Star Wars VII – My thoughts so far

Earlier today, Lucasfilm made an official announcement regarding the cast of Star Wars VII. In addition to some newcomers, the original trio of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher will reprise their roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2) will also return.

I’ve already had several people ask me what I think, so I thought I’d put it here.

First, here are the key pieces of information I know so far:
-The film is set 30 years after “Return of the Jedi”
-As stated above, Han, Luke, and Leia will return
-Most of the other actors are relative unknowns
-Kathleen Kennedy is at the helm at Lucasfilm and is producing
-J.J. Abrams is directing
-The script was finalized (possibly re-written) by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan
-John Williams is composing the score
-Ben Burtt is on-board for sound
-George Lucas is on-board as “creative consultant”
-The existing “Expanded Universe” of books/comics/etc is NOT the source material for the story and is in fact “non-canon” (Lucasfilm announced this last week on starwars.com)

So what does this bulleted list really mean? Well, here’s what I think (for what it’s worth). First, how can anyone NOT be excited about seeing Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewie, 3PO, and R2 back on-screen together? That alone could be worth the price of admission. Are they older? Yes. So what? I’m sure that their characters will be written “age-appropriate” – for example, I’d imagine that Luke will be a Jedi master much like Obi-Wan was in the original film. After all, it’s already been stated that Episode VII will take place 30 years after “Jedi”. Return of the Jedi was shot in 1981-82 and released in 1983 – making the actors 32 years or so older now than they were then. The timing is perfect.

I think that casting relative unknown actors is a good move. It may seem funny now to think that when STAR WARS premiered in 1977, Harrison Ford was a relative unknown, as were Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. It makes it easier for the audience to get to know them as the character and not think “oh hey, it’s that guy/girl from _____________”

With Kathleen Kennedy in charge at LFL, I don’t think there’s much cause for concern. The woman’s resume is second-to-none in Hollywood, producing films such as E.T., Back to the Future, the Indiana Jones films, the Goonies, The Color Purple, Gremlins, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Twister, War Horse, and dozens more. She and her husband Frank Marshall have been in the Lucas/Spielberg camp for years – she gets it.

With a script co-written by Kasdan, I’m sure we’re in for a few treats. Kasdan wrote “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Return of the Jedi”, and my all-time favorite film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I don’t know many who would argue that those aren’t great films, and he knows the Star Wars universe and how a Star Wars film should work.

Star Wars without John Williams would be like Peanut Butter without chocolate. ‘Nuff said.

Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without Ben Burtt. He created the sounds of the lightsaber, R2-D2, and Vader’s breathing. Lucas once said that sound is 50% of the movie-going experience, and no one does it better than Ben Burtt.

Please don’t get me wrong: George Lucas is a creative genius. Without him there would be no Star Wars. But, I’ve always argued that George Lucas is a great visual storyteller, with fantastic vision, but is an average writer and poor actor’s director. Most of the complaints about the Prequel trilogy (wooden dialog, poor acting, etc) can be tied back to writing and directing. Even Liam Neeson, a fantastic actor, was weak in Episode I. That’s director. I’m happy that George is on as a consultant, but even more happy that he isn’t writing and directing.

OK EU lovers, please don’t hate me for this, but I am VERY happy that the story of this new trilogy is NOT based on the existing Expanded Universe books and/or comics. Why? One word: Surprise. Surprise is part of the fun of Star Wars (or at least was for the Original Trilogy). I remember discovering that Vader was Luke’s father, and that Luke and Leia were Brother and Sister. I love watching things unfold on the big screen and not knowing what’s going to happen next. If the new trilogy were based on existing books, there would be no surprise. On top of that, some of the EU just doesn’t jive with what’s happened in the films. There are many contradictions for example between the Thrawn Trilogy of books and Episodes I-III. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Lucas himself said years ago that the EU was other authors writing their own stories in his universe, and he basically reserved the right to say none of it ever happened.

For me, the big unknown right now is J.J. Abrams. I’ve seen some of his work, and for the most part, I’ve liked it. There are a few things about his style I don’t like (the ever-mentioned lens flares for example) but I can say this – he knows how to emulate a style of film-making. I also know that many a Star Trek fan say he ruined Star Trek. Well, as a non-Trek-fan I can tell you that I can understand why hard-core Star Trek fans say this, but I can also say that Abrams made Star Trek enjoyable for those of us who are NOT Star Trek fans. He gave it a broader appeal. Star Wars has always had a broad appeal, and I suspect that Abrams will do fine in that arena. I’ve also read several statements from other directors such as Joss Whedon (Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers) and they’ve stated that Abrams LOVES Star Wars and that it’s why he’s a film-maker. Dave Filoni is also a life-long fan, and his work on “Clone Wars” has been fantastic. If that’s any indication, I think Star Wars is in good hands with Abrams.

One other thing I wanted to talk about. I get frustrated when I see/hear comments like “Disney better not screw this up!” Let’s face it, it can’t get much worse than Jar Jar Binks. Really. He’s that bad. But more importantly, look at Disney’s recent track record with a very similar relationship – Marvel. Disney owns Marvel. Since that acquisition, they have produced “The Avengers”, “Iron Man 3”, and “Captain America – The Winter Soldier”. Disney has played it smart and let Marvel Studios make the movies the way they think they should be made – with very little intervention – and they’ve been awesome. The execs at Disney aren’t stupid. I believe that they will let Kennedy, Kasdan, Abrams, and the rest of Lucasfilm (yes, Lucasfilm still exists) make Star Wars 7-9 the way THEY feel it should be made. It may be a simple example, but look at today’s casting announcement. It was made by Lucasfilm on Starwars.com – not on disney.com.

So that was a lot longer that I wanted it to be, but to sum it up – I’m totally excited to see Han, Luke, and Leia back on the big screen. In my opinion, every announcement that LFL has made so far has been the right decision, and I think we’re in for a treat in December, 2015.

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