Star Wars Episode VII - The long awaited sequel is a reality!
On Halloween eve of this year, a monumental deal was announced that initially had legions of Star Wars fans rolling their collective eyes in disbelief. George Lucas, the 68 year old filmmaker behind the iconic Star Wars saga sold his Lucasfilm entertainment holdings to media giant Disney for $4.05 billion. The transaction not only netted the classic sci-fi franchise for Disney, it included the award winning visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic; the company started by Lucas in 1975 that revolutionized the cinematic experience.
The sale came as bit of a surprise to many in Hollywood as George Lucas had always been upfront about his disdain for corporate filmmaking and the Disney Company has come to represent the behemoth that spits out movies like a factory assembly line.
Despite preliminary groans of displeasure from enthusiasts (myself included) who saw the sale as the end of an era, a follow-up announcement offered more than a glimmer of hope; the studio was ready to begin work on a seventh episode that would follow the 1983 blockbuster Return of the Jedi. Additionally, many of the stars from the original series—episodes 4 through 6— have already begun to express an interest in revising their roles if their respective characters are to be continued.
George Lucas stated at the time of the sale that he was willingly handing over the reigns of his beloved flagship films because it was, "time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers/' In a statement released on YouTube following the announcement of the sale, Lucas detailed his reasoning behind the transaction. In a frank discussion with Lucasfilm producer Kathleen Kennedy, who will continue as an executive producer on upcoming Star wars films as
well as president of the studio, Lucas spoke of his yearning to retire, and his faith in the Disney Company to guard the creativity of the series, even stating that, at the time of the release of the original film back in 1977, most people thought it was a film that Disney should have made. With Disney's purchase of Steve Job's animated production studio Pixar in 2006, and its more recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009, Lucas felt that there was no other studio with the creative strength to rework the Star Wars chronicle. For Disney, the deal represents an opportunity to expand on the vast revenue stream derived from licensing deals of Lucas' properties like Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series.
A NEW HOPE
Although he will still be a creative consultant on Star Wars VII, slated by Disney to be released in 2015, George Lucas has maintained that he would keep his role in the new production limited, stating, "I really don't have much to do." He added that if there was confusion from filmmakers over who a particular character is or historical background of the storyline, "I actually know a lot. I can say, 'This is this and this is that.'" Michael Arndt, the Academy Award Winning writer of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, as well as a former personal assistant to Matthew Broderick, has been tasked with writing the screenplay for the latest iteration of the sci-fi space opera. A director has yet to be chosen, but Hollywood insiders have narrowed down a list of possible candidates including David Fincher (Alien 3, Fight Club and Se7en) and actor/director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens).
Officially, there has been no word from the studio about casting, however, cast members of the
original series have been approached for the possible revising of their previous roles since the announcement of the sequel. Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia Organa in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, recently admitted that she and Mark Hamill were aware of plans for a new film well in advance of October's announcement and that there had been preliminary discussions to return. She also hinted jokingly that she was open to the idea of being "Mrs. Han Solo", but would probably end up having "an affair with some general." Seventy-year-old Harrison Ford has been rumored to have also expressed interest in returning as Han Solo despite stating publicly two years ago that the character "was not so interesting to me" Mark Hamill, the original Luke Skywalker is reportedly excited about the prospects of a continuation of the series, but remains cryptically non-committal. Speaking at a recent premiere, Hamill stated that he enjoyed working with his former cast mates on the first three films, but cautioned, "Until I know more about what they have in mind,
I think it's better to let Lucasfilm make the announcements."
"The Force will be with you, always." - Obi-Wan Kenobi
FANS REMAIN CAUTIOUS
What makes the idea of the first new Star wars film since 2005's Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (as well as a continuation of the story left off in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi) is, ironically, the prospect that George Lucas will have a limited role in its creation. Fans of the original three films have been critical of Lucas' involvement in the prequels, all three of which he directed and wielded complete control. Critical reaction to the films was less than receptive, and hardcore Star Wars devotees lambasted Lucas on many fronts including casting decisions and characters (I think it's safe to say that Jar Jar Binks, a comic relief character appearing in all three prequels was an unmitigated disaster). The most critically acclaimed picture in the series and an overwhelming fan favorite was the first sequel produced: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, a film that Lucas did not direct. Furthermore, a majority of enthusiasts of the series contest that Lucas had allowed his concentration on the business side of production to affect his creativity, essentially "cheapening" the franchise. With his more removed role in the production of the planned sequels, there are those who think that younger creative minds—not to mention all the advances in special effects— can resuscitate the cherished chronicle. To put it bluntly and personally, can it be any worse than Revenge of the Sith?
Arguments of whether George Lucas is doing a disservice to the franchise or breathing new life into a much-loved series aside, the sale of his properties to Disney come with a particularly positive footnote. He has already announced that a significant portion of the proceeds from the sale will be funneled into charities focused on education, a cause that Lucas has been vocal about over the years.
The next few months should prove to be enlightening, entertaining and perhaps downright frustrating at times as details of production become clearer, the storyline begins to form, and the cast and crew are named. As a fan who had his young life changed in a theater in The Bronx, in the early summer of 1977, sitting wild eyed and mouth agape through three consecutive showings of the original film, I hope that we might finally have reason to cheer-on the rebel alliance once more. Hopefully, the force is with us. Again.