on with a fairly normal life. There would be a lot bureaucratic type stuff to be taken care of. Han and Chewie would sit in on committee meetings while the Millennium Falcon was put on display at the Smithsonian of Coruscant. Lando would face the crushing debts caused by the disastrous end to things on Cloud City. Luke would be forced to confront a family secret more troubling than his father's turn to the dark side: the fact that the only young and attractive woman in the galaxy is his sister.

I love the Harry Potter series, but I hate the epilogue that was needlessly tacked on at the end of the final bookI don't want to picture the heroes in everyday, ho-hum lives. I don't want to see them after they've packed on some pounds, found boring jobs, and taken up smoking, just another mom and dad picking the kids up from daycare. In real life, heroes coming home and finding normalcy is a wonderful thing, but in my imagination, such normalcy is dull, drab, and depressing.

Of course, if the new trilogy picks up after Jedi, it won't be because things have gotten boring. It will mean there were other Sith lords in hiding and despite the destruction of the new Death Star and death of the Emperor, the struggle continues. So, what then, everything the Rebels have done was for nothing, or merely the build up to some greater evil? NO! That's garbage! I don't want anything that diminishes the importance of what happened in the originals trilogy. That's why I didn't mind when Peter Jackson left out the Scouring of the Shire when he adapted The Lord of the Rings. I understand why Tolkien included those scenes, but realistically, after The Battle of the Black Gate and the destruction on Sauron, it's a little hard to get too worked up about smaller skirmishes that may have followed.

Logically, I know something must have happened after the Ewoks could sing no more and the Rebels left Endor, but I don't need to know what. So long as I don't, my imagination can choose whatever it wants, even if I don't quite know that this is. The second it's turned into something concrete, it'll be something I'm not happy with.

I understand this is as it must be. There's too much money out there for everyone to simply leave it on the table. So, like millions of others, I'll keep an eye out for tidbits of information over the next couple years, I'll download the trailer and watch it a dozen times, and come opening weekend, 2015, I'll be there. I won't be able to stay away from it, but I wish it just wouldn't be there at all.

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