Yesterday’s news that Disney purchased Lucasfilm and now plans to make Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of a new Star Wars trilogy was a bombshell that hit with the force of a superlaser slamming into Alderaan. But in a good way! Theories are abounding about the direction the saga may now take. (Check out Moviefone's take here.) Only one thing is certain, though. When "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." next pops on screen, it won't be preceded by that symphonic 20th Century Fox fanfare.
George Lucas and new Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy say they already have a treatment for a new Star Wars trilogy, though we don't know who's written it or anything at all of what it will be about. The thing is, Star Wars: Episode VII could take the franchise literally anywhere, because that legendary Galaxy Far, Far Away is one of the most expansive, detailed fictional universes ever created. Lucas, and the writers and artists he’s authorized to explore his galactic playground through the franchise’s Expanded Universe of novels, comics, and videogames, has created a Star Wars galaxy full of hundreds of memorable planets, alien races, spaceships, and nifty gizmos, thousands of characters, and millennia of galactic history. Quite simply, there’s no other legendarium riper for the cinematic picking. The six films that have already been made barely scratch the surface of what diehard fans know the Star Wars galaxy has to offer.
The funny thing is, until yesterday, it seemed entirely likely that we would never see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen again. George Lucas quickly reduced his initial plan in the early ‘80s for nine to twelve episodes of the space opera to six, with Return of the Jedi as the natural end point. The Emperor and his forces were destroyed, Darth Vader was redeemed, and Luke Skywalker could now begin the task of rebuilding the Jedi Order. All wrapped up in a neat bow, huh?
Well, not quite. Even if the Skywalker family had come full circle, common sense would tell you that the Star Wars galaxy itself would still have a lot of challenges to face. Namely, that the Empire still controls just about everything, even without old Papa Palpatine around to administer his unique form of lightning-based governing. Through a series of several-dozen novels—and a few graphic novels—written by various authors, Lucasfilm has allowed for the period after Return of the Jedi to be explored extensively. These books show how the Rebel Alliance becomes the New Republic and continues to beat back the Empire until the once-mighty dictatorship is just a sad little rump state full of petty, scheming Moffs. These also show Han Solo and Princess Leia getting married, having three kids named Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin (after the lad's grandfather), and Luke setting up an academy to train a new Jedi Order. Right now, the timeline after Return of the Jedi has been explored up to about 40 years after the events of that film, and Luke, Leia, and Han are nearing the galactic equivalent of AARP status, meaning that many of the novels published today focus as much, if not more, on the “next generation” of Jedi. Keep in mind, Lucasfilm has established that all of these books are canon. So that means this established galactic history, along with the template provided by the recent, highly successful reboot of another space-set franchise, may offer a roadmap for what we can expect from Episode VII. Here are eight points to consider when pondering what direction the new trilogy will take.
1. Will Episodes VII-IX still be about the Skywalker family?
I would venture to say, yes. George Lucas has made it very clear that the core arc of his big-screen saga is the story of the Skywalker family. That’s not to say that other non-Skywalker-centric movies could be produced. Especially considering that, in an investors’ phone call yesterday, Disney stated they’re looking at producing a new Star Wars movie every two to three years, beyond even this new trilogy. Joe Johnston, director of Captain America: The First Avenger and creator of Boba Fett back in 1978, may yet get to make the Fett movie he's talked about for ages! But when we’re talking about the actual Episodes, those have always been about the Skywalker clan, their discovery of their unique gifts, and their struggle to maintain the purity of their intentions in a chaotic universe. In that family, and in the particular father-son dynamic of Anakin and Luke, Lucas found a mythopoetic struggle between darkness and light, between intent and consequence—in short, a heroes’ journey worthy of his spiritual muse, Joseph Campbell. If Episode VII isn’t directly about Luke or Leia, it could very well be about Leia’s children or Luke’s son, Ben. That said, is Star Wars: The Next Generation really what the fans want to see?
2. Could Luke, Leia, and Han be recast?
Let’s face it. What Star Wars fans really want to see are more adventures with Luke, Han, and Leia. Their swashbuckling heroism and screwball interplay have pretty much set the standard to which all subsequent action-adventure films aspire. But it also seems pretty unlikely that we’d have fifty-something Carrie Fisher, sixty-something Mark Hamill, and seventy-something Harrison Ford playing these characters. Luckily, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot brilliantly established the idea that you can replace beloved actors in iconic roles. Who would have imagined anyone as James T. Kirk but William Shatner? Or anyone donning Spock’s pointy ears but Leonard Nimoy? Yet Chris Pine ably took his seat in the captain’s chair, and Zachary Quinto proved himself a fine 21st century logician. The new Star Wars trilogy could indeed take place just a few years after Return of the Jedi…but with new actors in the roles made famous by Hamill, Fisher, and Ford. If that’s the case, could any of the Expanded Universe novels or comics be tapped as story material for the new trilogy? Yes, and there are three likely contenders.