By Jonathan Decker (Clinical director, LMFT, film critic)
The entertainment industry was rocked last week when it was announced that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm, the production company behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones, from George Lucas for a cool $4 billion. Equally shocking was the announcement that a new Star Wars trilogy is in the works. Episodes 7-9, taking place after Return of the Jedi, will begin rolling out in 2015. After that, the sky's the limit as Disney plans to release spin-off films every few years. George Lucas will be serving as a producer and creative consultant (where he thrives) and stepping down as a writer/director (where he doesn't).
But is Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm a good thing or, after the lukewarmly-received prequels, should Star Wars be allowed to fade away like dying Yoda? Allow me to share some observations and opinions on why the marriage between Star Wars and Disney is a great idea.
#1: WE MAY FINALLY GET BLURAYS OF THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY.
As far as I'm concerned, the intense hatred towards George Lucas is unjustified. I mean, the man gave us Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and he's donating that $4 billion to education. I believe Lucas has made only one truly fatal mistake (other than wearing plaid), and that is trying to bury the original versions of the films we all fell in love with in the first place. He's said that he wants the original versions to disappear and the “Special Editions” (with computer-generated effects, new music, and other changes) to be the ones he wants to stand the test of time.
This effectively spits in the faces of those who helped him change the face of cinema in the 70's and 80's, replacing their history-making work with computer-generated effects and pretending it never existed. As the man who came up with Indiana Jones, an archaeologist who'd give his life to preserve relics, Lucas should have more respect for history!
|“We are merely passing thru history…but the original Star Wars trilogy is history!”|
Can you imagine if the only surviving version of 1933's King Kong was one that replaced the stop-motion gorilla with CGI? It'd be a travesty! Who cares if it's old-school by today's standards? Those visual effects were groundbreaking and should be preserved! The same is true of Star Wars.
As sole owner of Lucasfilm, George had the right to dig his heels in on this issue, with millions of fan voices crying out in horror (but never silenced). But the issue wasn't (or at least shouldn't have been) that George was making new films or tinkering with the old ones. Fact is, “purists” who wail about the prequels and the special editions probably wouldn't be bothered by them if they could choose to enjoy the originals and pretend the others don't exist (like I do with the sequels to Jaws and Pirates of the Caribbean).
Now, with Disney in control, we can hopefully count on them to do what Disney does best: make money. As my good friend Alan Seawright recently expressed, releasing the unaltered original trilogy on BluRay is “literally a way to print $200-400 million dollars.” Of course, Fox still owns the rights to those original films until 2020 (except 1977's Star Wars, which they own forever), so hopefully these two studios can find a way to negotiate a Bluray release.
#2: THIS UNIVERSE HAS PLENTY MORE TO GIVE.
First of all, the prequels didn't ruin Star Wars. Although the criticisms against them are generally valid and they don't hold a candle to the originals, my generation tends to overlook their many virtues (a point I defend at length here), while the original trilogy's flaws are ignored or looked upon with fondness.
When I was a kid, we didn't nitpick about A New Hope's cheesy dialogue or slow pace, or Mark Hamill's overacting in Empire when he learns that Vader is his father. We didn't point out that the Ewoks should have been easy prey for storm troopers, nor did we argue that attacking a second Death Star in Return of the Jedi was lazy screenwriting. We were too busy getting swept up in the magic.
This hit me as I was watching all six films with my stepson this year. He didn't complain about JarJar or the terrible romantic dialogue in the prequels. He didn't gripe about the changes in the special editions. He was engrossed in the worlds created by George Lucas, inspired by the moral messages, and entertained by the imagination on display. Watching the series with him, I was able to relax and enjoy the ride. While our generation rightfully demands the theatrical versions we grew up with and may choose to ignore the rest, his generation is making Star Wars memories of their own.
