Artists Pay Back (The Blog)

November 8, 2015

Hopes (and fears) for Star Wars VII

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“Ugh, not another person blogging about the upcoming Star Wars movie. I suppose you have an opinion about it”

Well, of course I have an opinion on the new Star Wars movie. Like pretty much anyone else my age (let’s call it the Child of the 70s syndrome), Star Wars holds a special place in my life and that hasn’t really diminished with the passing years. I was six when I saw the first one. I still remember sitting in that California theater with my dad by my side as I constantly peppered him with questions (and him responding in curt, hushed tones always followed by a “now, shhh”). I may not have quite understood it all but I loved every minute of it. I stressed out for three years wondering what would become of Han Solo after seeing Empire. I attended a midnight screening for Return of the Jedi ON A SCHOOL NIGHT (unheard of). For years, I kept a newspaper article about how Lucas always envisioned Star Wars to be nine movie series (a plan which through the years he has alternately recanted, denied or revised) and waited for the dream to come to fruition. Which it did. Which, well, yeah…

Anyhow, now that Lucas has passed the reins to Disney (ugh) and more importantly given JJ Abrams the keys to drive episode VII (eh), I am cautiously optimistic that he will avoid the missteps of the second trilogy1 and return with a good movie.2 I’ve already got my tickets for opening night and I’m (mostly) excited about what I’ve seen in the trailers. I mean, if shots of the Falcon flying through the skeletal remains of a Star Destroyer don’t give you chills, then the issue is you my friend.

But, seeing as how massive an influence Star Wars had on my developmental years (even in the ways it slightly stunted them), I do have a certain “ownership” in the future iterations. Unlike other superfans, and this applies to fans of anything really, I don’t pretend to be the voice of all. I know what I think worked and what didn’t; and I know what I want to see and, more importantly, what I don’t.
  • DO NOT go back to Tatooine – At this point, I think I despise that planet more than Luke ever did. It was fine as an integral part of the original Star Wars movie (it was important to establishing Luke’s character), but they should have never gone back again. I get that Lucas’ thing was planets devised of entirely one ecosystem (with the exception of Naboo, every planet has pretty much stuck to this – ice planet, desert planet, swamp planet, forest moon, water planet, lava planet, so on). And it made for cool location shoots, and maybe having another desert planet would cause confusion, but it’s better than once again returning to a planet that was noted as being “the farthest thing from the center of the universe.” Yet, in was visited in five of the movies.3 No more.5
  • And on that note, DO NOT create single ecosystem planets. One, I think  they’ve all been covered, and, two it started getting a little silly.  Of course in addition to, “Tatooine, no.. this is Jakku. Totally different.” it appears we’ll also be getting a very Hoth, but totally-not-Hoth snow planet. And, what may or may not be a return to Yavin’s forest-y moon (which would be okay, because even though the Empire new of the base there, that would make some sense for them to reestablish that location.)
  • DO NOT create loads of new creatures – I think one of my big issue with the prequels was all of these alien races suddenly popping up. I know this also happened in the OT (original trilogy) but that was a view of a universe that was slowly expanding to the viewer. Why weren’t there any Gungans, Kaminoans, etc. in the OT? (Yeah, it’s rhetorical. I know the answer.) But the point really is that it was mostly unnecessary. You can thrown in a few new creatures, but don’t completely populate the movies with heretofore unseen races. Lucas set up a varied enough cast of creatures through the first three movies  – just Mos Eisley and Jabba’s palace alone had enough to choose from – that he could have just continued using those and expanding them. I know that part of this was Lucas’ infatuation with digital creature making which allowed him to go in more fantastical directions. But considering it led to characters like Dexter Jettster (um, a six-armed diner cook with a New York accent? Really? I would have preferred a return of Bea Arthur or creepy Uncle Itchy.) When it came to digital possibilities, Lucas clearly never heeded the classic advice – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  • DO NOT throw in jokey callbacks – As a culture, aren’t we at a saturation point with the whole wink-wink, “Easter Egg,” inside-reference/joke thing. (Maybe it’s just me.) It’s fun to a point but it has been severely overdone in movies and shows to the point where it needs to be let go at times. I particularly bring this up because of how much of a crutch Abrams has used it in the Star Trek movies. I fear he will continue to lean on it here. There’s hope that that was mostly due to the hacky influence of Orci and Kurtzman who will not be involved here, but I”m still really worried about this. I don’t want to see Jar Jar’s bones in the background, I don’t need yet another variation on “I love you.” “I know.” Humor is fine, lazy humor (especially the sort that violates the character and takes you out of the movie – see again, Star Trek) is not.
  • DO NOT make this about a Skywalker turning to the dark side and needing to be turned back/redeemed7 – I’m pretty sure this one is unavoidable at this point and the big reveal will probably be that Luke has turned (most likely as part of this Knights of Ren) to drive the narrative in “Part VIII – Attack of The Rehashed Plot Device.” I’m already not buying that the masked figure seen in the trailers and posters is necessarily Adam Driver, at least not always. That could easily be Luke (and would explain his conspicuous absence in posters and trailers) at least some of the time with Driver being his disciple. And everyone assumes that the “I will finish what you started” line is being spoken to Vader’s helmet (which to me seems an editing trick) but that could be Kylo (Driver) talking to Luke, or Luke speaking of Vader. Anyhow, for me the bottom line is it would be pretty lame for Luke to succumb to the dark side after originally struggling with it and ultimately rejecting that fate while also being the inspiring for his father’s redemption, only to give in later. To paraphrase Yoda, the writers “…would destroy all for which he had fought, and suffered.”
  • DO kill off some of the classic characters – I can actually see Chewie dying prior to or during one of the action set pieces late in the movie. It would set a deeper tone and to be honest, I’m not sure Peter Mayhew can physically hold up for more movies. So they either have to devise a way for Chewie to be hurt (sad) or set him up in a battle setting where he gets to pilot a ship or sacrifices himself getting killed heroically in action (as long as his ultimate fate is deserving of his prominence as a character.) Even better, kill off Han Solo. That’s exactly what needs to happen and I highly doubt that it will. This is coming from the greatest Han Solo fan in existence (verified) and someone who distinctly remembers feeling personally betrayed when hearing, back in 1983, that Harrison Ford lobbied to George Lucas to kill him off in the third act of Return of the Jedi to, as I remember the quote, “give this thing some weight.” Back then it would have been a terrible decision, but now it’s the exact right move. There’s likely no avoiding that this movie will focus on the rebuilding of the Jedi and the reemergence of the Sith8. And I’m sure there will be a young “Han Solo type” introduced rendering the original model expendable. Luke is needed for the teaching the ways of the force, Leia possibly too, leaving Han little to do (he’s not going to be running around too much playing action hero, at least I hope not). So his death will be a great way to, you know, give this thing some weight.
  • DO NOT feel the need to end each movie with a lightsaber battle – I love them, you love them. The film can (and, of course, will) feature a lightsaber duel or two, but it doesn’t have to end that way. Empire and Jedi used the final saber battles between Luke and Darth as a nice bit of symmetry and then, in the prequels, it started to feel like “okay, third act, that means lightsaber duel runs concurrently with a large scale battle where the characters are split up.” Only Star Wars9 and Revenge of the Sith avoided this (Star Wars had the battle but the saber duel was earlier, Sith only had a duel.) So, get it in early or use it to propel the third act if you must (a la Star Wars), but once it becomes formula, it’s time to abandon.

