Film Feature: Five Things We Want From ‘Star Wars, Episode VII’

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CHICAGO – There was a time when the idea of actual sequels to George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” trilogy seemed like the most fantastic (and unlikely) of all the fanboy fantasy fodder in the multiverse. How could chapters VII through IX work? How do you follow the “teddy bear picnic” ending of “Return of the Jedi”?

Would the new sequels be based on Timothy Zahn’s beloved Thrawn Trilogy of “Star Wars” novels? Would some archaic contractual clause from the 1970s force Harrison Ford to make the most begrudging cameo in movie history? (Or at least since Sean Connery was forced to appear in “Highlander 2.”) The whole thing just seemed so damned improbable, but then…Disney buys Lucasfilm and “Star Wars: Episode VII” gets scheduled for a 2015 release. It’s a funny old world we live in.

So, how did this happen? The prequel trilogy. Regardless of how you feel about the prequels, they certainly failed to make the original “Star Wars” films feel like the sacred cows that they were regarded as during the 1980s and ’90s. Episodes I-III proved that new “Star Wars” films could be made, whether you liked them or not, and all of the subsequent “Star Wars” media tie-ins – the “Clone Wars” series, the “Family Guy”/”Robot Chicken” specials, the LEGO and Angry Birds games, to name a few – all evolved from that same idea: Everything in the “Star Wars” universe is now fluid. If George Lucas was OK with writing new (and constantly revising his old) “Star Wars” films, why couldn’t there be chapters VII, VIII, and IX? Stranger things have happened. (Google “Star Wars Dance-Off” and see what I mean.)

And, now that Lucas has turned the “Star Wars” reins over to Disney, it actually opens up an even wider realm of possibilities for this new sequel trilogy. Unlike the prequels – which were all written and directed by Lucas – we have no idea who will be driving the creative team behind these new “Star Wars” movies. And, while 1980s-me would’ve found this terrifying, 2012-me finds the prospect exhilarating. For the first time in a long while, I’m rooting for a “Star Wars” movie to work, to really blow my socks off, and, as such, I’ve assembled this list of FIVE things that I really, really want from “Star Wars: Episode VII,” INCLUDING my picks for the ideal writer and director for the seventh chapter in the Skywalker saga.

1. DO NOT Hire the Predictable Choices for the Creative Team

As soon as “Episode VII” was announced, there were about 9,000 subsequent blog posts calling for the sequel to be directed by everyone from Christopher Nolan to Joss Whedon. And, while I get the inspirations for such geeky dream-casting, most of the suggestions just don’t make a ton of sense. Yes, Christopher Nolan is an amazing director, but he’s also just finished his Batman trilogy and (following that and “Inception”) now has the cache to basically direct whatever he wants. So why would he want to play with someone else’s toys for years on end, knowing that, at the end of the day, a billion fanboys will just be sharpening their bayonets and waiting for him to fail? It’s a lose-lose for prospect for Nolan. Same goes for Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, and a lot of the other popularly-touted “Episode VII” candidates. Most have either got a good thing going somewhere else – the Avengers and Star Trek franchises, for example – or their signature styles would just be a bad fit for a “Star Wars” movie. (Paul Greengrass is a heck of a filmmaker, but I don’t really want to see a shaky-cam lightsaber fight.)

Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon
Photo credit: Marvel/Disney

I think the key to a strong “Episode VII” director lies in the strategy that Lucas used to find directors for “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” – find a solid, workman director who knows how to balance characterization and suspense, who brings a creative spark to their work, but who doesn’t have such a definitive style that their past work would overwhelm their take on a “Star Wars” movie. Look at the filmographies of Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand – directors of “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”, the first and third best “Star Wars” movies ever. Neither of them had the longest resume or tons of blockbuster hits to their name before their foray into the “Star Wars” universe, but they both brought a knack for storytelling and talent for working with actors that benefited each film greatly. I think most of the directorial names being tossed around for “Episode VII” – ranging from Brett Ratner (no!) to Jon Favreau (decent) – just have too much blockbuster baggage to disappear into a “Star Wars” movie. So, who does have that perfect mixture of technical skill, creative verve, relative anonymity, strong rapport with actors, and fanboy street cred? One name immediately jumps to mind…

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