Enough Nostalgia Already, Star Wars

Another Star Wars piece written for Wired, and another one that didn’t run for reasons best left undiscussed. It was actually given back to me to offer elsewhere; I would have run it at the Hollywood Reporter, but I felt that it was too similar to an Indiana Jones piece I’d written for them a month or so earlier (especially with the Indy mentions).

As the adage goes, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. The same, it seems, is true for those who forget Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with reports claiming that J.J. Abrams’ first Star Wars movie will focus on the cast of the original trilogy in order to give fans “one more chance to enjoy them.”

There is only one sensible response to this idea: Please, no.

On paper, it’s something that makes a strange kind of sense: Using Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa in Star Wars: Episode VII gives the new movie some legitimacy, while also shamelessly zeroing in on whatever affection existing fans of the original movies have left in their hearts after the prequel trilogy.

There’s an argument to be made in favor on a purely story level, as well, with the familiar faces acting as an “in” for the audience to whatever the new status quo of the Star Wars universe is. Simply by showing us how they react to the new world, we as an audience will know whether we’re in favor or not, because we already identify so much with them. On that level alone, it’s a shorthand that has to be very tempting to producers — but that still doesn’t make it an idea that’s good enough to make it all the way through to the final movie.

One reason to ignore the appeal of the idea is to look at the bigger picture of what such a move would do to Star Wars as a franchise. Episode VII is already the most high profile Star Wars project since 1999’s Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and for many people will act as a reintroduction — or, perhaps, an introduction for the first time, depending on age — to Star Wars as a contemporary movie series.

Centering that movie around characters from a series of movies that ended more than three decades earlier seems contrarian to the point of insanity, in that case: a statement that the franchise isn’t forward looking or brand new at all, but an exercise in nostalgia that’s targeted at pre-existing fans who’ve seen all of the movies to date. Despite the title, Episode VII should be treated like a new beginning, not “the next installment of something you really should’ve jumped onto earlier” (For those thinking that J.J. Abrams is too good a filmmaker to make this mistake, I present Star Trek Into Darkness as the perfect example of a movie which was tripped up by nostalgia at entirely the wrong time).

Worst still, there’s the fact that fans don’t want to accept: as a contemporary action movie — which Star Wars really has to be in order to jumpstart the franchise the way that Disney inevitably wants it to — Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford are, at 62, 57 and 71 years of age respectively — too old to take the lead roles. As much as we may wish otherwise, for fear of our own age and growing mortality, there’s a limit to what audiences are likely to accept from their action heroes in terms of age, and the lead trinity from the original movies are at least a decade beyond that limit these days.

The mention of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull above was intentional; remember the last time Ford returned to a fan-favorite franchise and moviemakers tried to adapt for his age by giving much of the stunt-heavy action to his newly-introduced son? Instead of making us excited for Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt, it simply made Indy seem old and somewhat lesser, in some strange, indefinable manner. Imagine that happening again, but for the three leads of the original trilogy, and ask yourself, why would anyone want to do that again?

When the possibility of Episode VII was first rumored, there was much talk about having Ford, Fisher and Hamill appear in cameos in the film, passing the torch to whatever characters the new series would eventually center on. If, as reported, that idea has been shelved in favor of more focus on the original characters, I hope it’s a decision that gets reversed sooner rather than later. It’s not that the Luke, Leia and Han should be missing from the new movie — there really is a lot of benefit to their making an appearance, albeit a brief one — but they shouldn’t dominate it. For Star Wars to survive, it needs to be about a new hope, and not stories that happened a long, long time ago.

Internet Cynicism

Written for Wired, and left unpublished for reasons I can’t explain — there was excitement behind the scenes for it, but it never ran. Who knows?

We’re still some distance away from Star Wars: Episode VII — Two years away, in fact — with production on the movie still months away from getting started over in London. You might assume that that would mean there’s little to say about the movie at this point, but you’d be wrong; for months now, we’ve seen wave after wave of “exclusive” reports announcing the involvement of one actor or another, of some plot development that will almost certainly be happening in the movie, and so on. Let’s be honest: It’s gotten more than a little exhausting.

With that exhaustion — and your limited schedule, dear reader — in mind, we’ve decided to offer the all-purpose Star Wars: Episode VII casting rumor report. Simply delete and fill in the blanks as applicable. You can thank us later.

