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Star Wars Episode VII - The Franchise Poster

Disney have been extremely busy. Not only are they currently working hard on Phase Two of the Marvel Movie Universe, they’ve started to create a new expanded universe of their own. Everyone knows by now that Disney acquired LucasFilm in October of last year, seizing control of the Star Wars franchise from its creator, George Lucas. This is of course a good thing, as Lucas had very much succumbed to creative bankruptcy and the allure of merchandising. Disney have since announced plans to move ahead with Star Wars Episode VII, VIII & IX, which have been met with a large amount of concern.

Star Wars Episode VII is planned to hit us in 2015, and while the jury is still out as to whether it will shape into anything good , it can’t be any worse than Lucas’ godawful prequels – can it?

Needless to say, this wasn’t Disney’s only plan with the franchise. Most of you will realize that there are literally hundreds of stories situated in the Star Wars universe, derived from comic books, novels, videogames, merchandise etc. Simply put, there is infinite story telling potential for this franchise. Disney recognize this and as such are moving ahead with plans to create a Star Wars expanded universe of their own, with the official numbered “Episodes” acting as tentpole pictures and serving a similar function as The Avengers movies do in Marvel‘s own movie universe. This is to say, Disney are extremely serious about this, and while this may seem troubling to the naysayers, I believe this to be very good news.

Disney are one of the better major film studios out there, and they recognize that the best way to make money is through quality. It’s true that you could slap the Star Wars brand on almost anything and you would deliver a strong opening weekend. The brand alone will put bums on seats, at least initially, but what Disney discovered with The Avengers is that the true key to making massive amounts of money in this business is by creating a film that is not only massively popular, but really good. They achieved this with The Avengers and as such everyone went to see it again, and again, and again. That’s the real way to make money, repeat viewings. No matter the franchise, you’re only going to get repeat viewings if the film is actually good (I talked more about this in this article as well as the troubles that Warner Brothers may face in their impending Justice League adaptation). Star Wars is very precious to many people and if Disney were able to create a worthwhile film in the franchise it may be the first time many fans have ever had the opportunity to see a great Star Wars film in the theatre.

Disney have already made a step in the right direction by cancelling the 3D theatrical re-releases of Episode II: Attack Of The Clones and Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. The fact that this was happening at all was just a huge mistake and a blatant attempt at a cash grab by Lucas and co. Now to outline what we know about this impending expanded universe:

Star Wars Episode VII

Star Wars Episode VII jokes

When Star Wars Episode VII was originally announced it was met with much discussion as to who would direct the film. I believe that many people forgot about what they should be focusing on – namely that one of Star Wars’ biggest problems, especially in the prequels, was that they were written terribly. While of course the director has a say on anything they find particularly wrong with the script, the actual writer is incredibly important. Scripts are often forgotten by a large number of movie watchers, and they are by far the most crucial part of the process. To use an analogy, it doesn’t matter how nice the house is on the inside, if the foundations are broken then it’s still going to collapse into a heap; it’ll just be a shiny heap. The same goes for movie making: when the script is worthless, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the team is; it’s hard to fix. It’s like starting a race by shooting yourself in the leg with a pistol.

Luckily, the writer and director have been hired and made known for Star Wars Episode VII. The writer is Michael Arndt, an Oscar nominated writer who has written the scripts for both Toy Story 3 and indie smash hit Little Miss Sunshine. Both of these films not only have a very strong script, but are also about a group of people going on an adventure, however small or personal. What makes these films work so well is the developed understanding of the characters and the dynamics that power them. If Arndt is able to bring this to life in Star Wars Episode VII then we’re in for a treat, regardless of who directs it.

However, two weeks ago now, J.J. Abrams was confirmed as the coveted director of Star Wars Episode VII. At first, this caused a large amount of confusion for multiple reasons. For a start, the man is currently the captain of the successful Star Trek reboot franchise, and early on in the recruitment process adamantly refused that he was even a candidate. He took himself out of the running by declaring that he was a fan and wouldn’t touch such a huge project, instead being just another audience member.

JJ Abrams - Star Wars Episode VII

It seems that for whatever reason, Abrams has changed his mind and in a world where everything is leaked into the internet about a film production, it’s pretty incredible that Disney & Lucasfilm (now run by acclaimed producer Kathleen Kennedy) managed to blindside everyone with this piece of news. Of course there have been a lot of complaints – some of them legitimate – but it was to be expected, regardless of who was chosen.

Fundamentally, J.J Abrams is a safe bet for the studio. He did really well with the original Star Trek, and by the looks of things he is set to do even better with the sequel released later this year. (Star Trek: Into Darkness is due to be released in June.) People are a little disappointed because the fear is that he’s “too safe” and that this was a squandered opportunity on the part of Disney to allow talented fresh blood a stab at this kind of material.

Disney aren’t completely adverse to risk though: they have made very intelligent decisions with their hiring of directors for the Marvel universe, something as universal and proven as Star Wars though does require a steadier hand. As much as I’d love to see a director like Neill Blomkamp (District 9) or Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) tackle a film like this, I know that realistically they may not be able to separate their own authorial agendas away from the film (though Jones has recently been hired to direct the World Of Warcraft film adaptation). Let’s face it: Star Wars Episode VII needs to be good; it doesn’t need to be radical. The real chances for experimentation comes from the smaller films happening in between the major episodes – but if Star Wars Episode VII isn’t successful then the rest of the projects will be stalled.

