With the ultimate dream of Star Wars fans now apparently being realized in just a couple years’ time, we can find ourselves shifting away from conversations centered around whether or not we think there will be more stories, and focus on what we, as fans, believe those stories should be. When you throw in a title like Star Wars Episode VII, there are a number of things that definitely come to mind, along with a sizable amount of expectation.
Since modern movie audiences have had the luxury of seeing at least one advancement in Star Wars with the prequels, the excitement could be tempered on a superficial level. Then, when looking at the specifics, it’s hard not to automatically get more excited because of the sheer talent, and even the released portions of the title. J.J. Abrams, one of the most sought after creative talents of the modern era, is directing. Michael Arndt, Oscar nominee for Toy Story 3 and winner for Little Miss Sunshine writing the screenplay. Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan serving as an in-depth creative consultant.
What could possibly be missing? I’ll tell you what: the three most important characters to the original Star Wars Trilogy: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Would you believe it if I told you that in certain conversations, I’ve had some fans tell me that their inclusion is a terrible idea? Not “bad,” not “mediocre,” actually the word “terrible.” I did a double take on the spot, because I was simply not expecting a reaction like that.
Sci-fi and genre fans kind of have an ambivalent reaction to recastings and expansions. We’ve seen great examples (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation) and not so great examples (the Lost in Space movie from the ’90s, or 2007’s attempt at Flash Gordon). Mostly, though, fans have a degree of affection for the characters that inspired their love of a franchise in the first place. In relation to Star Wars, you’d think that would be exponentially increased
Thinking this was some freakish isolated incident, I spoke to a few other people at my main place of employment: a comic book store. Generally a reasonable gauge of where other fans stand in a multitude of different genres and franchises, I was absolutely shocked that a few of my own customers shared this opinion. After the shock dwindled and the fanboy rage subsided, I decided to see if I’d be able to share my rationale for why Episode VII would benefit from the presence of Luke, Han, and Leia, and in fact needs them to be played by their original actors.
You see, when expanding the story of any even remotely loved fictional story with new characters, it always helps to have the original crew to “pass the baton.” On the other side of the sci-fi fence in the Star Trek universe, they used this tactic a lot: Dr. McCoy appeared in the first episode of The Next Generation, Captain Picard in the first episode of Deep Space Nine, Quark and the Deep Space Nine station itself in the first episode of Voyager, and James Cromwell reprising his role as Zefram Cochrane from the popular First Contact film in the first episode of Enterprise. In that example alone, connectivity to what came before always helps establish that the rules and possibilities of this world may be familiar, but we’re charting ahead into new territory.
The fact that the new film is entitled Episode VII would seem to demand as many original players as possible, since this will be the first solidly in-continuity trace of the Star Wars universe we will have seen that takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Empire is defeated, Palpatine is dead, Vader redeemed, and a lot of unknown is put in front of the characters. Would you really be satisfied if Episode VII began with a passing mention of Luke, Han, and Leia dying in a spaceplane crash on the way to Space-Hawaii to celebrate the Empire’s defeat?!
The primary reason I feel that Episode VII needs the three original headliners is to add legitimacy to the new effort. Even with a director like Abrams, a screenwriter like Arndt, and heavyweights like Kathleen Kennedy and George Lucas behind the scenes, the presence of the characters and actors that made Star Wars so beloved automatically adds a great degree of verisimilitude to the final product. Even though the 2009 Star Trek film won over many people, some of the holdouts on it were franchise diehards that only saw the new actors in the iconic roles as little kids playing dress-up as Kirk or Spock. That movie in even the strictest regard gets a bit of a pass due to its status as a relaunch/reimagining, but Episode VII doesn’t have that luxury.
I agree that Episode VII has to have new characters to likely take the reins from the people we’re all familiar with, but I’m definitely of the mind that we have to see it in order to fully accept it. Having a 20-something actor that looks like an underwear model run around with a lightsaber and the last name Skywalker won’t be enough to convince the fans that he follows in the same bloodline as Luke and Anakin. Some kind of validation from Luke is necessary, especially since many fans would be curious to see what the characters have been up to since the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. In summation, the presence of the original cast to supplement new characters will be the difference between this film becoming Star Wars 90210 and being worthy of the follow-up title of Episode VII.
I’m of the mind that both the fans and characters of the original Star Wars Trilogy deserve to see what their favorite characters have been up to. Think about the possibilities! Luke became a Jedi Knight thirty years ago. How far has that led him to grow in his power? Does he rival the likes of Yoda and Obi-Wan, or even his father at the height of his Jedi career? Leia and Han confessed their affections for one another. Did they follow through? We know from the Expanded Universe that they had children who became Jedi. Do Lucas, Arndt, and company feel the same way? Luke told Leia in Return that in time, she will learn to use the power of the Force as he has. Did he make good on that promise? Has Luke still been able to commune with Obi-Wan and Yoda, and perhaps even his father?
The possibilities are endless, but only f we can see what these characters have been doing for the last few decades. I think they deserve it, I think I deserve it, and I think you do, too.
What do you think?
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