I’ve had a tempestuous relationship with Star Wars, the same as many of you. I loved it as a kid and a young adult, really getting excited about the Special Edition rereleases and being crazy hopeful for the Prequels. I was battered by that trilogy, and in the end I walked away from Revenge of the Sith soured on Star Wars. The next decade of the internet didn’t help - an endless barrage of Han in carbonite merch and Boba Fett stuff and shitty mash-ups kept the repetitive iconography of Star Wars in my face, repressing everything else that had made the first two films interesting. Star Wars, a massive saga of action and philosophy, had been weakened by the Prequels and ground down by the Pavlovian fanbase.
When Episode VII was announced my cynicism was high. I wrote about the film because it brought hits, and they’re important to keep the site running. I viewed the Star Wars stories as the price I paid to run articles about old movies or weird history. Nobody reads that stuff, so Star Wars was subsidizing their existence.
Then, about a month ago, I began to get information. People in various levels of the Star Wars machine began telling me things about the movie. Some of them were incredulous - “Can you believe this is what they’re doing?” - but what they told me piqued my interest. I have a number of sources, and they all started giving me puzzle pieces that were shockingly intriguing*.
I started putting everything together and the larger shape of this all was… exciting. JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (and I’m starting to increasingly believe the ghost of Michael Arndt’s script) are approaching this sequel from a very different perspective. Everything my sources told me indicates this isn’t a film about the triumphant world the Rebellion had wrought but rather the very real, very compromised world that grew out of a galaxy yet in turmoil. For some fans the end of Return of the Jedi promised a happy-go-lucky universe where the three main characters were best buds and had adventures and spent their lives defending an idyllic status quo. That isn’t the approach Episode VII is taking, and dramatically that seems fruitful and exciting and fresh.
The more I hear about the story of Episode VII - including some spoiler stuff that, if true, will rock the fanbase to its core - the more excited I get. JJ Abrams is a master imitator, following in the footsteps of Lucas and Spielberg. But what if Abrams decided to imitate the Lucas who made Star Wars, not the one who inserted teddy bears in Jedi or trade negotiations in Phantom Menace? What if he followed the Lucas who was intrigued at the idea of having Luke turn to the Dark Side at the end of Jedi instead of the Lucas who overruled it, as the series was essentially for kids?
Because that’s the Lucas that Abrams seems to be imitating here.
That’s Episode VII - I have a lot of hope for it. But Star Wars is more than Episode VII, and the hiring that Lucasfilm has been doing for the next wave of films has been hard to fault. More than hard to fault, it’s been great, especially with Rian Johnson taking the reins for Episode VIII. Johnson alone would be enough to make me hopeful for the future of Star Wars, but there’s still more to make me optimistic.The spin-off directors - Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank so far - are bold choices that reveal a company looking to the future and looking for real talent, not just shooters or yes-men.
And then there’s the Big Story.
Marvel Studios has shown that multiple franchises can work together to tell one story, and they’ve even played with a bit of transmedia by having Agents of SHIELD peripherally involved. But Star Wars is about to blow that out of the water; there have been big meetings setting the future of the Star Wars universe, and these meetings are going to impact everything we see from Star Wars moving forward. Everything.
“We’re going to redefine longform storytelling,” a Lucasfilm employee boasted to me, and I believe it. For the first time in franchise history, the arc of the new trilogy is planned out in advance. They’re taking this story someplace, not just picking up the loose ends and figuring out where to go next with each new film. Even with the Prequels, which had a predetermined ending, Lucas was kind of making it up as he went along.
That longform vision alone is exciting. But what’s more, they’re going to weave this story through cartoons and books and comics, making every piece of side story count. Star Wars has too long been a central series of movies surrounded by absolutely disposable books, comics and games. No more. You won’t have to know that stuff to follow the main story, but if you do know that stuff you’re going to be rewarded. As a nerd I like knowing that stuff, and I like knowing it counts.
It’s all going to matter. They’re taking all the pieces seriously. And they care. That’s the thing that sold me - Lucasfilm gives a shit. The new Sequel Trilogy felt like a cash grab, a way to expand that IP (and god knows that is what’s happening, and in a massive way), but it is becoming clearer to me by the week that they’re actually trying to make it good. And that means they’re creating a new trilogy that could make fans mad, that puts solid storytelling, smart characterization and strong plotting ahead of fan service and wish-fulfilment. They’ve hired filmmakers who will take this story in new directions, give us unexpected turns and bring fresh ideas to a franchise that, frankly, has been dead in the water since 1983.
As of right now Star Wars is in the best place it has been in thirty years. It is in the hands of people who care enough to know that slavish devotion to what came before will only kill this franchise. It is in the hands of people who want to remain respectful of what came before but make real, lasting marks on the universe. And it’s in the hands of people who have a huge vision, who have a bigger ambition, and who have the means to pull it all off.
Will Episode VII be good? I don’t know! A lot can go wrong between now and release. They’re not even close to finishing prinicipal photography. I may have misconstrued the pieces of information that have leaked. But everything tells me that not only is Episode VII going to be more than good, the new and expanding Star Wars universe is going to redefine all our geeky shit for another thirty years.
* A longish footnote here: getting information about Episode VII is tough. In many ways it’s like that story of the blind men describing an elephant; I’m talking to someone who is privy to only a piece of the whole, and they’re interpreting it through their own perspective. I try to triangulate information, seeing if Source 1 has heard what Source 4 told me, or if Source 2’s information adds to the strange tidbit I got from Source 5. I run what I feel confident in, although I’m sure I’ve gotten a detail or two wrong. I’ve tried to withhold stuff that feels too spoilery - despite the belief of some fans, I’m not looking to ruin anyone’s experience.