In order for the Marvel universe to fit together so coherently, Disney hired Joss Whedon and locked him into a creative director contract, meaning that he would act as the godfather of any Marvel movie to ensure that all of the storylines tied together, and that he would direct the tentpoles. It is believed that Abrams may have been given a similar deal, but for the Star Wars universe, as Disney have already noticed how much easier Phase Two & Three have been to put together with supergeek Whedon watching over all the scripts like a hawk. Abrams could be a crucial part of Disney’s game plan for Star Wars and his science fiction experience and tendency to geek out could work heavily in their favour.

For Abrams, this must be the job of a lifetime. As of now, he has a monopoly on the science fiction genre, having full control over its two biggest and most influential franchises. While Abrams’ first Star Trek movie was a critical and commercial success, it received some criticism that he had stripped away a lot of the depth and social commentary that had made Star Trek such an important and influential television staple. While that may be certainly true, I think it’s evident in where Abrams true passion lies. He has admitted in the past that his heart has always been with Star Wars over Star Trek and when you really consider it, it shows in his previous Trek adaptation, for better or worse. Perhaps his new hiring to the Star Wars franchise could be seen as a massive conflict of interest to Star Trek fans; we’ll see if Abrams continues to keep the reigns for the third Star Trek film, which he believes he will still do. Depending on how he fares with Disney this may be subject to change.

There’s not really much else to say about Star Wars Episode VII. The original cast have all expressed interest in rejoining the film, and even Samuel L. Jackson has been making his voice heard – asking if Mace Windu could be rewritten into it. When they release more information in terms of casting or a plot synopsis we’ll be sure to share it with you. Until then, get your anticipation on for lightsaber lens flare. May the force live long and prosper.

Star Wars Episode VII Lens Flare

The Expanded Universe: What We Know

So far, there isn’t much word on any of the spin-off films. We know that Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg are reportedly working on Star Wars-related scripts that aren’t Episodes VIII & IX as previously believed. Kasdan is of course a great candidate to write a script for the Star Wars franchise, considering he wrote Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the finest Star Wars film. Kinberg’s involvement is a little less comforting, with a lot of the scripts he has written forming the foundation of box office pap that ranges in quality from mediocre to abhorrent (Sherlock Holmes, X-Men: The Last Stand). Either way they are apparently working on their own spin off films that no details have been released for.

Seven Samurai

Star Wars Episode VII Samurai

There was a rumour that surfaced recently about a Zack Snyder helmed Star Wars movie that would be a Seven Samurai-esque action film featuring a small group of jedi who would have to protect an alien village from aggressors. This could be a stylistic marvel and a great piece of pulpy genre cinema, however Snyder and his representatives have vehemently denied this rumour as nothing more than hearsay. While normally we would never speak of it again, the hiring of Abrams despite his saying of the contrary suggests that we can’t quite trust information until it is confirmed. Although Snyder is currently wrapping up production on Man Of Steel and if it does as well as Warner Brothers is hoping the director may be tied up their in their budding superhero universe for the foreseeable future, making his transition to Disney all the more unlikely.

Individual Character Focused Pieces?

Yoda Star Wars Episode VII

Today it was “uncovered” that the first spin off Star Wars film would feature Yoda as its focus. Yoda was of course the iconic small green alien who lived on Dagobah in his later years and trained Luke Skywalker in the ways of the force in the original trilogy, before finally succumbing to death, his purpose having been fulfilled. Yoda, the oldest and most mysterious character in the Star Wars film pantheon, became a little less serious in the prequels, when an odd CGI version was seen displaying his previously unexplored lightsaber prowess in a rather gimmicky fashion. While a certain amount of the mysticism was dispelled during those moments, there is no denying the worth of the character. He could make a powerful statement as the first flagship character to get his own film. There are lots of stories to tell about Yoda, so there would be a lot of potential for a screenwriter to harvest. Perhaps this rumour ties into the Zack Snyder samurai film; Yoda could easily be the leader of this small band of warriors, but again that’s just pure speculation. It would also be an easy way to grant Samuel L. Jackson his wish to feature in a Star Wars movie again, without any awkward rewrites.

Jabba The Hutt Star Wars Episode VII

There also rumours that there will be a spin off film centred around Jabba The Hutt. This apparently came from the mouth of George Lucas himself, and seeing as we know that Lucas no longer has any say about the Star Wars movie universe creatively, it’s mere conjecture. I’m sure many fans would prefer to see a film centred around the story of Boba Fett for example, as he became an extremely popular character in the expanded universe, rather than a film fixated around the fat alien slug gangster, which I imagine would be met with considerably less fanfare. Sorry Jabba.

Boba Fett Star Wars Episode VII

Disney’s biggest focus at the moment is on reinvigorating the Star Wars franchise and reclaiming the science fiction throne from other franchises. So long as they are dedicated to producing quality, focused productions like they have thus far with Marvel, they stand a very good chance of fulfilling that goal. Believe it or not kids, it’s an extremely exciting time to be a Star Wars fan.

What do you guys think? Are you convinced an expanded universe is a good idea on film? What stories should they tell? What characters should they focus on? Do you want to see a Yoda movie? How about a Boba Fett movie? Do you want to learn more about Jabba The Hutt, or see Mace Windu again? What overarching stories do you think the official Episodes should focus on? So much room for discussion, so sound off in the comments!

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