Παρασκευή, 22 Μαρτίου 2013

Star Wars 7: return of the Jedi – again

Those of us who grew up with the original three films never recovered from the turgid horror that was 1999's The Phantom Menace. Will the new sequels rescue Luke Skywalker and co?

A new hope … the original cast with George Lucas in 1997. 
Episode Seven! It has been a rumour ever since the houselights came up on the most recent Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, in 2005. In fact, Star Wars creator George Lucas had been talking about it way back in the late 1970s; he had hinted at a prequel trilogy which finally came to pass in 1999 with The Phantom Menace and also a sequel trilogy, taking the story onward from where it appeared to finish with Return of the Jedi in 1983. So we're going to get Episode Eight, Nine … and maybe more. 

Episode Seven is the jewel in the acquisition crown: Disney has bought George Lucas's production behemoth LucasFilm for $4.02bn (£2.5bn): George Lucas gets a head-spinning payday and a big shareholding in Disney, and Disney itself gets the rights to the still-far-from-exhausted franchise goldmines such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. The movie business wants tentpoles, guaranteed earners: rebooted, reinvented, reimagined.

Yet that doesn't prevent a sinking of the spirits as Episode Seven begins its long opening crawl towards us, scheduled to appear in 2015. Really? Another one? It's like hearing that JK Rowling was pulling the plug on all this Casual Vacancy realism and readying another three Harry Potter movies for Warner Brothers, picking up where Deathly Hallows left off. Now, that might well be great – but still.

We all remember the terrible letdown of The Phantom Menace, all of us saucer-eyed nostalgists and nerds excitably gathered outside the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End, ready for the first-ever showing, and hardly able to believe that it was actually happening. 

And then, oh, the disappointment at how boring it was, how dramatically obtuse, how extremely terrible the characterisation of Jar Jar Binks. There was something very wrong there, a sense of misjudgment that never lifted, even when Anakin Skywalker underwent his great, mythic transformation at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when all that prequel history finally came to the dramatic point. 

Was it just that we were all older and that we were sentimentally loyal to our younger selves, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

Maybe. And maybe the failure of The Phantom Menace, a critical failure itself extensively mythologised (though it came up smelling of roses commercially), will vanish as a new generation of fans comes to remember that as the gold-standard of their own youth. 

But I'll never forget my first viewing of Episode Four in a shopping mall near Boston, Massachusetts in the summer of 1977 – excitingly, months before it had been released in the UK – and freaking to that irresistibly corny, syrupy, exclamatory theme from John Williams.

It didn't get better than Star Wars, not in 1977 it didn't, and our own jubilee looked a bit downbeat and rainy by comparison. And this was just days after I'd tasted my first proper American burger in America, from Burger King (since you ask), with pickles and American cheese and a properly ice-cold Coke. I had been used only to the horrible boot-heels and unrefrigerated fizzy drinks available from Wimpy back in Blighty. For once, that now-overused word "awesome" was appropriate.

A new look for Darth Vader, as imagined by designer Barney George (www.barneygeorge.com)
So how will Episode Seven play out? The narrative has been thrashed out in the fan community, with hints from Lucas himself over the years, and a story arc was laid down, but now discredited, in a bestselling franchise-novel series, called the Heir to the Empire trilogy, published by Timothy Zahn in the early 90s, set around five years after the events in Return of the Jedi. It is not known if Zahn will have anything to do with writing this new movie, but Lucas will not be directing. That will be a plum job for someone, and names such as Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton have been mentioned online.

But if Episode Seven is set a few decades further down the line, then we have the intriguing and actually rather exciting prospect of bringing back Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill (respectively 56, 70 and 61 years old) in their original roles. For once, we would have some of the old-fashioned, forward-facing narrative interest that was stymied with The Phantom Menace, and our sense of having grown old with the movies will now fit, and make sense.

It could be that this original trio will be merely an incidental gerontocracy, there to be wise and all-knowing with a younger generation. But I'd hope that the story might still revolve around them, particularly Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia, whose character could playfully mirror some of Fisher's own chequered life-story. Or perhaps we could focus on the relationship of Leia and Solo, now married, and there could be a heart-rendingly poignant study of their elderly existence together, rather like Michael Haneke's Amour, but set in space. Of course, it could be that Disney and Lucas will think it more interesting to have the original characters still as their younger selves, in which case using the original cast is not workable. But it would be a shame to ditch these iconic faces.

We live in hope. Episode Seven might well just look silly and cynical and tired. But with a new creative team in place, it could be like Sam Mendes's Skyfall — a fresh and witty new version. Just as George Lucas in 1977 was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, maybe the creators of Episode Seven will take something from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away, or Bong Joon-ho's The Host, or Tony Jaa's Ong Bak. The Star Wars myth could regain what it had lost: force.

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