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Now that both Batman and Star Trek have enjoyed cinematic reinventions, it's only a matter of time before Hollywood reboots the franchise that rebooted entertainment itself. Here's how the inevitable Star Wars reinvention could be fantastic instead of embarrassing.
So wait, why reboot Star Wars? I'm sick of the reboots. Movies are getting as crash-happy as my Macbook.
Oh, whine whine whine. Too many remakes, sequels and reboots. "Poor me, the entertainment industry is trying to pander to me by recreating the entertainments of my childhood, or in some cases my grandparents' childhoods." I know, it sucks to be you. But look at it this way: a lot of these entertainment franchises need the occasional reboot, because they've been running for decades and are struggling to run the latest firmware. "Women's lib" made Wonder Woman go BSOD several times in the 1960s, and more recently she's been as crash-prone as a J.J. Abrams airplane.
Actually, Star Wars is the perfect example of what happens to a long-running franchise that doesn't get rebooted. You keep adding more and more trendy stuff to the mix, piling on extra chunks of mythos and bits of backstory, and inflating the importance of minor characters until they overwhelm the narrative. (Jango Fett?) It's not the creators' fault, necessarily. It's just what happens when you try to keep a complex universe running for decades without restarting.
Eventually, your once-shiny universe gets to the point where you have to shut it down forever, or do a hard restart. And there's too much money in these old juggernauts to shut them down.
But... But... George Lucas will never go for it!
He will, once he runs out of money. It's just a matter of time. Those life-size solid-gold Yoda bidets don't pay for themselves, you know. (With the proximity activation, and the voice that says, "Wash your bottom, you will." That's expensive stuff.) All it'll take is another few insane Star Wars projects, like another big-screen Clone Wars movie and another three Star Wars TV shows that he's financing out-of-pocket. Chances are, he's already completed a few thousand scripts for his live-action Star Wars show, which takes place between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy and probably includes a whole set of episodes about Jar Jar Binks visiting the Ewoks.
Eventually, Lucas will need some walking-around money, and the studios will put pressure on him, and someone will come up with an offer he can't refuse. It'll probably allow him to keep his original version of the galaxy far, far away chugging along. It'll be like the Ultimate Marvel Universe, or Smallville: a new reimagined version of the franchise, even as the original version keeps trundling. Call it Star Wars: Extreme. Or Star Wars: Ultraspace. Or maybe Star Wars: Even Farther Away.
Okay, so the Star Wars reboot is inevitable, if not imminent. What makes you think it could possibly be a good thing?
It could be horrendous, sure. But it doesn't have to be, and that's what this primer is about. A few years from now, when Lucas and the suits are having meetings about creating Star Wars 2.0, there are a few simple rules for how to avoid a painful Stepford Wives or Planet Of The Apes boondoggle. (Probably not including Nicole Kidman is a good place to start.)
The good news is, Star Wars has a good solid structure underneath all the crud that's been layered on top of it in recent years. At heart, it's a strong adventure story with a very simple Joseph Campbell-inspired throughline. The original Star Wars is the movie that reinvented entertainment, and forced all of those other franchises to add new features, or reboot altogether. To this day, when people reboot other franchises, they're aiming to make them more like Star Wars — blatantly so, in the case of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek.
So if some Hollywood exec is reading this, and contemplating rebooting Star Wars, the best advice we can give you is: make it more like Star Wars. With a new lick of paint, and less baggage.
Here's the longer version of that advice, in the form of eight simple rules for reinventing our beloved saga:
1) Keep it simple. Just keep reminding yourself that the purpose of a reboot is to jettison dead weight, and don't feel obliged to bring in all the extra crud about Trade Federations and midichlorians. There's the Empire, and the Rebellion, and the Force has two sides: light and dark. Stay within the lines, and give us a cool story about good versus evil, and trusting your feelings, and relying on your friends. Batman Begins scored because it gave us the essence of Bruce Wayne: the tragedy, the grief and powerless rage, and then the quest to become something bad enough to counter the darkness.
