Some of the biggest Star Wars fans in the world are the Hollywood writers, directors, and producers who bought a ticket for a Jedi movie in the 1970s and 1980s. On Tuesday, as headlines announced a new hope for a return to Star Wars glory, those Tinseltown loyalists were hit by the Force all over again.
“All I can say is my heart literally started racing when I heard,” said Damon Lindleof, screenwriter for Prometheus. George Nolfi, writer-director of The Adjustment Bureau, said the horizon will need to be bigger to handle the colossal project taking shape there. “I can’t imagine,” Nolfi said Tuesday night, “a larger event-film for our generation than a sequel to Return of the Jedi.”
To recap: Tuesday’s thunderclap news began when the Walt Disney Company announced the acquisition of Lucasfilm (for $4.05 billion in cash and stock) and the ramp up for up for Episode 7. In the saga’s on-screen chronology, that puts the new film after Vader’s fiery funeral in Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi.
And, just like his most famous character, Lucas is also stepping away from the center of the Star Wars universe as others take control of the power and the plotting. “For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next,” Lucas said in in a statement. “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.”
That’s a surprise considering George Lucas made it clear through the years that Ewok celebration on the forest moon of Endor was the proper place for his universe to fade to black; to Lucas, the story possibilities of the Jedi saga went up in smoke with the charred remains of Anakin Skywalker.
When I interviewed him in 2008 for the Los Angeles Times, for instance, he had little patience for the idea that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia might be interesting to follow in the wake of the second Death Star’s destruction.
In the non-film versions of the saga, for instance, Han Solo and Princess Leia marry and have three children, one of them named Anakin after his ill-fated grandfather. All of it has been popular with hardcore fans, but Lucas for years said there was nothing left to say after the teddy bear luau.
“I get asked all the time, ‘What happens after Return of the Jedi?’ and there really is no answer for that,” Lucas said. “The movies were the story of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, and when Luke saves the galaxy and redeems his father, that’s where that story ends….[Possible futures have] been covered in the books and video games and comic books, which are things I think are incredibly creative but that I don’t really have anything to do with other than being the person who built the sandbox they’re playing in.”
Now others will also be allowed to dig their shovel into the feature films. Some observers think that Dave Filoni, the director of the supervising director of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, will get the promotion to live-action. On the Internet, though, fans are more enamored with big names such as Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and Jon Favreau.
Favreau, director of the first two Iron Man films, said Tuesday that he’s got no more insight than anyone else. But, like his fortysomething filmmaker peerage, his spectacle films are still rooted in the experience of seeing the 1977 film again and again as a wide-eyed 10-year-old. The young fan in him still has a deep desire to see the beloved saga of his youth reach new heights.
“The idea of another trilogy that further shrouds the Force in mystery as its secrets are lost to time – that’s extremely compelling,” Favreau said. “I want so bad for it to be good. Can you imagine?”
Nolfi echoed similar feelings: “Star Wars literally defined ‘the magic of movies’ to me as a child. No other film had more impact on my subconscious desire to become a filmmaker.
Shawn Levy, director of Real Steel and the Night at the Museum films, also chimed in when reached Tuesday: “The Star Wars franchise is nothing short of a generational touchstone…I literally can’t think of any comparable cultural phenom that has so pervasively shaped and galvanized viewers to the extent that Star Wars has. It’s embedded in my — and our — cultural DNA in a unique way and these are enduring strands.”
Then there’s Star Trek franchise director J.J. Abrams, the transported Star Wars fan who once said his toughest Starfleet mission will be pulling the brand out of Lucas’ shadow. On Monday, he was so conflicted in his feelings about the news that veered into something close to Shatnerian syntax: “Part of me? Thrilled. Part of me? Terrified. Most of me? Thrillified.”
Sin City and Machete director Robert Rodriguez was more pragmatic in his comments. He said he’s especially excited that the new venture will be led by Lucasfilm new co-chairman, Kathleen Kennedy, a longtime collaborator with Steven Spielberg and a high-integrity figure in Hollywood.
“What an amazing world and legacy George Lucas has created — and it needs to continue in capable hands,” the Texas-based filmmaker said. “I do think Disney is the best studio for the job and the fact that they brought in Kathleen Kennedy? I can’t imagine a better scenario. And 2015 can’t get here fast enough.”