I am severely unfamiliar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I’ll reference it like an a-hole anyway:
By now, everyone knows about Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm Ltd. for around $4 billion yesterday, and from what I can gather, the majority of the internet is either still reeling from a collective ‘WTF, bro???’ or it’s busying worrying about more important things like elections and hurricanes and stuff. Well, I voted early and live in Wisconsin, so my schedule’s wide open!
In all seriousness, I’ve received texts from at least 5 different friends over the last 24 hours asking about my thoughts on the acquisition: Are you mad? How’s that massive erection going? First and foremost, when Star Wars dictates an uptick in one’s social life, it’s time to maybe rethink some lifestyle choices. The short answer to all those texts, in my apparently very qualified opinion, is that this is good news. It might even be really great news. With nothing but a minted children’s show, another series in development hell, and ill-advised 3D conversions, how is Disney’s move not a modest upgrade at the very least?
Episode VII. It feels weird and refreshing at the same time, like one of those “full body” massages you can only get in sketchy Chinese parlors. I’m saying this with the protection of The Douchey Airbag of Hindsight, but Episodes I-III never seemed like the obvious direction to take in 1995. You automatically lose drama points from square one if your audience already knows Protagonist #2 gets really evil and really flammable at the end. Never mind that moving ahead in time was far more interesting to little snot-noised Davy. We learned a lot about that Prequel stuff decades before it even hit theaters. Go back to Luke’s first sit down with Obi-Wan in Episode IV or Ben’s bullshit backpedaling in Episode VI:
Luke: You fought in the Clone Wars?
Obi-Wan: Yes. I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your father.
Luke: I wish I’d known him.
Obi-Wan: He was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior. I understand you’ve become quite a good pilot yourself.
And he was a good friend
Luke: How did my father die?
Obi-Wan: A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.
Luke: You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Obi-Wan: Your father… was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader.
Obi-Wan: Anakin was a good friend. When I first met him, your father was already a great pilot, but I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.
Out of just that, what would we really miss out on if Episodes I-III never happened? So there’s no fight with Darth Maul or Captain Typho’s eye patch, but the essentials are there. And they’re all we ever needed. *Douchey Airbag of Hindsight deploys*
There’s also a lot of concern over The Mouse House making Star Wars more of a jokey, kid-friendly franchise, to which I respond: Holiday Special. But couldn’t Disney bring back the Gungans?! They could cast Dane Cook as Jim Jam Binks if they really wanted. But they probably won’t. More to the point, Disney has plenty of experience with successful live-action already. In the last two decades: Remember the Titans, The Mighty Ducks, Angels in the Outfield, Newsies, The Princess Diaries, National Treasure, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. Considering Pirates of the Caribbean ALONE, a fantasy franchise with dark elements and lighthearted humor is 100% old hat for Disney.
So where should/would/could Disney go with this? Yesterday, HuffPo’s Mike Ryan broke down 3 possible routes, all of which involve the inevitable hurtle of casting actors who have aged horribly. I agree with him, but I’ll go a step further and add a snarky qualifier to each:
1. The Easy Option
Let’s call this Operation: Dump Truck o’ Ca$h, because that’s approximately what it would take to get Grandpa Ford to come back as Han Solo. I’m being serious. Ford’s enthusiasm for the Indiana Jones character is well-documented, but he’s almost equally famous for being not so gung-ho about a certain smuggler. This goes beyond his suggestion that Han Solo get killed off in Jedi, too. The man oozes with obligation in every goddamn nerd interview he agrees to goddamn do, goddammit.
But, for the sake of hypotheticals, say he agrees to it. Say Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher do, too (and for much less). Now you’re stuck with crafting a trilogy (as was tentatively announced) around three old people. Good luck.
2. The Easier Option
Recast the shit out of it. Place your bets now; everybody’s doing it. Ryan Gosling as Luke! Emma Stone as Princess Leia! ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. FOR ALL THE PARTS LOLZ!!!! Please just stop. You’re starting to foam.
