Happy Friday, everyone! So…remember a few months back when I made my sales pitch to Disney regarding who they should cast in the upcoming Star Wars film? Well, it turns out my efforts were for naught. Apparently, director J.J. Abrams and writing partner Lawrence Kasdan (both of whom are turning into the new George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, respectively, right before our very eyes) have decided to completely abandon the Expanded Universe – licensed story material outside of the six films that pretty much kept the franchise alive following the release of 1983’s Return of the Jedi – for Star Wars Episode VII, essentially rendering it non-canon. Just. Like. That. So after sticking by the saga through the highs and lows, consuming hundreds upon hundreds of books, comics, video games and other essential lore (or at least we thought it was essential), all our fan efforts amounted to…what exactly? J.J. Abrams basically telling us we wasted our time? As someone who’s supported the brand by enmeshing myself in its vast – and I’m talking galaxy vast – transmedia universe, I find such flippant ignorance to be supremely disrespectful to the Star Wars fandom at large, a fandom that helped the franchise top not just box office charts, but also video game and New York Times Bestseller charts as well. Abrams and Kasdan are practically squashing true Star Wars fans under their boots like pesky ants. Basically, they’re shutting the door on those who know and appreciate the infinite potential of the Star Wars saga, and reversely letting in consumers whose reverence of The Original Trilogy will be the undoing of the franchise as we know it – count on that.
I wanted to be optimistic about this project; I think Michael Arndt was on the right track by focusing on the next generation of Jedi instead of what Abrams and Kasdan are currently doing, which is making “The Big Three” (Luke, Han and Leia) the central focus of Star Wars VII’s narrative. I’m not saying to abandon their characters entirely, but Arndt wanted to evolve the franchise and show audiences that there are other memorable, iconic characters in the Star Wars lore besides Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO. When we rest on something for too long, it will eventually collapse and all we are left with is scattered rubble. That’s where I fear the franchise is heading. Revisiting planets Tatooine and Hoth – two popular planets from A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back that aren’t necessary to the saga’s future (Luke himself has repeatedly stated how much he despises Tatooine, so why go against the wishes of the main protagonist and force him to return?) – is just lazy “fan” service, used as a marketing ploy to show those aforementioned consumers (whom I don’t consider *true* fans — sorry!) that the series is returning to its roots. Don’t worry, folks, nostalgic desires will most certainly be fulfilled! Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Bottom line: recycled locations, characters and themes stunt the heights that a franchise can reach, especially one so rich and layered like the Star Wars universe. The fact that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan want to condense such an unbounded universe into an insulated box with memorabilia totally confounds me.
I had a discussion earlier in the week on Twitter with our very own Sam Coffey that touched on some of this. He made a compelling argument about how all of the “original” planets from the prequels had nothing to offer except background eye-candy. I couldn’t agree more, but the funny thing is that the one planet that did end up working – Coruscant, the capital planet of the universe – was one that…oh, could it be…CAME FROM THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE! Yes, instead of making up his own capital planet and calling it some dumb name like “Centerooine,” George Lucas actually made a smart, noble decision for once and decided to stick with Timothy Zahn’s capital planet of the same name he used for his Heir to the Empire book trilogy. There was no plagiarizing, no “inspired by” passive-aggressiveness, just the creator of Star Wars saying something along the lines of, “You know what, this is a great planet I would love to see on the big screen. Let’s make it the focus of the prequels.” Wow, acknowledgement, compromise, fan appeasement. Was that really so hard to do? Now why can’t Kasdan and J.J. follow suit? I feel like their stubbornness is blinding them to the spellbinding planets, characters and sub-plots they could use to enrich their reportedly original Star Wars: Episode VII script. This whole “LET ME DO THIS MY WAY” mantra has almost no shot of success, especially when Abrams himself isn’t known for his originality. Did anyone notice anything in Super 8, Mission: Impossible 3 or the Star Trek films that felt even remotely innovative? J.J., just admit you are bad at coming up with original ideas, and in the end somehow come back around to drooling over filmmakers/movies/TV shows of the past.
Look, I’m no defender of the prequels, but its failure — aside from Jar Jar Binks that is (there should be a special prescription drug for people who come up with such heinous ideas) – was mostly execution. Conceptually, I don’t believe the prequels were half bad on paper. But from the casting, to the CGI hard-ons, to the forced camaraderie and humor, the prequels just couldn’t get it together in any of the three films. I believe with all the resources Disney has at their disposal, not to mention their credibility being at stake if they were to make Episode VII a complete and utter farce, execution should be a cinch this time around. It will be the early stages that will make or break Star Wars Episode VII, and from the reports I’m reading it looks like the saga is already doomed. My only glimmer of hope is that Kasdan’s involvement could mean Star Wars Episode VII will have a darker edge to it than the happy-go-lucky fluff I normally associate the Disney brand with. The Empire Strikes Back is the masterpiece that it is because of Kasdan’s boldness in putting our favorite characters through physical and emotional turmoil, so much so that their heroism is actually amplified.
Look, I’m still up for having my mind changed despite J.J.’s immense betrayal of Star War fans and Expanded Universe authors/contributors everywhere. I want to believe that maybe this “Six Films *ARE* the canon!” declaration isn’t set in stone and is actually quite flexible. I make no apologies for my hardcore love of the Star Wars universe, but the Original Trilogy only started me on my journey. What I’ve discovered along the way, my knowledge of the universe and its assorted mix of memorable characters in tow, is that Star Wars has so much more to offer than what’s seen in the films. George Lucas merely gave us the foundation, one that many have contributed to, built upon, and *cue the boos* made better. Yes, I have actually read Expanded Universe stories that were more involving, more memorable in my mind than the immortalized Original Trilogy. For J.J. Abrams and Kasdan to simply turn a blind eye to all that is out there is, quite frankly, rather sad. There’s nothing wrong with paving a fresh new road so long as those who ride it know it’s safe to travel on. Last I checked, most of our roads are composed of rubber asphalt, not dirt a la pre-20th century. Let’s just hope J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan know the distinction.
Rant To Be Continued…