Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ask JKM a Question #47: Star Wars and Disney?

A reader and commenter, Grayson, asks:

“Any thoughts on the Disney purchase of LucasFilm?

I saw this news item on Tuesday night, before Halloween, and knew that I should address it on the blog soon, so I want to thank you for bringing it up as a JKM question, Grayson.   

I have read both  pros and cons about the merger of Disney and LucasFilm all over the Net, and I suspect how one feels about  the deal comes down to two questions.

These are:

1.      Do you want more Star Wars films?

2.      Do you want better Star Wars films?

For me, the answer to the first question is an unequivocal affirmative. 

Since I was seven years-old and read excitedly of George Lucas’s plan to create nine movies, I’ve been in fandom for the long haul.  I have always wanted to see Star Wars Episodes 7 – 9, and feel like it was a promise made, and I promise I would like to see fulfilled. 

My mother is a Star Wars fan too, and she has joked for years that I’ll have to wheel her to the movies on life support to see those final episodes.  She’s in great shape, thankfully, and with Episode 7 slated for 2015, she can walk with me to our seats under her own steam.

The second question I also answer in the affirmative.

I am not a prequel basher/hater, but I can’t deny facts about the last iteration of Star Wars.

The general attitude about the prequels is something akin to disgust and loathing.  I posted my first ask JKM about the merits of The Phantom Menace, and was inundated by insistent (but polite and intelligent) Star Wars fans who WOULD ABSOLUTELY NOT HEAR ANYTHING POSITIVE ABOUT THE PREQUELS.

The reasons for such disgust and loathing are complex, I submit, but you can’t deny the cultural vibe. 

A new trilogy -- with George Lucas out of the driver’s seat -- promises a new take on Star Wars.  It could be bad or it could be good.  But if you are already a prequel hater then getting more George Lucas-directed efforts and expecting better results could be the very definition of insanity.  Therefore, a change should be seen as net positive, right?

The burning issue here is what kind of a “creator” is George Lucas?

Is he of the Gene Roddenberry mode?  Is he someone who set down a vision and series of principles which others can dutifully follow (but with a few twists and turns)?

Or is he of the Rod Serling mode, in which’s the author’s writing voice proves so distinctive and unique that nobody else could ever approximate it?  The many remakes of The Twilight Zone, both on film and television, have lacked something that made the original so special.  In my opinion, that’s Rod Serling’s authorial voice.

But I tend to think of Lucas in the former camp. 

Star Trek goes on without Gene Roddenberry to this day, and some of it has been quite good.  I feel that, being fair, the same would likely be true of Star Wars.  A visionary young director with a sense of love for Lucas’s universe may be just the shot in the arm the franchise needs in 2012. 

I hate to bring up the idea of mortality here because I, for one, intend to live forever (if only to continue blogging…), but I came to the realization before the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie premiered that I was very fortunate to have Star Trek in my life.  It was a myth that had meaning to me both as a kid and now, as an adult.  I want that myth to be there for my son.  He may need it, as I have needed it.

Again, the same is true of Star Wars.  It has become bigger and more important than any one artist.   If we want the myth to continue for future generations, there must be a changing of the guard, and now is as good a time as any.

I have also read that some people are upset that Lucas Film is now part of Disney, and that this union will somehow make the Star Wars films more commercial and therefore compromise artistry.

That has to be one of the funniest arguments I have read in recent years. 

Go to Target or Toys R Us and you will detect -- through the piles of Legos and action figures -- that Star Wars is already commercialized to the hilt.  I see very little evidence that Disney-fying the franchise is going to represent any kind of sell-out.  Star Wars -- commercially speaking -- is already a sell-out.

To put it another way: from the comfort and warmth of my plush Tauntaun sleeping bag, I just can’t work myself into a self-righteous froth over the idea of Star Wars amusement park attractions. You know?

I do believe that, going forward, the new creative engineer behind Star Wars must ask some critical questions about the franchise.

In no particular order these are:

Is Star Wars effectively the Skywalker saga?   If so, then this fact necessitates the inclusion of the family in some capacity in Episodes 7 through 9.  If not, then what will the new movies concern, and what characters will front them? 

Is Star Wars the story of the Force and its impact on the universe?  If so, then there needs to be some sense of authorial clarity about the Force.  Is it a parasitic organism in humanoid blood streams?  Is it a spiritual force that can be tapped by anyone?   Is it both?  Is it a sentient thing, engineering the shape of intelligent life? If so, why does it care? 

I’m not saying we need to know all the answers in the movie itself.  I’m saying the artists need to make some hard choices and proceed creatively from those selections.

Is Star Wars the story of constantly overturning political cycles? If so, then that necessitates the idea that a “rebellion” will form against the Republic again, possibly with Sith-based roots.     

Finally, what about casting?

I would certainly love to see a Star Wars VII that features Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams in major roles, but I also remember how vicious the reviews of Star Trek grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the original crew aged.  All the headlines were “The Over-The-Hill Gang Rides Again” and the coverage was insulting and mocking.  I doubt Star Wars would be immune from this kind of criticism (especially considering the reception of the last Indiana Jones movie).

Yet, I’m honestly in the camp that doesn’t care if journalists complain.  I’d like to see the old gang back in action together at least one last time, and that desire supersedes this consideration.

I suspect the toughest part of producing Episodes 7 – 9 will be finding a story that doesn’t feel like a retread of what we’ve already seen.   

