Around The Margin – Disney’s Star Wars Reboot

Listen in as three Star Wars enthusiasts saddle up to a smoky back table at Mos Eisley Cantina and pull Episode VII’s latest turn of events apart….

MCS: To begin I would just like to state that I am completely buying into what is going on here. It’s time – and it’s going to be good. I mean, I think. Well, I hope so. I’m not sure. Let’s talk about it….

CMT: I welcome the entrance of Disney and J.J. Abrams to the Star Wars macro-cosm. What Disney has been able to create through its digital animation house Pixar, and the enthusiasm and ability to bridge generations of movie-goers that Abrams possesses, represents a force of potential energy that could be pushed into this floundering franchise.

I was initially excited by Lucas’s attempts to finish his sweeping space opera, but upon viewing the prequels, I was left waiting at the altar like a jilted lover, wondering where my beautiful space bride had gone. To me, the excitement over the idea of a prequel trilogy was more satisfying than the actual films themselves. That they drew another generation of Star Wars fans into the mix cannot be ignored, but the fact that the prequel trilogy seemed so forced and at times, focus-group influenced, left a bad taste in my mouth that has followed me for years to come. Am I excited for the new series? Hell yes! But that enthusiasm comes with a big asterisk at the end. An asterisk that cries: but please, please, please don’t screw this up!

DG: My initial gut reaction was hesitation, but this was strictly personal. George Lucas, despite saying that his story could span nine films, maintained that Star Wars was always about the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Since he owned the franchise, he had no plans to expand the story past Return of the Jedi. That being said, for a time I really enjoyed the novels and comics that followed Episode VI, which were eventually accepted as canon. The stories about Luke, Han, and Leia’s offspring, now grown up and Jedi Knights in their own right, were some of my favorites. So when the announcement first came out, I knew that Disney would do away with all of that. Upon reflection, though, the post-Return of the Jedi story lines stagnated after a while. Some of them were downright absurd. I’m looking forward to J.J. Abrams breathing some new life into the franchise.

MCS: Agreed. If J.J. isn’t the right man for the job, than who is? I see no harm in giving him a go. It certainly seems like he has earned it. That he wants it. And by enlisting the stars of the original trilogy he appears hell bent on creating a pass-the-torch scenario that will properly lead us into the future, or into the past, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

But there is room for concern. A great deal even. For with the Star Trek reboot, young J.J. wasted no time ripping a hole in the space-time continuum, and creating an alternate timeline which he could play around in. While giving many a nod to the original canon, including inside jokes and scarcely known tidbits, he pissed in the pool one too many times for purists….but in doing so created two incredibly entertaining action films.

CMT: If you were to tell me a few years ago that J.J. Abrams would be manning the helm of both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchise reboots I would have told you to go back to smoking your death-sticks. Sure, he has achieved successes with shows like Alias and Lost, and movies like Cloverfield, and Mission impossible III were fun, but I view those as merely primers for what he truly had in store for us, a sampling if you will, of Abrams 1.0.

Abrams 2.0 however, now displays a firm grasp and understanding of the action, science fiction and drama genres and has begun to find his groove as a story weaver. More recent shows like Fringe and films like Super 8 and the two Star Trek reboots show a writer, director and producer who has truly come into his own, put a few shows and films under his belt, and played the game a couple of rounds to know what’s good and what works. He’s simply become one of the most creative and influential forces in the entertainment industry today, and taking the reins of two huge franchises is no casual undertaking. Only a person well-versed in the subtleties of the individual realms and a confident grasp of what is necessary to wrangle the players in each can succeed. It remains to be seen if Abrams is this person, but the glimpses of success I have witnessed, and the hunger he has to tackle these larger than life franchises, at least suggests that he is not afraid to ask Why not?

DG: I know it sounds strange, but J.J. Abrams wasn’t on my radar until the Star Trek reboot. I just wasn’t familiar with his body of work; I never watched any of the shows he produced or the movies he directed. However, I’ve heard him interviewed several times, and I respect the regard he has for the fan bases of these franchises. He seems like a likable guy who is extremely talented and wants to do right by the fans. That’s good enough for me.

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CMT: Me too. In terms of the recent casting announcement – the first official production image appears to be from a reading of Episode VII’s script. The internets are rife with speculation regarding the placement of the actors within the photo and what that suggests about the characters they will play. It’s an interesting gambit to speculate in this manner, but one ultimately that I feel is wasted when presented which so many unknowns. However, upon examination of the names of the actors present in the promotional photo, it is difficult to not get excited. Old stalwarts like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels and Mark Hamill juxtaposed with exciting newcomers like Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac and wildcards like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega show that Abrams is willing to seek out talent wherever it may lie, bucking the traditional cast of A-list actors who usually take these rolls.

