The Force Awakens is knocking down box office records and Star Wars is perceived as cool again. Disney has charted a loose course for the near future and has deviated slightly by bumping Episode VIII from May 2017 to December of that same year. We are still going to be getting a movie a year from now until at least 2019, which will include the next installments of the new trilogy as well as standalone spinoff films (one of which is slated for release this December). In the meantime, we can help ourselves to a proverbial buffet of secondary Star Wars media: the Rebels animated series, the various Marvel comics series, the occasional new novel or two and of course, Legos.
But for many people, these are all trivial distractions from what’s really on their minds: Episode VIII. It has a director in Rian Johnson, who I only know from the fantastic Looper. Nonetheless he’s exactly the sort of filmmaker that I hoped The Force Awakens would get, but we had to settle for the poor man’s Spielberg that is JJ Abrams. While Abrams did an alright enough job, I’m eager to get this franchise into someone else’s hands.
For what it’s worth, Episode IX also has a director picked: Colin Trevorrow, which I’m not enthused about at all. His Jurassic World was a broken mess so contemptible that I’ve sworn off Chris Pratt until the next Guardians of the Galaxy. I sincerely hope Trevorrow either drops out or takes an online film school course between now and IX’s tentative release date.
Anyhow, a great many folks have pointed out many similarities between TFA and A New Hope, mainly that they are almost the same movie. I was willing to overlook this because A) TFA did not suck, B) the new characters made up for it and C) being the first Star Wars film in a decade, taking the safe road is forgivable, especially considering what happened last time we got a new trilogy. But now that Star Wars is back in everyone’s good will, I feel like I have to put this out there: Episode VIII needs to be different.
I really don’t want an VIII that is essentially an Empire Strikes Back knockoff. TFA following ANH is one easily brushed aside thing, but VIII following Empire just as closely? Then I’ll get mad. And that’s just it; Empire is universally considered the best film in the OT. Even I, the most ardent defender/apologist of Return of the Jedi you will ever meet, would not dispute that fact. I mean, that’s just crazy talk. With that in mind, can you envision a scenario where there isn’t overwhelming studio and/or fan pressure to make VIII into an Empire clone? If you are one of the suits at Disney, why wouldn’t you take another trip down memory lane to the tune of another billion dollar global box office take?
There is this one negative side effect from the prequels that no one ever talks about: it made Star Wars fans deeply afraid of change. Everything about TFA was tailor-made to address those fears: the return of the original cast members, the mostly practical effects, the rehashed plot, the near identical aesthetic and the presence of JJ Abrams, the aforementioned poor man’s Spielberg. All deeply comforting to a fan base that has a hard time letting things go.
Hey, speaking of not being able to let go of stuff, what the hell is up with the continuing presence of Darth Maul in secondary Star Wars media? Have you seen that dense, spoiler-filled trailer for the second half of the current Star Wars Rebels season? Guess which spike-headed, full-body tattoo enthusiast with cyborg legs is STILL kicking around a mere five years before ANH? Seriously, fanboys, what is the deal with your obsession with Maul? I get that he was the only cool and edgy thing (in strictly visual terms; film Maul had as much personality as a sock drawer) in a movie that was overflowing with pandering little kid crap but your drawn out attachment to this vastly overrated character is getting insane. Let. Go.
Okay, rant over. Let’s get back to business.
I guarantee that it’s only a matter of time before Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams (who will stick around as an executive producer) or one of the cast members will drop the “we’re going to make this one our Empire Strikes Back” line during an interview and the fans will eat it up. And maybe they’ll just be pulling our legs and will yank the rug out from under us in VIII by disregarding the OT formula entirely. That would be just dandy, but they could also just build a loose facsimile of Empire and most of us still won’t give a shit and will just go along with it like last time because it’s Star Wars. I have faith in Johnson, but I tend to be cautious with my optimism.
No one at Disney or Lucasfilm will ever see this column, but if I could give whoever is in charge of Star Wars just one bit of advice, it would be this: take a risk. Don’t stray down the path of familiarity and nostalgia and don’t try to give the fans what they think they want. Forget about the OT; this is a new saga. Make the most of it and please, for the love of the Force, don’t put a Starkiller Base II in Episode IX.