For all the hatred directed at the prequels, those three films certainly repeat many motifs from the original trilogy, from the heroic pilot plucked out of obscurity to save the universe to the comic-relief antics of the droids.

The big change ushered by this recent news is that more Star Wars movies are coming soon, and that a new era is beginning.

I see this as very exciting, and I’m cautiously optimistic.  Again, I let Star Trek’s history be my guide.  After Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we got Nick Meyer’s and Harve Bennett’s re-invention of the mythos, The Wrath of Khan.  And after Roddenberry stepped aside again, we got some great seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Wars could be in for the same healthy re-invigoration at Disney, and so I say: may the force be with those souls who endeavor to make it happen.  

Thanks for asking the question, Grayson.


  1. Anonymous10:56 AM

    John I agree with you. The STAR TREK production history proves that it keeps this franchise alive to have new people involved. How I wish that SPACE:1999 had gone the route of Star Trek productions instead of being left behind as a stand alone '70s television series. STAR WARS will live long and prosper with Disney. Like you John and your mother, I am looking forward to finally seeing Star Wars Episodes 7, 8 and 9.


  2. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Strangely this acquisition made me once again rethink my relation to the prequel trilogy. My brain decided to hate them again for this. I am baffled.


  3. Part I

    I think when we talk about bringing back the main characters from the original trilogy, and the actors who played them, we need to dismiss any flighty impulses concerning what we think would be "so cool!" and take responsibility for what we’re really feeling: nostalgia -- the urge to return to an earlier and always seemingly more innocent time in our lives -- which is really just a sugarcoated form of arrested development. And I say crush it with one swift stroke! We can never go back. Ever. Vying to see beloved movie characters up on the screen again, especially when their stories have long since concluded, is nothing more than a sad grab at something that could never be. Things change, permanently.

    "Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is." -- "Train yourself to let go... of everything you fear to lose."

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    I absolutely do not want to see any returning main characters from the six-part Star Wars saga. Everything about this recent studio alliance beckons -- no, warrants, demands! -- the beginning of something entirely new. Yes, it will be within the same universe and, sure, referencing from the previous saga certain elements or broader storied premises for simple coherency’s sake is totally kosher in my book. But these new Star Wars films should absolutely deal with a whole new storyline and a whole new set of heroes and villains, and even unexplored myths, assuming the director/writer is astute enough to offer genuine insight (more on him in a moment). I mean, seriously, we’re talking infinite possibilities for the imagination to mine from an entire galaxy far, far away ...only to go back and huff around with a 60-yearold Mark Hamill? And for what? Again, think what is best for the story, not reliving fond memories, which, I reiterate, one can never truly do.

    The Star Trek analogy is a good one that I myself came to soon after hearing this news. I never considered Star Wars to be somehow immune to the generational passing of storytelling that has consumed every other great yarn throughout history, both recent (our cinematic century-plus) or distant. It will go the way of Alexander Dumas or Merry Shelly or Robert Louis Stevenson or Edgar Rice Burroughs or J. R.R. Tolkien or Gene Roddenberry ...or Walt Disney. However, there is not a single doubt in my mind that George Lucas hails from Camp Serling. In terms of cinematic expression -- audiovisuals, aesthetics, melodramatics and tone -- the Star Wars films were always an island unto themselves; base content aside, what other movies have ever genuinely looked, felt, acted or sounded like them?

  4. Part II

    Star Wars has always been a lot less conventional and a lot more inherently weird than most of your average fans seem to realize. And that weirdness stems from George Lucas, the plethora of various themes and motifs, inspirations and allusions, and countless microcosmic idiosyncrasies that he laced throughout the saga, even when channeling through Irwin Kershner and Richard Marquand. And now Lucas is gone, and Star Wars has gone from independent to corporate. THAT is the elephant in the room.

    In another article I read on the issue, the author referred to the dangers of opening the floodgates to mediocrity. A keen point. We don’t need edgy-cool, MTV music video Star Wars (Snyder). We don’t need dark and serious adult Star Wars (Nolan). We don’t need pithy, self-aware, sarcastic Star Wars (Abrams, Whedon). We don’t need shaky-cam Star Wars, or slow motion Star Wars, or shutter-speed Star Wars, or speed ramping Star Wars (too many to list). And we sure as hell don’t need subtext-deficient, characters-monologuing-themes-to-the-camera Star Wars (swing a dead cat...).

    My ideal choice to helm the next trilogy? An unknown. Preferably, a technically adroit journeyman director experienced in the areas of visual effects filmmaking and, perhaps most crucial of all, someone who is stylistically blank. I don’t want a director with some grand visions of his own, but a director with a disciplined, workmanlike sense of visual storytelling who can seize the already inherent grand vision of Star Wars itself; Marquand, for example, was not brilliant, but he was consummate and appropriately transparent.

    This is the best and only chance to avoid some perverted form of Star Wars that has been homogenized by the corporate think-tank with whatever the latest trends in blockbuster filmmaking. Bottom line, hire a sturdy, no-nonsense pilot to man the stick, but let the ship find its own way through the cosmos. Let Star Wars direct itself, so to speak.

    Oh, and the Prequels rule.

  5. Computer tech is advancing all the time. Soon, it will be concievable that computer-generated characters can be made that will be virtully indistinguishable from real actors. When that happens, a young Mark Hammil, A young Harrsion Ford, et al. will be able to reprise their respective roles once again.