We're just 660 days away from the return of Star Wars to the big screen with the arrival of Star Wars: Episode VII, and along with it a torrent of excitement, anticipation, expectation and promise. We'll be meeting characters both old and new, visiting familiar and fresh locations, traveling the galaxy in starships we consider old friends and blasting down the lanes to thrilling new adventures. In short, we're about to embark upon the next era of Star Wars, a multi-generational journey that so far has spanned parsecs and decades and is set to span many more.
But what exactly are we searching for here? Are we hankering for a fresh approach to the Star Wars galaxy or a halcyon journey back to the aesthetics and vibe of the 70's and 80's? Do we want to retread or innovate, look back or look forward? In short, do we want original, fresh Star Wars or try and recapture what's worked before?
As anyone will tell you - George Lucas included - making 'more of the same' is far easier said than done. While the much criticized Prequel Trilogy tried to bring us new but familiar adventures, audiences worldwide railed against it, attacking what was presented as Star Wars but which to many felt like anything but. I don't stand in that camp - to my mind there's nothing more Star Wars than a trilogy written and directed by George Lucas - but it shows the difficulty in re-entering the galaxy far, far away after the cultural invasion of the Original Trilogy. So how can J.J. Abrams be expected to succeed where many feel Lucas failed?
Well, that very much depends on his approach. As one of the stars of Abrams' other galactic franchise might say, "Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." By that I mean the wider cinema going audience (the 99%) want a return to vibe and style of the Original Trilogy while our fan community (the 1%) are more likely to accept the challenges that a fresh approach would bring, with a nod to the past for good measure. And that exercise in mathematics could very likely mean that despite the Sequel Trilogy being set years after Return of the Jedi, it will feel far more like the OT than the PT did.
But is that necessarily a bad thing? No, not in itself. Who wouldn't want a new film that brought back the adventure and promise of A New Hope, the danger of The Empire Strikes Back or the reveals of Return of the Jedi? No Star Wars fan that I know of. And take the longer view. Disney has predicted a four decade lifetime for Star Wars and is making sure the saga and ancillary projects make it to 2055 at least. A faltering start to the Sequel Trilogy would hinder that plan and a perceived PR disaster like The Phantom Menace (a film that made a billion but inexplicably scraped the bottom of the Rotten Tomatoes barrel) would set alarm bells ringing. The likelihood is that Abrams will go for the 'safe play', bringing back familiar characters on recognizable worlds and pitching for the rich pastures the OT gave us. It would - if made, acted and most importantly scripted well - almost certainly be an over the boards success, launching the saga into a new era of high profile adventures and stories. What more could we (and Disney) possibly want?
Not much. That would be enough for most, certainly for the 99%. But what about us 1%? Do we really want to simply recapture the past like a cosmic Crystal Skull or do we yearn for new adventures with new characters? Most of us mourn the loss of The Clone Wars, but not necessarily because we'll miss familiar characters like Anakin, Padme and Obi-Wan. It's because we hanker after the fate of Ahsoka, Cad Bane, Hondo, Rex and Asajj Ventress. New characters, new stories, unfamiliar to us before the rise of The Clone Wars whose fate we have adopted and care about. And this new trilogy could/should/would aspire to do the same, especially as this Autumn we prepare to join our new band of rebels in Ezra, Kanan, Zeb, Chopper, Sabine and Hera as they struggle to establish the Rebel Alliance in the pre-A New Hope era. Not that there's a right or a wrong answer here, but maybe the balancing act of new horizons with a hefty dollop of classic Star Wars sass, humor, FX and music is the way to go.
I could pontificate all day (and gawd knows I often do) about what we're going to get, but the bottom line is this: We're getting new Star Wars films within the next 2 years, preceded by what looks set to be an exciting and challenging new TV series in Rebels and a series of spin-off movies in between. What better time is there to be a Star Wars fan?
Mark Newbold is the co-owner of Jedi News and a co-host on Radio 1138. He is a writer for Star Wars Insider, the Official Star Wars Blog, and The Metro Blog.