This is even easier than Operation: Dump Truck o’ Ca$h because you’re no longer saddled with actors in high-leverage negotiating positions — actors who, again, are also pretty old. Profitability aside, there is a glaring, blasphemous downside to this option. It would piss off a lot of people. I’m not even including the hardcore geeks. People look at Carrie Fisher and say ‘That’s Princess Leia!’ They hear James Earl Jones and think ‘That’s Darth Vader!’ This shit is instantly recognizable and when you mess with that, you’re going to mess with a lot of people.
Now could Disney recast such iconic characters? Of course. Back me up here, Mr. Connery. On the other hand, should they? No.
3. The Best Option
English professors always liked to scold our classes for writing midterm papers that straddled opposing arguments. And part of that is because moderation tends not to end in a fist fight. “The Best Option” is one of moderation:
- Episode VII takes place a reasonable distance into the future (similar to a timeline from Operation: Dump Truck o’ Ca$h).
- Disney actually gets creative and establishes new, interesting characters. Right away, that avoids the temptation to do stupid shit like that one time Anakin built C-3PO.
- Disney retains Hamill, Fisher, and Ford as characters and acknowledges that they are very much the old guard. Then they promptly stick them IN THE BACKGROUND of the story.
- From a marketing standpoint, Disney can’t lose here. Audiences aren’t nervous if that teaser trailer hits and Holy cow, Luke Skywalker! is going through half their minds. More importantly, Disney avoids Option #2’s blasphemy and establishes continuity to a new movie trilogy. They also reduce the awkwardness of a saggy Princess Leia getting too much screen time.
- Oh and as insurance, Disney wouldn’t be shooting itself in the foot should Han Solo pass away mid-nap on some blustery February day in 2016. Disney doesn’t want another Tom Hagen on its hands, let alone another Matrix Revolutions.
Beyond this though, what’s the point in guessing plot scenarios? Yesterday, the official Star Wars YouTube channel released a video where George Lucas confirmed long-time rumors that he does in fact have “story treatments of [Episodes] VII, VIII, and IX.” That’s great, Georgie. Shred all of it. Yes, it’s probably best to name check Lucas as a “creative consultant” (they are), but Disney has a completely blank slate with a billion dollars worth of brand recognition. Why risk screwing that up?
The image above is foremost a visual non sequitur (and probably more than appropriate for this blog), but I also included it to remind us that unless you’re a fly on the wall at Disney/LucasFilm, you don’t know anything. To put it another way, millions of pages were suddenly silenced because they bothered to consider the future Star Wars stuff. This includes Han and Leia’s wedding; Luke’s resurrection of the Jedi Academy; the formation of the New Republic. I always liked The Thrawn Trilogy, essentially the space fantasy equivalent of Mao Zedong’s “passive defense” strategy in late 40’s China, only Space Mao doesn’t win. But as of Tuesday, October 30, 2012, all that stuff is officially published fan fiction, and authors like Timothy Zahn just look like overzealous a-holes. Instead of drafting your spec script that like might totally get accepted by Kathleen Kennedy, chill the fuck out and enjoy a Yuuzhan Vong novel while it still makes sense.
Since I’ve been working on this whole “optimism” fad lately, I’ll end on a positive note. As cute as it is to throw The Ears on Emperor Palpatine and quip about the Mouse House being stationed on Coruscant, it’s not like Jedi Master Donald Duck is going to spearhead the rebuilding of a galactic democracy. After all, Mickey Mouse didn’t toss Stan The Man out on his ass when Disney bought Marvel Comics three years ago. Instead, they stepped back, recognized talent and passion when they saw it, and let this happen. Don’t panic. In fact, relax a little. The days of Clone Wars cartoons and 3D post-conversions might be at an end.
Without any irony, if I may: I have a good feeling about this.