'Star Wars': Are the original actors too old for a sequel?

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Joss Whedon probably wasn’t intending to make a provocative statement when he dropped an opinion on Disney’s plans for its Star Wars sequel. With evidence mounting that original trilogy actors Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill will appear in Episode VII, The Avengers writer-director said, “You know, I wouldn’t go back, I’d go forward. I would want to create characters that would resonate the way that they did.”

Other Star Wars fans have posted similar thoughts over the past week. A Forbes writer argued, “There’s a big risk here that the awkwardness of these older actors will hurt the film. That’s what happened with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull … Karen Allen, returning as Marion Ravenwood, seemed out of her element the whole time … I’m hoping for something fresh and exciting.” While on EW, one reader countered, “Joss is dead wrong about not bringing back Ford, Fisher, and Hamill for Star Wars VII. People want to see those characters and for Disney to pay 4 billion for SW rights and to throw something out there with all new characters…that would be beyond stupid.”

To be clear, Whedon did not say the original actors are too old to continue on the franchise. His comment simply advocated a fresh creative start. So let’s put aside what Whedon may or may not have meant and leave him out of this. Let’s tackle the “too old” question all by itself.

Fisher is 56. Hamill is 61. Ford is 70.

The notion that they are “too old” for a Star Wars film is completely absurd. One of the best characters in the franchise was the 1977 original film’s version of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was played by 63-year-old Alec Guinness in a performance that earned him an Oscar nomination.

But there is a version of this question that arguably has merit and it goes like this: Are the actors too old … to play their original characters.

Ahh, see, that’s a question you can chew on.

It’s been 30 years since we last saw Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi. The trio were youthful, attractive and iconic figures who were branded into the memories of a generation of moviegoers. Realistically, their characters wouldn’t look or act like how we remember them, no more than your typical 50 year old looks or acts their 20-year-old selves. As an audience, we kind of know that, but we kind of don’t. Because if Ford isn’t wearing a vest and red-stripe pants, flying the Millennium Falcon, jabbing with Chewbacca, shooting first and being a smart-mouthed bad ass, he just isn’t Han Solo. But that would be like your dad walking around in 2013 wearing acid jeans, partying with his old college roommate and driving a Trans Am. If you thought it was rough sledding watching Ford try to recapture Indiana Jones in Crystal Skull, that performance was, by comparison, “only” 19 years after the release of Last Crusade. In other words: There is something to be said for preserving the memory of the original characters rather than stretching to recapture a magic moment in time.

Another point to consider, as Whedon seemed to suggest, is it’s arguably more exciting to start a new trilogy with an entirely fresh story and cast. One of the great things about the first Star Wars is how utterly alien its universe felt — every character, every ship, every planet, every weapon was new and strange and exciting. The film was the Cantina scene on a macro level. The more the new film tries to continue characters from the original trilogy, the more it risks making the same missteps as the prequels, which were obsessively focused on filling in the mythology of the original films with details best left to our imagination (we didn’t really need to know what Darth Vader was doing when he was 9). As comedian Patton Oswalt ranted about the prequels, “I don’t give a s–t where the stuff I love comes from, I just love the stuff I love.”

One hopes the original stars, if they show up in VII, will have relatively modest roles that feel natural and organic to launching a new story; characters that feel lived-in and age-appropriate, and not like an ’80s heavy metal band that reunites and tries to jump around on stage with their bellies spilling out of their spandex.

Ultimately, the reader above who supported the idea of bringing back the original cast is correct — “people want to see those characters.” Frankly, I want to see them too … just like I wanted to see a fourth Indy film. But unless director J.J. Abrams pulls off a miracle, we will probably walk away feeling a tad deflated about the on-screen reunion, like a delicate illusion has been cracked. I found a quote online that sums up this whole point. Conveniently, it’s from Whedon, back in 2001, when asked about fans who wanted his Buffy the Vampire Slayer storyline to progress a certain way. He said, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” Star Wars: Episode VII will probably give us what we want, but the better choice might be to give us what we need.


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