Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm could actually be very good for Star Wars. Here’s some advice on how to stay true to the franchise.
With the recent acquisition of LucasFilm by Disney, a whole new Star Wars trilogy is on the way, with Episode VII in the works for 2015.
This is terrific news for many reasons, not the least of which is more Star Wars films for fans. Of course, when George Lucas announced the prequel trilogy, we were all pretty excited as well, and look how that turned out.
Lucas took tight control of Episodes 1-3, and what we ended up getting were a bunch of special effects, Jar Jar Binks, and a story devoid of characters we actually cared about.
Before this acquisition took place, I was considering writing a piece about how Lucas needed to hand over the reins to somebody else in order to make any new movies great, but now that we’ve learned Lucas will only play an advising role on the upcoming films, we can file that suggestion as an unwritten success.
Here are a few more suggestions that Disney never asked for but that I’m giving to them free of charge nonetheless.
There are some really good ones here – get Joss Whedon involved, get Pixar involved, keep Lucas uninvolved.
One I would also suggest is to stay away from the Space Cowboys plot. We don’t need a bunch of septuagenarians coming out of retirement to fight off whatever it is that drives the plot.
I’m going to suggest that the best route for the next series is not to simply try and carry on the mythology that Lucas helped create in the Star Wars movies.
The best route is to re-evaluate those myths. In the same way The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance re-examined the Western myth.
We loved the mythology of the first Star Wars movie. It showed us things we had never seen before. It brought together a rag-tag group of people, throwing them together into circumstances that were almost beyond their capabilities to survive.
I know about many of the things Lucas took from movies like The Hidden Fortress. Some of the specific scenes are almost lifted, as is the general idea of using the two lowliest characters to provide audience perspective. The light saber fights owe much to Kurosawa’s samurai movies
But, plot and genre wise, I always felt Star Wars, like so many purely American narratives, was a Western.
It was Stagecoach in space. You can watch that whole movie at hulu (just make it through the commercials).
Stagecoach raised the Western from the B-movie genre into the big time. Jusr as Star Wars did with space opera.
We have an iconic character introduced in a startling fashion:
In 2 minutes, we know almost everything we need to about the Ringo Kid. Stagecoach created a new star in John Wayne, just as Star Wars did with Harrison Ford, playing an eerily similar character.
People seeing Star Wars for the first time simply do not understand what a landmark it was. Similarly, people watching Stagecoach today simply do not understand what a landmark it was:
This is where it all started. John Ford’s smash hit and enduring masterpiece Stagecoach revolutionized the western, elevating it from B movie to the A-list and establishing the genre as we know it today. The quintessential tale of a group of strangers thrown together into extraordinary circumstances, Stagecoach features outstanding performances from Hollywood stalwarts Claire Trevor, John Carradine, and Thomas Mitchell, and, of course, John Wayne, in his first starring role for Ford, as the daredevil outlaw the Ringo Kid. Superbly shot and tightly edited, Stagecoach (Ford’s first trip to Monument Valley) is Hollywood storytelling at its finest.
In 60 seconds, it tells us all we need to know about EVERY major character. Just amazing.
Lucas was very intent on creating a modern mythology when he made Star Wars. Thus the opening “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.
Like Star Wars, we see landscapes we had never seen before. Stagecoach was the first time we saw the vistas of Monument Valley. We see indians attack a fleeing stagecoach across a desert, surrounded by iconic plateaus, as the stagecoach leaps right over us.
We see stuntman Yakima Canute drop between the horses of a runaway stagecoach and jump from horse to horse in order to take control.
We see people from very different lives thrown together and interacting in ways no one could predict. Only a movie about a stagecoach trying to get somewhere. It was the journey that was so important; a journey is such an alien, yet obviously ordinary landscape. People lived and worked there.
We see a baby being born. A drunken doctor make a difference.
As Roger Ebert wrote:
Seen today, “Stagecoach” may not seem very original. That’s because it influenced countless later movies in which a mixed bag of characters are thrown together by chance and forced to survive an ordeal.
It has a banker, a doctor, a gambler, and the cavalry. It has a prostitute with a heart of gold who steals the love of the outlaw, the Ringo Kid.
“I know all I wanna know.” Sounds kind of familiar.
Watch the end of Stagecoach and there are a lot of things that feel awfully familiar. It ends every bit as hopeful as Star Wars does.
But just as Stagecoach has lost much of its influence due to endless copying of the tropes, so has Star Wars. In fact, George Lucas himself did much to ruin throse tropes.
So, why not do the same thing that was done by the same director of Stagecoach? Use the same genre to re-examine what myth really is, why some tropes exists and how they can be deconstructed.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is all about myth, the making of it and the reality of it. It starts in the modern day and uses a flashback. It ends with one of the most cynically true lines every spoke: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.
And the movie uses John Wayne in a similar good bad boy as he was in Stagecoach. The Ringo Kid in Stagecoach could very well have ended up as the rancher Tom Doniphon.
And Darth Vader is every bit as bad a guy as Liberty Valance.
So we could have the old actors – Han and Leia, say, leading politicians of the new Republic, on their way to a funeral for an old friend – talking with a reporter about the end days of the Rebellion, about how a lawless Empire was brought back into the law, and the myths that had grown up about the rag-tag group of people who brought down the Emperor.
From there we go into flashback using younger actors wearing makeup to make them look like the people we know. Just as Joseph Gordon-Levitt did in Looper to look more like a young Bruce Willis.
We are now free to use some interesting stories to look at myth in interesting ways. We may be more cynical today but we also are just as hopeful. We get to see out favorites again but in a way of framing the narrative. And, because we are deconstructing myths, we can be as cynical as we might want to be today while also being just as hopeful.
There must be some interesting story in there.