Star Wars: Episode VII Now Has a Release Date… But Can J.J. Abrams Make Star Wars Cool Again?

episode7releasedate

The best (and maybe worst) thing Star Wars: Episode VII has going for it is potential. Now officially dated for December 18th, 2015, the J.J. Abrams-led addendum to the beleaguered Star Wars franchise arrives a decade after Darth Vader deadpanned “NOOO!” and the world crossed its legs in collective embarrassment. Not just any franchise could survive that — but Star Wars is strong. A long time ago, seemingly in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas had a great idea. The scrappy masterpiece he unleashed in 1977 exploded off the screen and into our imaginations. Like weak-willed stormtroopers, we’re still under the spell of the force.

Even against our better judgment. Five movies and 36 years later, Abrams is saddled not with the role of director, but of necromancer. Financially, Star Wars may be as virile as ever — with enough books, discs, and merch to fill a sarlacc pit — but creatively, it’s dead and ripe. Last March, Disney spent a fortune on the corpse and is playing Dr. Frankenstein to the tune of 4.05 billion, but what’s so tantalizing about that news is not that more Star Wars is coming, but that it might not suck.

Which would be more surprising at this point; the stinging lash of another disappointment, or a truly worthy sequel to Return of the Jedi? Disney will make its money either way, but for the long-term health of their investment, it’s critical they get Episode VII right. The stakes are high, and the departure of screenwriter Michael Arndt in October, coupled with CEO Robert Iger’s reported refusal to grant the filmmakers an extension beyond December into 2016 has fans understandably discouraged.

Why? Because in a post-Phantom Menace world, we’re forced to reevaluate our naive optimism as fans. May 19, 1999. A day that shall live in infamy. Star Wars came under attack, not from without but within. In 136 minutes, George Lucas did to the franchise what the Empire did to Uncle Owen’s moisture farm, and things will never be the same. Sloppily written and clinically directed, Episode I was shockingly bad, representing probably the greatest disappointment in movie history. Its sequel, Attack of the Clones? Arguably even worse.

Opinions on Episode III vacillate, but after spending four and a half hours in the fetid toilet of Lucas’ toil, I reckon anything smells good. Years past; each inevitable home video re-release serving as a solemn reminder not just of the pallidness of the prequels, but of the ever-increasing oddball edits grafted onto the once-majestic original trilogy. Salt, meet wound.

So what can Abrams glean from the franchise’s failures? It’s a testament to Star Wars that we’re still invested in the universe, even when the odds of recapturing its youthful je ne sais quoi are, well… never tell me the odds. Obviously, a good story is vital. Now collaborating with series veteran Lawrence Kasdan on a screenplay, Abrams has a chance to restore our faith in the force, though the question becomes whether he’s a Jedi master with the power to levitate a submerged X-wing, or a padawan at whose hands it will slip deeper into the bog.

Then there’s the cast. It’s expected that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher will reprise their iconic roles as Han, Luke, and Leia, but do we really even want them to? I could see Hamill as a grizzled old Jedi, but the charisma that always overshadowed Ford’s acting ability has long since been snuffed from his old eyes. Unless the writers can seamlessly integrate these characters into the new narrative — and unless the cast can still make Star Wars convincing — the cameos will only widen the perceived gulf between the original trilogy and everything else.

Still, credit where credit’s due: Abrams is smart. Rebooting Star Trek in 2009, he honored a legacy without becoming indebted to it. Leonard Nimoy’s appearance as Spock Prime carries real narrative weight unlike, say, the rote gag of inserting a certain comic book luminary into anything carrying the name “Marvel” — another Disney-owned property. Abrams and his casting department deserve a lot of credit, and there’s reason to be optimistic that Star Wars will tap compelling young talent. On the other hand, as Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman might attest, talent only goes so far.

Story, character, and casting need to harmonize, and soon — the biggest threat to Episode VII is the clock. In two years, we’ll be able to discuss concretely whether Star Wars is finally good again. In the meantime, the possibility that Abrams will fumble is preferable to the near certainty George Lucas would, or the absence of an attempt. The series was tarnished back in the 20th century, and by the time Episode VII premieres, Star Wars will have spent ten long years frozen in carbonite. A few stumbles will be expected after the thaw, but the real measure of its merit will be how gracefully it recovers from those first disorienting rays of sunlight. — Colin

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  • RockJoker

    Beautifully written article.
    The future of Star Wars is mistily. There is SO many ways they can go wrong. But i see a real SW-fan in JJ. So, in the endi don’t have a bad feeling about this. Or the force just betrays me. :D

  • stinker

    Great article, and dead right there. I think it is not only on JJ, but also how much freedom he got from the owner, and i fear that a sudden “re-shoot” will overcome disney when they not 100 % like what they see. And what when JJ will drop the ball….. Well let´s hope for the best, and for a moment of wisdom when it is needed.

