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.

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