Like a Geek God #2 by Mark Pursell
The Unavoidable Trepidation of Episode VII
When The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012, simultaneously announcing plans to produce a new trilogy of Star Wars films set chronologically sometime after the events of Return of the Jedi, the reaction of fanfolks across the world–myself included–was tempered with more than slight unease. The promise of new entries in what is arguably one of the world’s most-loved geek franchises was exciting at a base level. But those of us who were old enough to grow up watching the original Star Wars trilogy–those of us who, as adults or adolescents, also took part in the frenzy and fervor of anticipation for The Phantom Menace, George Lucas’s 1999 prequel to his original films and the first entry in an entire prequel trilogy–have learned from experience to mitigate our excitement for a new Star Wars movie.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged” at this point that The Phantom Menace is bad. Shitty, really, is the word. Some of us recognized this as soon as Menace‘s credits started rolling. Some of us (*raises hand*) lied to ourselves, choosing instead to live with the delusion that we really loved Jar Jar Binks and pod racing and the unintelligible plot involving trade disputes. (I could go on, but if you want the ultimate breakdown on why this movie is shitty, and anti-thetical to many of the things that Star Wars geeks love about the original trilogy, check out Red Letter Media’s famous one-hour video review). And the subsequent movies in the prequel trilogy weren’t any better. I held onto my delusion longer than most–I could look past the wooden romance in Attack of the Clones thanks to that movie’s awesome action set pieces–but it dashed itself to pieces against the nonsensical Revenge of the Sith. (Those of you who think Revenge of the Sith is a legitimately good movie are still lying to yourselves).
The point is that Star Wars fans who are old enough to have grown up with the original movies and and to have been in a position to look forward to the prequel trilogy know what it feels like to have your highest expectations dashed in the most abysmal way possible. Being burned like that leaves emotional geek scars for life, and the slightest repetition of that experience–my disappointment at Alien franchise prequel Prometheus, for example (what is it with prequels?)–is enough to give you terrible flashbacks to that first, most crushing disappointment. It’s no wonder that many of us greeted the news of Disney’s plans for the franchise, exciting though it was, with more than a little trepidation.
I think, however, that there are a few elements in play regarding the production of the first new movie, Episode VII, that are reason for even the most cynical Star Wars fan to allow themselves a tiny flutter of excitement at the prospect that VII might not be the kind of soulless sequel we expect from looking at the history of the franchise.
1) George Lucas is not involved. A lot of the prequel trilogy’s failings can be traced back to one thing. One man, really. Lucas wrote/co-wrote and directed all three of the prequels, and he is ultimately to blame for the limp storylines, the bad acting, the robotic dialogue, etc. This becomes even more apparent when you realize that Lucas neither wrote nor directed the franchise fan favorite from the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, and he didn’t have a lot to do with Return of the Jedi, either (yeah, yeah, Ewoks, I know, but that speeder bike chase! The whole first part of the movie set at Jabba the Hutt’s palace! Jedi is right. No Jedi haters here, please). He is, of course, serving as a creative consultant on the new movie’s production, but he is not responsible for crafting Episode VII in any way. Wipe away that sweat drop.
2) Michael Arndt IS involved. It’s possible that many people had no idea who Michael Arndt was before Disney announced that he had been tapped to write Episode VII. It’s possible that, other than his name, Star Wars fans still know little about him or why it’s good news that he’s involved. The thing is, Arndt is kind of brilliant. He’s already won an Academy Award for writing Little Miss Sunshine, and he was nominated again for writing Toy Story 3. So, the guy has writing chops (regardless of what you think of the Oscars, both Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 are excellent, well-written movies). More importantly, though, he’s a fan. Arndt is a long-time Star Wars enthusiast and has even lectured about the franchise and its influence. In other words, this is the kind of guy you want writing a new Star Wars movie.
3) So is J.J. Abrams. Before you start crying “lens flare! lens flare!”, let me have my say. My problem with J.J. Abrams’s movies have nothing to do with his visuals. Super 8, the Star Trek reboots…these movies look great and their action set pieces are killer. Abrams’s movies are problematic to me from a script/storytelling standpoint. But he’s not writing Episode VII. So. And really, other than Brad Bird, I think that Abrams is the only well-known director whose style is perfectly suited to the Star Wars universe.
It’s early days, of course. Episode VII has a projected release date of summer 2015. And if you make a study of movie production histories, like I do, you know that the process of bringing any movie to life–much less a highly-anticipated, highly-scrutinized property like Star Wars–is fraught with potential for bad decision making that can hamstring the finished product. Writers and directors disagree or get fired, stories and scripts are tossed or chopped up and recombinated. If you want to give yourself nightmares, Google the production history of Alien 3. Who knows if Episode VII will even be a good movie, much less the redemption of the Star Wars franchise that it so badly needs to be? But the involvement of Arndt and Abrams, and the limited involvement of George Lucas, are positive signs, signs that should give all Star Wars fans–even the most embittered–a new hope. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist).
Mark Pursell is a lifelong geek and lover of words. His publishing credits include Nimrod International Journal, The New Orleans Review, and The Florida Review, where he also served as poetry editor. His work can most recently be seen in the first volume of the 15 Views of Orlando anthology from Burrow Press. He currently teaches storytelling and narrative design for video games at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.