Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Return of the Star Wars!

I am officially naming today, October 30th, 2012, Star Wars Redemption Day.

An atom bomb of a news story dropped on the pop culture world today, one that still doesn't seem quite real to a lifetime Star Wars fan like myself...and one who had all but lost his faith.  In a staggering announcement, it was revealed that 1) Disney is purchasing Lucasfilm for four billion dollars, and 2) that the next Star Wars trilogy is coming, starting with Episode 7 in 2015.

Why this is fantastic news.

First off, my main complaint, as a Star Wars fan, has (sadly) been George Lucas himself.  I hate to say it, because he's the one that started all this and made me such a fanatic for his world since the age of nine, but somewhere along the way, he just lost it.  I've spent too many years trying to say it diplomatically, so let me just spell it out - he started to suck.  The prequel trilogy was an insult to fans of both Star Wars AND film in general, as all three were just terrible, terrible movies; bad dialogue, silly stories, horrible acting (much of it from otherwise great actors, a testament to poor directing), and characters that ranged from sort of tolerable to hate-inducing to hilariously racially insensitive (you-sah know who I be talkin' 'bout).  He proved to us that he was no longer fit for command.  And our hopes for getting any kind of relief from this, any chance that a new generation of young filmmakers would come in and revitalize re-imagine the franchise, were thwarted because Lucas refused to admit anything was wrong and refused to give up control of his baby.  So Star Wars became silly, and Star Wars became for kids.  This was the demographic he seemed bent on supplying.  Not the countless millions of fans who grew up on Star Wars and were so excited to be getting new stories as grown-ups, but kids.  Hey, I'm all for kids being into Star Wars.  I was a kid into Star Wars.  But my Star Wars didn't have Jar Jar stepping in poop and smelling farts.  It was a mysterious, epic, sometimes edgy and always thrilling journey that had things to say about the nature of good and evil and the choices we make in our lives that can lean us one way or the next.  It didn't have little kids in pod races screaming "Yipee!".  Yes, Return of the Jedi had an army of teddy bears and Chewbacca giving a Tarzan yell as he swung from a vine, but that was also the beginning of the end.  This is where Lucas started to lose his edge.

And I feel bad for saying all this, because Lucas not only started it all, but he's like the nicest guy in the world!  He's been taking endless fanboy rage for years, being told how much he sucks, and he's accepted it all like a gentleman, never getting bitter and striking back.  Part of this is his good nature.  Another part of it is his penchant for denial.  Had he stopped to listen to some of the rage, he might have altered course during the past decade, but he firmly held to the belief that he knew what he was doing.  He clearly didn't.  Yet, again, it's hard to stay mad at the loveable, sincere guy.  I have, don't worry.  I'm just saying it was hard.

In today's announcement, George discussed how he was retiring and felt it was time to hand Star Wars over to different, younger creators.  I could have hugged the big bearded goof.  A lot of us were starting to think he'd never let anyone touch his toys, that he'd go to the grave never passing the keys over.  But he's finally done the right, and smart, thing.  He's letting it go, and he's letting us continue to have it, and letting today's filmmakers who often became filmmakers because of how George inspired them try their hand at the franchise they (and we) love.  Good for you, George.  Good for you.

The Disney acquisition is the other fantastic news.  I'm already hearing shouts of "Oh, the evil Disney empire is doing it again, thinking they own everything!" and "It's Disney, they're going to make it for kids!".  To the latter point, it's ALREADY for kids, thanks to George.  Now we of the post-grammar-school fan base might finally get a chance to have something made for us.  Where do I get this confidence?  Very simple.  Disney bought Marvel.  We got the Avengers movie.  I think that Disney is so happy with that business model (as that film made them a billion bucks, not even counting the other films in the franchise) that they're sure to try to repeat it.  And the core of the Marvel movie franchise is quality.  Good stories, great characters, and amazing new breed of filmmakers.  They learned that if you make it right, people will come back to see it again and again.  They will see this done for new Star Wars movies as well.  I'm confident in this.  And I hope justifiably so.

So right out of the gate, the announcement came with not just a promise of new films, but a timeline.  We know we'll be getting Episode 7 for summer of 2015.  Then 8 and 9 every couple of years.  Then more after that every two or three years.  Their current plan is for 10 movies, with TV plans also in the mix.  This is exactly that kind of rebirth of the franchise I never thought I'd see.  And now it's a reality.

I'm left to wonder, now, exactly how they plan to handle this next trilogy.  I'm already grateful to them for not going with a reboot, but actually continuing the story post-Jedi.  This has to mean recasting for the main characters, and I think that's great.  We're at a point now where even the most hardcore fans have to admit that Mark, Harrison and Carrie are too old to play these parts.  With a new generation of films comes a new generation of actors.  I think we're all totally on board with that.  All I ask is that Nathan Fillion at least gets a screen test for Han Solo.

And where will the story go?  For those who've known nothing but the movies, you may not be aware that the Star Wars story has been ongoing for quite some time in book format (and comics as well).  The most famous of those, back in the 90s, was the Timothy Zahn trilogy that picked up where Return left off, and showed us what our favorite characters had to face trying to take on the remnants of the Empire and a new threat in the evil Admiral Thrawn, all while trying to build a new galactic government.  The books kept going.  Han and Leia got married.  And had kids.  Luke got married, and had a kid.  Those kids grew up in these books.  They're adults running around in the novels now.  In short, there's over 30 years of Star Wars continuity that takes place in what's known as the "Expanded Universe" (the non-film stuff), chronicling the rise of the New Republic, the re-establishment of the Jedi Order, and one giant 19-novel galactic war where several main characters die (including ones you know from the movies).  Will these movies take those into account?  Or will they go a different direction, starting a whole new timeline and essentially invalidating all the books?  I can see arguments for both.  Seems like a waste, to me, to have all this story source material and not make any use of it.  I'll be curious to see their decision on this, but either way, it means new Star Wars movies.  Ones that George (God bless him) will not be writing and directing. So I'm on board.

So, yeah, the big news is pretty giddy-making to me and other fans.  I remember all the excitement leading up to Episode 1.  Finally, we were getting what we'd always dreamed of.  I look forward to having that kind of delicious anticipation again (though I hope with different results this time), and to being there on opening night in about two-and-a-half years.  I feel confident that Disney's going to do this right and pull the franchise out of its nosedive and raise it to new heights.  I'm ready, finally, to get my Star Wars on proper again.

And to start liking George Lucas again.