Way back in 1977, George Lucas unleashed on an unsuspecting world a movie unlike any ever seen before. For the next year, Star Wars could be seen in just about any theater in America, and the world, on its way to being the #2 movie of all time, when adjusted for inflation. Of course, with success came the temptation to ride that wave. At first, everything seemed to be going well. The Empire Strikes Back is considered by many to be the best of the original movies, even if it wasn’t quite as successful at the box office as the first movie. Then along came Return of the Jedi, and first inklings that all was not well in Lucas-land.
Then a funny thing happened. Before starting work on the prequel movies, Lucas decided to re-release the original trilogy in theaters, with ‘tweaks and edits’, ostensibly to make them more like his vision for them. But every time a major re-release occurred, more ‘tweaks and edits’ happened, so there are now several different versions of the films floating around, arousing fan ire and suspicion.
A suspicion that was confirmed with the prequel movies release: Lucas can’t write a decent plot or bit of dialogue, he was about flash and spectacle over characters and story. Even Natalie Portman couldn’t rescue the new trilogy from terrible dialogue, poor stories and wooden acting. Only Lucas could get Samuel L. Jackson to channel his inner Keanu Reeves. Legions of fans were let down, expecting more. And now with the critical savaging and box office bomb of the new Clone Wars movie, I think we can come to only one conclusion:
To save its future, Star Wars must die.
Well, not die really, more of a medically induced coma with no new TV shows or movies. It needs time to away from Lucas, to lie fallow for awhile, thus providing fertile ground for later incarnations. This time should be used to make Star Wars better than it has become, to finally live up to the hopes and dreams of millions of fans. The ancillary properties, namely books and games, should be kept going to keep Star Wars on life support while Lucas and company figure out what needs to happen (which we have a handy 3 step program to follow).
Reassess Star Wars
I’ll admit it. Both Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back aren’t Oscar worthy films in terms of story telling, both having their share of bad acting and poor dialogue, and both seemingly written for early teens, who will overlook those things if the movie is enough fun. But as the original fans matured, Lucas’ storytelling didn’t. RotJ was the first warning bell, with the prequel trilogy nailing the coffin shut on Star Wars as a great SF series. While the older fans were expecting more, Lucas is stuck on making movies for 10 year olds. Altough the prequels were financially successful, just think how big they could have been if they were better written. Unfortunately, writing is not a strong suit of George Lucas. That’s why he needs to step back and reassess the direction of the series and his role within Star Wars.
For a series that peaked, creatively, in 1980, it sure has made many people successful and rich. I’d look at what made ESB the best of the original movies: a darker tone, a harder edge and a better story. Take these ideas and apply them to future endeavours in the Star Wars universe. The original fans are ready for a more mature, grown-up version of their favorite childhood film. And why not? ESB has shown that a more mature film can be successful, and today’s fans would flock to see it. But there’s no reason to ignore the 10+ year old crowd either. I think Star Wars is big enough to encompass stories for young and older alike, why try to shoehorn all fans into one?
But the big change should be Lucas stepping aside as a creative and writing force. It’s time for him to turn control over to people who can write decent stories and dialogue. He’ll be able to find these people by looking to the books and games set in his universe that have been/are being produced. Task the best of these people with creating something for today’s audiences. If that means creating a spectrum of properties to appeal to fans of all ages, then so be it. But they all need to be good.
Evaluate Future Direction
The hard part will be deciding on how to bring Star Wars forward to appeal to not just old fans, but newcomers as well. There’s a lot of expanded universe stuff in existence, why not mine that for inspiration? Perhaps the best game of all is Knights of the Old Republic, an RPG that takes place 4000 years before the events in the original Star Wars. It has a great story and great characters, why not start there? Yes, there is an MMO that Bioware is developing set in that time period, and if fan reaction is any indication, there is going to be a big fan base for this setting ready to consume more. And being set 4000 years previous, there is plenty of opportunity to create new characters and stories that aren’t tied to the current movies. Add in some top-flight SF talent in the way of writers, and Lucas could be raking in more cigarette lighting Benjamins without even trying.
Or they could go into the future. The expanded universe has numerous novels set in the time period after RotJ, the best of which just might be Timothy Zahn‘s The Thrawn Trilogy. Some serious stuff happens during this period which would, again, add some depth and edginess to the characters we all know. This has the added bonus of dealing with known characters so people can clearly see the lineage from the original movies to this time period. And with a new Jedi Academy in play, there are plenty of opportunities to write stuff for the younger set, maybe a Young Jedi Knights Adventures?
The expanded universe is so big, the possibilities are almost limitless as far as stories go. There’s no reason why we couldn’t get a mix of stuff from all time periods. The trick is finding the right people to make it happen in an entertaining fashion.
Crank Up The Hype Machine
Once the future direction of the series has been decided upon, it’s time to crank up the hype machine. Star Wars is a global phenomenon, with millions of fans worldwide. Just imagine the splash the announcement of a new, different movie would make after a few years of silence. The hype would almost build itself. Lucas could lay the groundwork for the new films by having people work on comics, books and games that would tell the story leading up to the new films. The internets would have a field day hyping anything new related to Star Wars. If you thought The Dark Knight had an incredible box office opening, imagine what a new, well done Star Wars movie would do. Titanic would sink on the iceberg of Star Wars fandom.
I don’t expect any of this to happen. There’s too much money involved at this point and Lucas is more interested in doing what he wants rather than what is in the best interest of the franchise or fans. Yes, it’s his property and he can do as he will, but I will reiterate: If you thought the prequel movies were successful, just imaging how successful they would have been if they were good. Still, the 10 year old in me can dream of a time when Star Wars matures to the point where it lives up to the hopes and dreams of fans wanting more.