  • John Anthony

    am i the only one who doesn’t give a shit about jj abrams? 2 star trek movies.. meh.. super 8.. it was ok? mission impossible 3?

    this is nowhere near the same as what james bond did with having sam mendes come in and breath life into a dead franchise. he made it legitimate again with skyfall, which is arguably the best bond (depending on what you’re looking for i guess).

    THE roger deakins was director of photgraphy for mendes. who does abrams have for episode 7? daniel mindel? where do you know him from? oh yeah, skeleton key, shanghai noon, domino, john carter, stuck on you..

    everyone wants this to be good.. for whatever reason.. so they cling to any glimmer of hope they can. the first 3 were great. fuck everything else. stop giving lucas/disney money.

  • Darth Bino

    It pisses me of how everypne assumes that the majority of SW-Fans hated the prequels. I don’t think that it is true. The Prequels expanded the Star Wars Galaxy in ways no J-J. could ever do. It brought a whole bunch of great new Characters and Mytthologies and has found a place in a lot of Star Wars Fans’ Hearts! Prequel bashing is so not cool anymore.

  • Henrik

    Reading this is quite different from reading Seans posts… Do you even want to say anything, or just be a writer?

  • You missed an apostrophe there, Henrik.

  • Emil

    I loved the prequels, even though they have many flaws there are also many great momemts. When it comes to JJA directing im neither happy or sad about it. The project is so huge, so i think it will boil down to many things, mainly the writing. Not sure if Kesdan writing it is good or bad, but probably good.

    Everyone will most likely love the movie leaving the theater then start hating it after a week or so, just like episode 1.

    Biased fanboy

  • Henrik

    Im sorry.

    By the way, Arndt is spelled Arndt.

  • Steve Kroodsma

    Great article. My first thought when reading the news just over year ago was “Lucas isn’t involved. We might get a good Star Wars movie.” It’s an intriguing prospect.

    Welcome back, by the way! Missed your writing around here.

  • I could just pinch your little cheeks. Thank you.

  • PlanBFromOuterSpace

    I’m fucking psyched that there’s a new Star Wars movie coming, that it’s moving the story forward as a sequel to the ones I grew up on, and that I have to opportunity to NOT pay attention to every little behind-the-scenes detail, NOT get worked up one way or the other about every casting or plot rumor, and just go into it without almost WANTING to be disappointed. Besides the fact that the prequels took place before the original films and we already had an idea of where the story was going, they offered very little in the way of twists, turns, and unpredictability that would have given us a reason to re-watch the originals in a new light, and I think that was their biggest crime, if you want to call it that. Throwing as much as you can at the wall is certainly different than adding something of value to the product. This has a chance to surprise us and bring something new to the table, but the chances of that happening go down every time someone runs with the smallest shred of information and overanalyzes it into the ground. When the new Star Wars comes out, I don’t want to come out of it saying “Well, yeah, I knew THAT was going to happen”. Christmas is coming, kids. Have patience. Besides, shouldn’t we all be up in arms about all of the Marvel Netflix series right now, saying how Daredevil can’t work, because there was that one subpar movie a decade back? We’re getting WAY ahead of ourselves with this complaining about Star Wars nonsense!

  • Lior

    I don’t hate the prequels. People also forget that even after people were disappointed with Phantom Menace they still went in droves to see the other two films and I remember that in real time there was even this buzz, just for a moment, that Revenge of the Sith was close to being a masterpiece and that Lucas “redeemed himself”. It’s interesting how this dissipated over the years. Of course the prequels don’t hold a candle to the original trilogy and have many problems (as Red Letter Media pointed out so astutely), but it seems that the second trilogy’s biggest “crime” was to not live up to impossible expectations. Phantom Menace was the weakest of the bunch for sure but even it had its moments (Pod race, the final duel). JJ Abrams has an easier task on his hands because expectations are not as high as they were back in 1999. But I think Star Wars will never be what it used to be, a nimble, fiercely creative space adventure, because Hollywood has changed. It is much more bombastic and bloated now.

  • Xidor

    At least Abrams will keep it in the same universe as far as the sound effects and score, just as he did with Star Trek. I was not a fan of Snyder doing away with Williams score.