CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Film Feature: Five Things We Want From ‘Star Wars, Episode VII’
3. Hire Ben Acker and Ben Blacker to Write “Episode VII”
Chances are – More of you are familiar with Rian Johnson than you are with Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. If that’s the case, Google “Thrilling Adventure Hour” and mail me a handwritten thank you note later. Acker and Blacker are the creators of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour”, one of the most fantastic live shows/podcasts currently in existence. Running since 2005, “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” is a monthly stage show in Los Angeles – now recorded as a Nerdist podcast - where a troupe of actors and comedians perform live hilarious serialized adventures in the “style of old-time radio.” The shows are scripted in Acker and Blacker’s trademark whip-smart writing style, and the anarchic fun of their scripts has attracted a tremendous cast of recurring actors (known as the “Work Juice Players”), including Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster, Nathan Fillion, Marc Evan Jackson, Gillian Jacobs, Busy Phillips, Patton Oswalt, and many, many more. (There’s a very cool Kickstarter campaign at the moment to turn “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” into a concert film and a graphic novel.) Acker and Blacker have also written for the fanboy favorite series, CW’s “Supernatural”, and scripted the surprisingly charming low-budget indie “Drones”.
Thrilling Adventure Hour
Photo credit: LifeofReilly
So, why do Acker and Blacker’s resumes make them perfect to write a “Star Wars” movie? First of all, one of the big inspirations for Lucas’ original “Star Wars” movies were the old film serials of the 1930s – the cliffhanger adventures of “Flash Gordon” and the “Fighting Devil Dogs” and the like. Well, Acker and Blacker are EXPERTS when it comes to the nuances of serialized storytelling, and their passion for old film and radio serials is extremely evident in their work. And, even though “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” is a comedy show, that doesn’t mean that Acker and Blacker are writing parodies. Their storytelling talent goes much deeper than that. While, yes, the stories are hysterical, they’re also steeped in real characters with real plots that advance along from chapter to chapter. In their recurring series “Beyond Belief”, we really care about the hard-drinking married mediums, Frank and Sadie Doyle, and the various supernatural entities they find themselves facing. In “Sparks Nevada: Marshall on Mars”, they’ve created an expansive cast of engaging characters that puts “John Carter” to shame. Yes, the episodes are FUNNY, first and foremost, but they’re so well written that they work as pure serialized adventures on their own. Much in the same way that Terry Pratchett novels both poke fun at and exemplify the best of fantasy storytelling, Acker and Blacker know how tread that thin line between taking the piss and taking themselves seriously. And their deep knowledge of sci-fi and fantasy bleeds through the entire history of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” – in one episode of “Beyond Belief”, they did a riff on the “Peter Pan” legend, turning Pan into a hand-eating monster, that was one of the best takes on the Pan story I’ve ever heard. Personally, I think Ben Acker and Ben Blacker could do something really amazing and fun with a new “Star Wars” movie. Because, more than anything else, we want a new “Star Wars” to be fun, right? Acker and Blacker know how to deliver character-driven adventure and comedy, and, thanks to “TAH” and “Supernatural”, they’re also adept at juggling back-stories and mythologies. I think they’d make fantastic stewards of the “Star Wars” legacy and that they could find a way to bring back the cliffhanging spirit of the original trilogy.
One last note – While, yes, Acker and Blacker don’t have a lot of feature screenwriting experience under their belts, I’d bring your attention to the case of one Mr. Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter of “Empire Strikes Back”, a.k.a. the best “Star Wars” movie ever. Do you know what was Kasdan’s first produced screenplay? “EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. That’s right. He got the job because Lucas read some of his unproduced scripts which had sold in Hollywood – most notably, “Continental Divide” – and Lucas took a chance on him. (Spielberg did the same with Kasdan for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.) All of the other great Lawrence Kasdan movies – “Big Chill”, etc. – all came after his first two movies that hit the big screen in 1980 – “Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. So, just because Acker and Blacker haven’t had as many films produced as workmen like David Koepp, John August, or John Logan, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t do something fantastic with “Episode VII”.