1 – No, I’m not going to directly nitpick the second trilogy. I realize that it comes off as old guy not liking the new stuff and that there are plenty of people who consider The Phantom Menace their favorite. I support their right to be completely wrong. And besides, the entire new trilogy was already deconstructed to perfection.

2 – With the understanding that this may not ever truly be possible. And that is completely due to the bias nature of rosy, childhood memories and the crushing weight of expectations, and not really a reflection of the movie itself.

3 – The Empire Strikes Back being the lone anomaly. And taken that this is the best4 of the movies, is that a coincidence? Yes, but still.

4 – Not up for debate.

5 – Oh, and the very Tatooine-ish desert planet, Jakku, that has been featured prominently in the trailers and figures to be more than just a temporary location, does not make it better (sigh). It’s a cheat for people like me who would complain about going back to Tatooine (basically JJ is having his desert, and eating it, too.) And I wouldn’t be totally surprised if before the credits roll on either this movie or the new trilogy as a whole, that we don’t see those dual suns shining at some point.

6 – I think this starship may have already sailed based on some of the trailers and behind the scenes stuff, but I guess it’s inevitable.

7 – Either new, or old – see Skywalker, Luke. And yes, I know this is a bog part of the expanded universe of the books with the next generation of Solo/Skywalker’s doing the family redemption arc but it was lame there too. Find a new story to tell.

8 – Even if they aren’t necessarily referred to by those names.

9 – By the way, Star Wars is the name of the movie that came out in 1977. The first movie. I’ve heard talk of something called “A New Hope,” but I’m not familiar with that term.

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