Our exclusive anonymous sources from deep within [LUCASFILM/DISNEY/THE GENERIC MOVIE INDUSTRY] have revealed to us that [ACTOR WHO WAS IN AN EARLIER STAR WARS MOVIE/ACTOR WHO WAS NOT IN AN EARLIER STAR WARS MOVIE BUT IS A RECOGNIZABLE ENOUGH NAME TO GET CLICKS] will appear in the next Star Wars movie as [THE SON/DAUGHTER/CLONE/GHOST] of [INSERT NAME OF FAN FAVORITE CHARACTER FROM EARLIER STAR WARS MOVIE].

[ACTOR’S NAME] has secretly been in discussions for the role for months, with director J.J. Abrams [EAGER FOR THEM TO REPRISE THEIR ROLE FROM THE EARLIER STAR WARS MOVIE/EXCITED TO WORK WITH THE UP-AND-COMING STAR/A BIG FAN OF THEIR WORK IN ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL MOVIE OR TELEVISION SHOW]. Our sources tell us that [ACTOR’S NAME] is so excited for the opportunity to [RETURN TO THE FRANCHISE/BE PART OF THIS HISTORIC MOVIE SERIES/WORK WITH ABRAMS AGAIN BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW THERE’S A GREG GRUNBERG IS IN STAR WARS STORY DUE ANY MINUTE NOW] that [INSERT SOMETHING ABOUT GIVING UP SOME OTHER OPPORTUNITY IN ORDER TO FREE UP THEIR SCHEDULE].

While [NEGOTIATIONS HAVEN’T FINISHED YET/NOTHING HAS BEEN SIGNED/SOME KIND OF GET-OUT CLAUSE TO COVER US WHEN THIS SCOOP TURNS OUT NOT TO BE TRUE], it should be noted that [ACTOR’S NAME] has previously [INSERT LINK TO PREVIOUS STATEMENT ABOUT HAVING ENJOYED, GROWN UP WITH OR HAVING SOME FORM OF POSITIVE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE CONNECTED WITH STAR WARS IN SOME WAY] in the past. Keep watching this space for even more Star Wars: Episode VII exclusive news!

Recently Read, Prose (3/2/13)

books

Yeah, I’m not quite sure what happened to my reading habits this month; I have the feeling that there are books that I’ve read and entirely forgotten in there, for some reason – I normally read more than this, even with the amount of work/stress and everything that’s been going on [UPDATE: I did, indeed, forget something: Sasha Issenberg’s Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, which was more dry than I’d been looking for]. Admittedly, there’s the book I still haven’t finished yet – Hana Rosin’s wonderful The End of Men – that could kinda/sorta be counted, I guess? Otherwise, though, as you can tell, I’ve been leaning heavily on the “Decompression Pulp” this month – El Sombra by Al Ewing being some kind of genius example of the idea, and a ridiculously fun, intentionally trashy story of one man who has barely escaped certain death out for revenge against, essentially steampunk Nazis; it’s really rather great – and trying out Star Wars novels for the first time ever because the high concept of Scoundrels (Pretty much “Hey, it’s Ocean’s Eleven, but Han Solo is George Clooney!”) is somewhat irresistible (The novel is slightly more resistible, it has to be said; it’s not bad, but it’s also nowhere near as fun as it should be).

Supergods was a re-read for work, but also spun out of reading an ARC of Glen Weldon’s really great Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, which I loved when I read and find myself appreciating even more the more I think about it afterwards. It’s the tone, I think; it’s just so very right for something like this. The End of The Line book was a light read because I was in the mood for some good punchy political writing, which this… isn’t, really. It’s another “almost, but not quite” entry. Basically, I find it difficult to wait for the inevitable “Definitive Book of The 2012 Election” to come along. I mean, we’re due one soon, right…?

366 Songs 304: The Imperial March

What can I say? It seemed appropriate for a day when people lose their shit over Lucasfilm being bought by Disney and a new Star Wars movie was announced, instead of, you know, continuing to lose their shit about a hurricane – Sorry, “super storm” – decimating the East Coast. But, putting aside the timeliness and the “Really, Internet? Really?” nature of things, there’s no getting away from the fact that John Williams’ “Imperial March” is kind of a spectacular piece of music. Even if it wasn’t amazingly evocative and nostalgic for anyone who’s seen the original Star Wars trilogy, there’s such a narrative power in this music: You listen to it, and you can hear an epic grandeur, a militaristic element and a growing intensity – The bit at 2:49! – throughout, and you can imagine a story, even if it’s not necessarily the story of Star Wars. Williams is famous for his well-known themes to Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones amongst many others, but it’s this piece of music that will always make me love his work without any doubt.

Poh, hee. Poh, hee.