Day 765: Only 682 Days To Go…

originally published February 3, 2014

For those of you who are already sick of hearing Star Wars news, I’ve got bad news for you: that incessant buzz is only going to get louder over the next 22 months. Also, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s Star Wars! My inner 8-year-old, the one who was allowed to cut school in the third grade to see Return of the Jedi at the old Westmount Theater will remain clasped between the sweaty palms of anticipation and hope until the opening swell of John Williams’ score blasts into my ears on opening night. 

After that moment, it doesn’t matter. The prequel trilogy taught me that nothing is going to match the quasi-religious power those initial three films had on me as a child. And if you take out that floppy-eared Gungan and the insipid discussion of how sand gets everywhere, there’s a lot to enjoy in those prequels: the three-way lightsaber duel in Part I, watching Yoda kick some ass in Part II and the devastating Jedi slaughter in Part III for example. And J.J. Abrams has already given me the Star Trek films I always wanted to see – taffy-thick with action, thrills and explosions. 

So I will line up for Episode VII tickets, and I will do so without expectation that it will bump in front of The Empire Strikes Back on my all-time list. I offer no apologies to you philistines whose eyes are straining mid-roll as I add to the noise of the pre-pre-pre-film hype. I’ve waited a long time for this. 

While shooting the first film in Tunisia in 1976, George Lucas confided in Mark Hamill that he planned to shoot four trilogies. Lucas had already spliced his initial script into three movies, and had received a guarantee from 20th Century Fox that he’d get to make the two sequels for them. When Mark asked what his involvement would be in the later films, George told him he might have a cameo role as Old Luke in Episode IX, which George anticipated might shoot around 2011.  

In a 1978Time Magazine article, George stated that he still saw another ten Star Wars films getting made after Empire. He broke it down into two more trilogies in the universe we have come to know (presumably the prequels were one, given that Star Wars was marked as ‘Episode 4’ out of the gate), plus a few standalone movies about Wookiees and robots. I hope George wasn’t thinking that the Holiday Special counted as one of those. 

Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz both confirmed that a nine-part story canon was somewhere on paper and ready to roll forward. These were the rumors that kept kicking at the embers of my childhood hope as Return Of The Jedi left theaters and no new Star Wars projects (apart from some Saturday morning cartoons) appeared to be in the works. George continued to kick the idea of more movies to a distant curb, which is why the announcement of the prequels was so damn explosive. But despite the promise of a fresh trio of flicks, George was now responding to the big sequel questions with an emphatic no. 

“The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader. That is the story. Once Vader dies, he doesn’t come back to life. The Emperor doesn’t get cloned and Luke doesn’t get married.” That was George in 1999, stating to Total Film that there will most certainly not be an Episode VII-IX trilogy. He is also implying there will be no wacky domestic Skywalker sitcom spin-off, leaving my treatment script for Papa Luke & The Palpatines to gather dust. 

So what changed? For Lucas, nothing. He didn’t want to commit to nine years of grueling production on the sequels, only to face the derision of fans who will pick apart every subtle detail and discuss it online until their fingertips are numb. But he sold his share, and now Disney – whose big-budget comic book love-fests have prompted plenty of eye-swooning among the geek crowd – now gets to dig its mouse-eared talons into the legacy. 

To piece together the maybes, let’s have a look at what George Lucas had let slip back in those hopeful days when a sequel trilogy was not necessarily off his table. 

The pre-1980 storyline, according to Gary Kurtz, would follow Luke’s journey to become the premier Jedi Knight (though I suppose with Yoda’s death in Jedi, he already is). Luke’s sister (who, at the time, was not Princess Leia) would show up in Episode VIII, and Luke would face off with the Emperor in the climactic battle of Episode IX. Well, we know that isn’t true. 

In 1983 George offered the notion that Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher would reprise their role “in their 60s or 70s”, which is accurate. We know for a fact that the trio will appear, and that J.J. Abrams has booted Episode VII’s original screenwriter because J.J. wants Luke, Han and Leia to be the focal points of the new movie, not merely cameo characters. George also stated back then that R2-D2 and C-3PO would be the only characters to show up in all nine movies. What I want to know is – what about friggin’ Lando? Is he coming back? 

Lucas biographer Dale Pollock announced in 2012 that he had looked over the original outlines for all 12 Star Wars movies back in the 80’s, but had been required to sign a confidentiality agreement. He claimed that the three most exciting movies were VII, VIII and IX, and he was under the impression that Disney had obtained those plans as part of their purchase agreement. Whether or not J.J. sticks to George’s original vision, we’ll have to see. 

George teased the possibility of Luke having a romantic interest in the sequel trilogy, and that the themes would include the necessity for moral choices, justice, the conflict between right and wrong and various dueling philosophies as the Republic was put back together post-Empire. That sounds promising, but again – it’s in J.J.’s hands. 

Some have speculated that Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of novels, written in 1991-93, might form the basis of the new trilogy. That story features a new Sith threat, and since it takes place only five years after the Battle of Endor, the movie principles are still the protagonists. These books have been embraced by Star Wars geekdom as valid entries in the Expanded Universe, but will not be slapped together as a script for the new movies. 

Which leaves us once again in the realm of speculation. And I’m happily on board with the masses of curious spectators. 

Episodes IV-VI are the real story. They are all a kid needs to formulate his or her take on the philosophy that permeates Lucas’s universe, and they should be treated as separate and sacred. But that universe is there, and a legion of fans are hungry to throw their money at another story inside it. Episode VII will hopefully be a lot of fun, with some memorable moments and maybe a fresh piece of outstanding music by John Williams. That’s all I need it to be. 

No need to get too weird with it. 

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