The Disney Star Wars films could at last bring a balance to the force

NaBloPoMo November 2012My initial shock of discovering that George Lucas has sold Lucasfilm to Disney has given way to contemplation about what a post-Lucas Star Wars universe might look like.

For many people this is bad news; it simply means more bad films cashing in on the goodwill of a dwindling generation of fans who are destined to be disappointed. Sometimes I think Star Wars fans have very selective memories, choosing to forget not only that Star Wars all but invented film related merchandising as we now understand it, but that they lapped it up as kids as well. Would either Empire or Jedi had been anything like as successful as the were if their prospective fan bases hadn’t spent the previous three years tirelessly playing with their action figures and dreaming about what might happen in the next sequel? I doubt it.

The prequels failed for several reasons: bad scripts, an over reliance on CGI, poor directing and poor continuity with episodes 4-6. Most of the problems can be laid at George Lucas’ own door. If he had recognised his limits and handed directorial duties to other people – precisely as he had done with both Empire and Jedi – we would almost certainly have ended up with better films. Both iterations of the Clone Wars animated series have been both superior to the prequels and felt more Star Wars-y and it cannot be a coincidence that Lucas has been for the most part at arm’s length from them.

But there’s a more fundamental problem, and that is that they were prequels. Prequels are inherently problematic because you always know how they’re going to end – and what might make for satisfying backstory will often fail to work as drama itself. So, for instance, Padme always was a doomed character and making her more interesting would have been problematic in terms of tying into the later episodes (which isn’t to say that pretty much anyone could have done a better job with her than Lucas managed). To make things worse, the episodic format meant that they were stuck with telling a linear story that couldn’t really reference anything which we knew was to come later (see the Godfather Part 2 for an example of how a less restricted prequel could work – I understand there’s a TV edit somewhere with the story of both Godfather films put in chronological order; it sounds like an utterly awful idea).

And finally, you have the problem that, more than 30 years ago, Lucas chose rather arbitrarily to make A New Hope episode 4. The series could have sustained one prequel – two at a push – but it is pretty hard to deny that there simply wasn’t enough story to sustain three films (this is one of the reasons why I personally feel that Attack of the Clones is a worse film than Phantom Menace, but I won’t get into that right now).

In short, the two biggest handicaps of episodes 1-3 – the fact they were prequels and George Lucas himself – will not apply to episodes 7-9. It is hard to imagine how they could in any way be worse. And we should also be a little fair here: I would regard Attack of the Clones at its worst to be light years (never mind parsecs) ahead of a film like the latest Total Recall or any of the Twilight films. The Harry Potter films at their best fall far short of episodes 4-6. So the idea that making new Star Wars films will lead to a new dark age of commercial cinema is simple nonsense.

So, with that out of the way, what are my hopes for episodes 7-9? Well, for starters, I’m hoping they’ll be a continuation of episodes 1-6, not just a sequel. For me that means two things: it has to be about this whole “balance of the force” thing, and it has to feature Anakin/Vader as a significant character. However tempting it might be to simply ignore episodes 1-3, ultimately the final three films have to reflect on the prequels’ ideas – especially if they are to be in keeping with Lucas’s idea about repeating motifs and themes throughout the films as if they form an overall symphony (I might not like Lucas’s execution, but I’ve always thought he had some great ideas behind his films).

I’m not terribly familiar with the Star Wars New Republic expanded universe beyond the Dark Empire comics – and since there’s so much of it (and since no one will buy me the encyclopaedias – I probably never will). Generally though, I think they should avoid adapting anything which might have been written before. I also think they ought to resist the temptation of featuring the cast of episodes 4-6 too heavily, leaving them instead as mentor figures. The focus should instead be on a new generation of Skywalkers/Solos.

I said it should reflect on the balance of the force. This prophecy was discussed a lot in episode 1 but was barely touched on in the later films, except (and my memory may be flakey here), when it is announced that the prophecy is clearly wrong because Anakin has turned to the dark side. But it has long been speculated that, in fact, the prophecy was true. Anakin brings balance in two ways: firstly in bringing down the Old Republic, which has become infantilised by its over reliance on the Jedi (and here, Ryan Britt’s recent article about illiteracy is particularly instructive) and secondly by being instrumental in bringing down the Emperor. So we’ve seen him redress the balance, but what we haven’t yet seen is him restore some modicum of equilibrium.