2) Keep the sense of joy and dread. Okay, I've dissed both the "hero's journey" and science fiction's obsession with "sense of wonder" before, but there is something to be said for a story where a young person starts out in a small world, and then comes out into a gigantic universe, full of moon-sized battle stations, princesses, space fights and massive ice planets. Of all the stuff that goes into "coming of age" stories, it's perhaps the most universal, since it's about leaving home. And then you find out that you're actually way more connected to this deep history that went on before you were born, because your dad was a Jedi knight. There's plenty of great stuff there.
3) Get back to the characters we care about. It sounds basic, but that's how J.J. Abrams revitalized Star Trek. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader. The classic characters. And here's a suggestion: Anakin Skywalker's dismal progression, where he starts out as a promising young Jedi only to be seduced to the Dark Side? That is what flashbacks or prologues are made for. You could even intersperse Anakin's journey with Luke's, as Luke learns more about his father while he grows into his powers. And speaking of heroes...
4) Admit that Han Solo is the hero as much as Luke. That's the other thing J.J. Abrams' Star Trek did right: It treated Spock as the hero, just as much as Kirk. We all knew, all along, that Spock belonged in the top spot alongside Kirk, but the series had never quite admitted it before. (Probably due to Shatner's ego, among other things.) Han Solo deserves a similar elevation. Like Kirk and Spock, Han and Luke are the yin and yang, except that they go in opposite directions. Han Solo regains his altruism and optimism, just as Luke is shedding his innocence and becoming more of a hard-ass. Bring Han Solo's journey to the fore, and don't be afraid to make him more of a jerky antihero at the beginning, so it'll feel like a real arc. (And yes, that means Han shoots first.)
5) Don't be afraid to make some changes, to bring it up to date. So you're inevitably going to make some changes to the storyline, like maybe making Obi-Wan less of a lying prick. Or maybe you'll want to add more depth to the early scenes of Luke on Tattooine, to show what he's leaving behind, and flesh out his dreams of joining Biggs and Wedge in space. Other changes I might make to the first film might involve having Leia pilot an X-wing in the final Death Star attack, and elminating all the incest-vibes with Leia and Luke. (Not to mention the scene where Vader is menacing Leia, and there's some definite sexual tension. Eww.)
6) A truckload of fanservice makes the revisionism go down. But you're worried, inevitably, about getting bags of bantha poodoo on your doorstep if you make any alterations to the sacrosanct franchise. Fans can be unforgiving murglaks. But they're also very susceptible to bribery. If you throw in lots of references and nods to old stories, then you can do anything. You can blow up Vulcan. You can even make Spock's mom Winona Ryder. You can have an evil assassin cult train Batman. It's all good. You just have to throw in the Kobayashi Maru, Henri Ducard and all the stuff that fans salivate over, and they'll run with whatever changes you want to make. (Having a decent story doesn't hurt either.) Have Spock quote the best lines from Wrath Of Khan, and fans won't care that the Enterprise looks like the bar at the W Hotel.
7) Restrain your video-game impulses. Any new Star Wars will have to be Imax and 3-D and CG and huge, sure. That's just a given, unless those fads have been replaced by something even bigger and more eyeball-gouging by then. But it doesn't have to feel like a video game. The original Star Wars inspired a million video games — because it felt so real and got your adrenaline pumping. It wasn't just the special effects, it was the crazy you-are-there feeling of the Millenium Falcon's gun turrent swinging around, and the stars whizzing past as Luke shot at tie fighters. Try to keep that sense of realness, and actual peril, and genuine thrills. Not so much with the fakey rollercoaster shit.
8) Get a real writer. Please. In addition to feeling invested in the characters, we have to buy into their conflicts and quote their snappy dialog. Seek out one of the legion of Joss Whedon apprentices and press-gang him or her. I'm thinking Drew Goddard, who moved on from Buffy to write Cloverfield, and is now directing Whedon's Cabin In The Woods. Or Jane Espenson. Get someone who can do characters and banter and insane high-stakes drama, and turn him/her loose on the saga of Luke, Leia and their crazy aging biker dad. And may the Force be with all of us if you fail.
Top image from Carlos Number Two on Worth 1000.