Those memories include the prequels, the special editions, the critically-acclaimed (and fan-pleasing) Clone Wars television series on Cartoon Network, video games, and dozens of novels. The success of all these proves the potential for spinoff films: there's a limitless supply of stories, planets, and characters to play with, as well as thousands of years of history to explore.
#3: THE OLD GANG MAY GET BACK TOGETHER.
Emphasis on old. Harrison Ford is 70, Mark Hamill is 61, and Carrie Fisher is now 56. Rumor is that Episodes 7-9 will give us the adventures of a third generation of Skywalkers. Ford, Hamil, and Fisher are reportedly considering a return to the franchise as older versions of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, presumably to pass the torch. Of course, if it's done well, this kind of thing can be pretty awesome, as illustrated in 2009‘s Star Trek.
This begs the question of what story there is left to tell of the Skywalker family. The rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker and his redemption through the love of his children has covered an entire six-film arc (as brilliantly recapped in the music video below). Wouldn't any future stories about the Skywalkers be mere addendums? Well, that really depends on who's telling the story…
#4: THIS GENERATION'S BEST DIRECTORS CAN MAKE STAR WARS THEIR OWN
If you look at the filmmakers who are making smart, character-driven blockbusters these days, almost all of them cite Star Wars as one of their primary inspirations for entering the business.
“Use the Force, Harry.”
George Lucas once described the Star Wars universe as the sandbox he built which others can play in. The rumor mill has Matthew Vaughn (X:Men- First Class, Stardust) to direct Episode 7. But with numerous Star Wars films on the horizon, there's plenty of room for other directors. I, for one, would love to see the likes of J.J. Abrams (Star Trek), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong), Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy II, Pan‘s Labyrinth), Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible– Ghost Protocol), David Yates (Harry Potter 5-8) and John Favreau (Iron Man) take a crack at it. Some have suggested Chris Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), but I don't think he'd be a good fit for Star Wars. I'd much rather see him do a Bond film.
My #1 choice is Joss Whedon. In addition to writing and directing The Avengers, Whedon also made the overlooked action gem Serenity, which was essentially a cousin of Star Wars in spirit and tone.
Hey, speaking of The Avengers…
#5: DISNEY KINDA ROCKS THESE DAYS
Look, I love Disney. It's practically written into my DNA. But the Mouse House traditionally has been known for heartwarming, kid-friendly fare that entertains without quickening the pulse or tickling the brain. In recent years, however, it has flexed its creative muscle, housing Pixar and Marvel while allowing those companies the freedom to create action-packed crowd-pleasers like The Avengers, intelligent sci-fi like Wall-E (on the surface it's a kid's movie, but the subtext is brilliant), and more.
Under Disney's watch, ABC-TV has flourished with heady mysteries like Lost and the mixture of comedy, romance, and crime solving on Castle. These days, Disney has their ducks in a row. Star Wars has a good home.
#6: THE 3D RE-RELEASES ARE SCHEDULED PERFECTLY
Earlier this year The Phantom Menace was re-released theatrically in 3D (read my review here). It was recently announced that Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith would both get their 3D re-releases in 2013. With 2015 seeing the release of the new film, it stands to reason that A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi will all see their 3D theatrical re-release in 2014. This means, of course, that we'll get to see all the Star Wars movies on the big screen, in narrative order, leading up to the newest chapter. Pretty slick!
NOTE TO DISNEY: DON'T MESS WITH INDY
Disney didn't just purchase Star Wars; with Lucasfilm it also gets the right to Indiana Jones (sort of). To which I say: merchandise it all you want, but leave the films alone. They form a perfect trilogy. I can go on pretending Crystal Skull doesn't exist, but if Disney rolls out more films, it'll be more difficulty to preserve the legacy. Harrison Ford is past his Indy expiration date, and any other actor would pale in comparison. To be fair, people said that no one could replace Sean Connery as 007 or, to a lesser extent, William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and they were proven wrong. If you insist on rebooting, Disney, tread softly.