The agenda of episodes 7-9 therefore must surely be to recount how that equilibrium was eventually achieved. Possibly this means getting to the roots of the Sith-Jedi conflict (and even how the Mandalorians fit into that).

As for Anakin himself, both 3 film cycles thus far have focused on his life as a Jedi Knight and as a Sith Lord. Both cycles end on him transforming into something new. The Revenge of the Sith states at the end that the blue glowing “life after death” form that we see both Obi Wan, Yoda and Anakin eventually become is a relatively new innovation discovered by Qui Gon Jinn, but this is thrown in as an almost throwaway line. For me, the films have to ultimately be about how Anakin in this new incarnation somehow plays a decisive role in restoring this final equilibrium.

Episode 9 therefore needs to be a real resolution in the way that episode 6 never was. That isn’t to say there can’t be any Star Wars films after that – indeed, by all accounts it is Disney’s plan to keep churning out Star Wars films after that for as long as they keep making money. But these films can be set in other times or focus on other characters.

Anyway, that’s how I see the films developing. I may well find myself disappointed, but I’ve never really understood why Star Wars has been treated as a a sacrosanct film series which should have a finite number of films, while it seems fine for other franchises to continue to churn out sequels endlessly. If this move to Disney means slightly less reverence, the franchise can only benefit.

UPDATE: I also wrote this for Unlock Democracy today, about the parlous state of democracy in the Old Republic: Unlock the Galaxy.


  1. I’ve got to agree that taking George Lucas out of Star Wars is the best thing for it. The problem with Lucas is that he has cool ideas (lightsabres, TIE Fighters, Death Stars) but is terrible at making a well-thought out, excitingly-paced storyline. In the original films where he had other people helping him, telling him what was and wasn’t a good idea, he made some decent movies, but the prequels seemed to suffer greatly from people letting Lucas do whatever he wanted and it showed.

    I do think there needs to be some strong continuity to tie in with the other two trilogies, but I’m not sure if Anakin is the best way to do this except in a small capacity. Having him as a Force-ghost-thing to provide some advice in the same way Obi-Wan did has some merit. However I think over-reliance on him could border on the ridiculous and make his death kind of pointless.

    That said, for me Star Wars isn’t too much about the plot, even the originals are pretty basic on that. As long as it’s a reasonably entertaining space romp, I think it’ll be just fine. All I want is:

    1. A decent female Jedi character. The only one I’m aware of is Mara Jade Skywalker, and even she’s not a particular victory for gender politics.

    2. An awesome lightsabre battle scene. The stuff we’ve seen from all the films is pretty tame compared to the kind of thing Jedi should be capable of. I want fight sequences showcasing a Jedi/Sith’s awareness of their environment, flurries of cool lightsabre moves and creative uses of the force. Look at the Old Republic trailers to get an idea of what I mean:

    But I’m going off on a tangeat, great post, hit the nail on the head. 😉

    1. There are some decent female Jedi in the Clone Wars Animated, not least of all Ahsoka herself who I adore.

      I think the next films have to look both forward and back – if they are to be about restoring the Jedi order then it needs to reflect on getting back to its roots.

      I think it’s possible to retain Anakin as a character while not denting the impact of his death. In any case I think that bird has flown now because we’ve already established his blue glowy version at the end of RotJ. Of course, there’s always reincarnation…

  2. As a massive Star Wars fanboy:
    * AOTC is almost objectively the worst Star Wars movie. It’s just a mess. At least Phantom Menace had a great bad guy and a well-constructed finale.
    * I guess it’s extremely unlikely but I can’t help hoping that they make Tim Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy as the sequels — James, I’ve read a load of EU stuff and the one set of books that are almost universally acclaimed as worth reading are these: start with Heir To The Empire. If you really can’t stomach the books, the first two are now graphic novels, which are pretty good although as with any adaptation some bits have to be left out.

  3. I remember Heir to the Empire garnering lots of praise when it came out. I’m not opposed to it in principle; my only real concern is that episodes 7-9 are thematically tied into episodes 1-6 and not “sequels” per se. Notwithstanding the fact that I haven’t read the Thrawn books, I suspect that would be very difficult to do in adapting a set of books which were published before episodes 1-3 were released.

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