The Jedi return - I've got a bad feeling about this
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Ageing stars return to the wars - A New Hope, or A New Hip?...
It seems both ironic and somehow fitting that the news confirming Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford's return to the Star Wars universe broke not on an entertainment website but on a business one. In a lengthy and interesting piece by Bloomberg Businessweek's Devin Leonard on 7th March 2013 the journalist reported that when asked if any of the original cast would be returning Lucas replied “We had already signed Mark, Carrie and Harrison – or we were pretty much in the final stages of negotiation.”
As a major Star Wars fan – I'm of the generation that saw the original movie at the cinema in 1977 as a young and impressionable seven year old and have grown up with the Star Wars universe through the highs and lows – I have to be honest in that I'm not entirely sure how this news makes me feel.
While willing to give Star Wars VII the benefit of the doubt until I've actually sat in front of a big screen and watched it, I do have reservations (as I wrote in my Shadowlocked piece here) and fear that come May 2015 there will be a great disturbance in the force as a million geeks cry out in disappointment (echoing a similar episode in 1999 when The Phantom Menace was released).
But let's put that aside for a moment and look at the implications of Luke Skywalker, Princes Leia Organa and Han Solo being retrieved from their celluloid carbonite for a fourth big screen outing. I've previously discussed the perils making a fourth movie in a trilogy (in my Shadowlocked article here), and there is a good argument for classifying Star Wars VII as such because with the return of Hamill, Fisher and Ford it marks the first time that human characters, played by the same actors, will have carried over into a fourth film. The only links between the lacklustre prequels and the classic three films are in the form of droids, aliens or masked characters.
The danger in bringing back beloved characters for another roll of the dice, particularly after a lengthy hiatus, is that the fans have such cherished and definite memories of them that it can be the equivalent of remembering a favourite uncle from your childhood being vibrant, active and full of life and going to see him for the first time in years in a retirement home. It doesn't mean that you're any less pleased to see him, or that you'll forget all the good times you had together, it's just that the wrinkled, frail old man in the comfy chair is now the overriding image you have, rather than the young man of old (as it were).
I appreciate that as film fans we've seen our childhood heroes grow old on the screen, particularly Harrison Ford in this case, but while I've happily accepted him as a myriad of other characters, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) left me with a slightly jaded view of the formerly awesome Dr Jones. Admittedly the absence of an intelligent or coherent script didn't help matters, but something didn't sit right watching the middle aged (and I'm being generous here) archaeologist stumble through this wholly unnecessary addition to the Raiders canon.
...given that Star Wars is essential aimed at a young demographic these days, nobody wants to see your grandparents running around embarrassing themselves in Star Wars VII: A New Hip...
By the time Star Wars VII hits our screens almost another decade will have passed since Indiana Jones and the Zimmer Frame of Doom and I have to admit that I'm not sure that I want to see a septuagenarian version of my favourite Corellian space pirate sitting in the Coruscant Convalescent Complex boring the other residents silly with his tales of destroying Death Stars and performing the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs (yes, of course you did Mr Solo, now eat up your dinner for me, will you?).
The same goes for farm boy done good Luke Skywalker and his royal sister. At the end of Return of the Jedi (1983) things were as they should be. Luke had saved the universe (with a little help from his friends) and made peace with the ghosts of his lineage, Leia had become a leading light in the Rebel Alliance and bagged herself a charming rogue, and Han Solo had proved that despite shooting first and asking questions later he was a good guy at heart. As far as I was concerned there was closure.
Their tales continued into the Expanded Universe, of course, which I followed for a while before the sheer number of books being released made it impossible to read them all and actually have a life as well, but it's one thing to imagine your heroes growing old in print and quite another to see the stark reality on a gigantic screen, with every laughter line and crow's foot either revealed in all its high definition glory or airbrushed out of existence leaving a smooth skinned mannequin.
Ageing aside, there's the question of what role the intergalactic trio will play in the new film. Will they be central to the plot, or merely nostalgic cameos? If the former, then while Yoda may have pulled off leading an active life well into his nine hundreds (though to be fair he did have a walking stick) I can't see Luke and Leia swinging across chasms or Han charging headlong into, and then away from, legions of Stormtroopers. (I was about to write 'Han and Chewie then paused, realising that there's been no mention of everybody's favourite walking carpet, whether or not he has Peter Mayhew on the inside, returning.)
For that reason, and the fact that this will undoubtedly be a new trilogy, my money's on the latter. After all, the Tatooine Three (and particularly Ford) aren't getting any younger and given that Star Wars is essential aimed at a young demographic these days then nobody wants to see your grandparents running around embarrassing themselves in Star Wars VII: A New Hip.
Done with care and affection for the characters, and in the hands of JJ Abrams I don't doubt that he will treat the franchise with the respect that it deserves (but arguably hasn't had since The Empire Strikes Back (1980), but that's a whole other article for another day), Luke, Leia and Han could be woven into a rich, textured tale worthy of the greatest Star Wars writing. Legacies could be passed on, with Luke taking on the Yoda role as a wise Jedi, Leia becoming the new Mon Mothma and Han sitting in the Coruscant Convalescent Complex boring the other residents silly with his tales of destroying Death Stars and performing the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. Or not.
Whatever happens, and I'm not going to sugar coat it, I'm wary of not leaving well enough (and The Phantom Menace) alone, but conversely I am looking forward to seeing what Abrams will do with our beloved franchise. They said Star Trek couldn't be rebooted, that it was a mistake, but that turned out pretty cool. Abrams can do characters, he's proved he can make a decent movie, so maybe, just maybe I'm going to be pleasantly surprised come 2015.
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