What will the next Star Wars films be about?

Film With everything else which is going on, entertainment news has become less and less interesting or important these past few days. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been paying attention and indeed I thought the most exciting news was that Bryan Singer is stepping in to direct the new X-Men film and that James Mangold's The Wolverine is to be a semi-sequel to the trilogy he started. If he could go in and attempt to turn The Last Stand into the film with his opening two promised I’d be even happier. But then …

Disney owns Lucasfilm. Disney owns Lucasfilm. Or as this has been more correctly described Disney owns Star Wars. Disney owns Star Wars. The more we say this, the weirder it sounds, and yet, to listening to George last night, it’s almost as though this was always the plan and certainly the number of ancillary crossovers across the years, especially the Star Tours ride appearing at Disneyland, that this was always going to be his retirement plan.

Which is fine. Everyone was pretty cautious when Disney bought Marvel Comics and then they surprised everyone by making film versions of secondary characters which were far better than what was being churned out by other studios for the A-listers (let’s be honest, only Spiderman 2 is really any good), even if they then royally fucked up the European home release of The Avengers. But the films are amazing and under Joss will continue to be.

Which is why their announcement of three new Star Wars films has to be good news, hasn’t it? Hasn’t it? Well … there’s been a mass of talk online as you might expect, the global echo chamber trying to divine what it can from the press release and the interview clips with Lucas that seem mainly to exist to demonstrate this whole thing hasn’t been an elaborate hoax. What will be in these films? Who will be in these films?

Let’s ruminate.

Given that they’re calling them Episodes VII, VIII and IX, we know they’re not going to be a reboot, a remake or yet more prequels set in the old, old republic which is a shame because that would have been my first choice. Start from the beginning, dramatise the origins of the Jedi and the Sith, create a story that’s well away from the story of the Skywalkers which was pretty much completed, for better or worse in I to VI which work pretty well as a closed narrative.

But they’re opening up the narrative again, which means looking at creating whole new story to add to the back end. Fans of the Expanded Universe know this isn’t such a stupid idea as they’ve watched the characters from the films enter middle age and have kids and more kids, teen Jedis and that sort of thing (I’m busking) (I haven’t read any of it) (but judging by the Wookiepedia it seems busy) (as is Leland Chee the keeper of the Holocron database thingy).

The Expanded Universe does what any good ancillary franchise material should do which is turn a finite amount of onscreen narrative into something which can be extended, repeated and yes, expanded. So the Star Wars continue beyond return of the Jedi for chronological decades, adding some characters, subtracting others, and proves that it is possible to expand that closed narrative onwards, that there are plot threads worth picking up. From the Timothy Zhan novels on.

But think of the fans of the Expanded Universe at this moment. On the one hand they’re really excited about having some new films. New Star Wars films! But on the other they’ll be glancing at the several hundred novels, comics and whatnot on their shelves and wondering what exactly will still be canonical by the time the new films come out, because its unlikely that whoever’s writing them will give two hoots about some obscure bit of minutia from a paragraph in a novel publish five years before.

And I hope it doesn’t.  I hope Leland Chee finds himself with a massive editing job.  Done properly these will be the nuclear option on the Expanded Universe, tipping most of it  downwards into Z-canonicity or whatever the lettering system is in the Holocron these days. Why should us casuals have to deal with a narrative that’s desperately trying not to step on the toes of a bunch of other narratives and decisions taken years before. The film should be an excellent bit of space opera first.

Which is harsh of course. I could be wrong. Lucas has apparently already written the treatments for these films and had them knocking around for a few decades, though that contradicts what he said to Total Film in 2008 when specifically asked about the Expanded Universe:
"I've left pretty explicit instructions for there not to be any more features. There will definitely be no Episodes VII-IX. That's because there isn't any story. I mean, I never thought of anything. And now there have been novels about the events after Episode VI, which isn't at all what I would have done with it. 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..."
I wish that was true, I wish they were starting from scratch, but it’s possible that as that universe has expanded he’s kept an eye on whether any of it contradicts his wild, unmentionable fantasies of what would be there too much. Though as Karen Traviss discovered to her cost, he’s not averse to deciding that something on screen supersedes the page.

Unfortunately, because of how the Star Wars franchise has developed, Lucas’s successors don’t have either of the other famous options available to them in the fight not to piss off the hard core fans still further, even the ones who forgave George for The Phantom Menace. They can’t simply start again in an alternative reality (Star Trek) or just produce some more and wilfully contradict where necessary because it has never been that interested continuity to begin with (Doctor Who).

If these are sequels, here’s what I hope they’re about. Set them a couple of hundred years after the previous series with the Skywalkers, Han and everyone having passed into legend as have the Jedi, the Sith and everything else. A young woman on some dead moon is eking out an existence in a janitorial position when she’s visited by a ghost. We know it’s elderly Luke. He warns of a terrible disaster which is about to befall the galaxy and she’s the only hope. What does she do? What does she do?

Yes, it’s ropey and derivative but so were the Star Wars films from a certain point of view. It’s a fresh start, it reintroduces the Star Wars concepts within a different paradigm which then has the potential to be as huge as the original films, but importantly it doesn’t attempt to simply extend the Skywalker story past what’s already been resolved, it’s not simply putting the band back together to fight the Empire again.

Unless, and this is the other option, if you really do have to make it a direct sequel, it turns out the second Death Star was a decoy. The Empire’s not gone anywhere and while the rebels were celebrating their victory, there really was an Ewok apocalypse and Endor was turned into a crisp with everyone on it via a second (or third) operational battle station. The next three films are set in the devastating aftermath, with yet another band of rebels hopelessly fighting against the real Emperor and Vader and not the clones we previously saw destroyed, mentored by Ghost Luke.

In other words, oh, I don’t know.  But pity whichever screenwriters and directors are handed this poisoned chalice. I think Spielberg’ll end up directing the first one and the screenplay will be written by someone like Tom Stoppard or the Nolan brothers. Though at this rate it’ll be Andrew Stanton, Tim Story or Brett Ratner with a screenplay by Steve Kloves. When the real answer is, of course, the writers and directors of The Clone Wars tv series and/or Robot Chicken.

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