The casting of John Boyega has me fascinated by his potential role in Episode VII. He was absolutely amazing in the cult-film-in-the-making Attack of the Block (get there!) and won a British Independent Film Award for most promising newcomer and several Black Reel Awards for his role in the horror/comedy film. It’s about time someone put him in another flick.

The casting of Max Von Sydow has me overly excited. His portrayal of anything other than a Sith Lord would see me surprised, because you don’t put Antonius Block from The Seventh Seal, Father Merrin from The Exorcist, The Emperor Ming from Flash Gordon and Dr. Keynes from Dune in a Star Wars film and not make him a villain. You just don’t.

MCS: Interesting male-centric (unsurprising and somewhat distressing) casting, no question. But no real beef, no real qualms. It isn’t merely the ingredients, which surely seem capable, but what you do with them. I am mostly excited to see what they have in store for Oscar Isaac. I can hardly shake his cold, piercing stare from Drive. Or his subtle, distressed and nuanced performance in Inside Llewyn Davis. Both so incredible, and I could imagine the force would be strong with him. Adam Driver is also a very interesting cast, and his unique look and idiosyncrasies could serve him well in a villainous role. Time will tell…

DG: My first thought echoed Michael’s male-centric comment above. I once read a quote when The Phantom Menace came out that read, “It is disappointing that Mr. Lucas, with his talent, only envisions a universe where men grow up to be warriors and women grow up to be princesses.” My gut instinct when I saw the casting above had me fearing that Disney might follow down this same path. We know that there may be another large female role cast in the near future, and we don’t really know who’s who yet, but I hope J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michaeal Ardnt break with tradition when writing for these characters.

CMT: This takes us to the return of Harrison, Mark, and Carrie. Star Wars Episode VII takes place 35 years after Return of the Jedi,  the fall of the Empire and Darth Vader’s death (wait, SPOILER ALERT!). At least initially in a series reboot, you have to build a bridge that connects the two franchises and pays homage to its beginnings. Abrams I think recognizes this, which explains his desire to put the original, older Spock and the newer, younger Spock in the same Star Trek film, writing a brilliant alternate reality plot as the “bridge” to link the two. In Disney’s reboot Abrams does not have the luxury of a similar plot trick to link the Lucas and Abrams franchises, so it makes sense that he would choose to include as many characters from the original films as possible.

I for one welcome the mixing of the new and the old, the fresh and the seasoned. Any chance to revisit the Han-Chewie interplay from the original films and to (as Han said to Chewie) “Laugh it up fuzz ball,” is reason enough in my mind to call the films a success.

MCS: “Brilliant” is a strong word to describe that Star Trek’s alternate reality plot – but that is a conversation for another day. But, there is no doubt that by immersing the original cast so deeply in the narrative of this story, J.J. Abrams is taking a tremendous risk. George Lucas ruined so much good in Star Wars with his subpar trilogy (I actually like it more than most – I just can’t even lay eyes on the second one, the other two I like.). But whatever damage he did to the franchise, the inferior Jar Jar Binks-laden story took place before the three original films, thus anything he did fuck up couldn’t really ruin what was to come. But in this case, J.J. Abrams can affect how we feel about these characters – he can undo the legacy if things go wrong.

But I like him taking that chance. These actors are alive – and there is an entire generation of fans who are not simply in love with, but fully obsessed with, this trio of characters. Why not quench our thirst, or at least attempt to give us more?

But where, oh where, is Billy Dee??!!!!

DG: Fans refer to Luke, Leia, and Han as The Big Three. I can’t imagine anyone else but Hamill, Fisher, and Ford taking on those roles, regardless of what acting they have or haven’t done since 1983.

Ewan McGregor was a great casting choice for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and obviously the prequels go back in time forcing a recast for the younger character. However, I always had trouble suspending disbelief that McGregor could morph into Sir Alec Guinness in a span just shy of twenty years. The Big three have aged naturally since the events of Return of the Jedi–let’s see them suit up for their roles one more time.

I don’t view the new Star Wars films as reboots the way the new Star Trek films were. I see a reboot as a back to basics, starting from scratch reimagining of a story that has gotten so big that it’s become immersed  in legend and lore. The new Star Wars films will be true sequels–in every sense of the word–to the original trilogy. Assuming Abrams and Disney don’t go Godfather III on us, I think we’re all in for a worthy continuation of the story George Lucas introduced us to back in 1977.

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