Saturday, August 24, 2013
Star Wars Episode VII Concept: Shadows of the Republic
Its all too easy to be cynical, but its hard to look at the Blockbuster steam of Hollywood and get very much hope for what this industry will do to Star Wars. Especially Disney, which last year made a fascinating and classic old-timey adventure movie in "John Carter of Mars", but this year made... "The Lone Ranger". You can argue all you want about soulless corporate filmmaking, but when that mindless party line winds up creating "The Lone Ranger", a movie about a subject matter so old that its guaranteed to fail no matter what - and even then was by all reports a hideous disaster* - I have my doubts. But while fascinating disasters of groupthink overriding common sense sure give a nice feeling of schadenfreude when you get to read about the millions that Mickey Mouse lost, there are other films that are simply meaningless. What can you take out of "Oblivion" or "Elysium" or "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"? There's no auteur behind the wheel anymore, now we have a committee. Every aspect of "Star Wars VII" will be scrutinized and sanitized and re-edited for the Chinese. Exactly where in all that doublethink do you think fun movies get made?
So then I got to thinking: I've done like four of these Star Wars speculation articles already. I predicted that there would be a Sequel Trilogy two years before Lucas turned to the Dark Side and sold out to Big Hollywood. Let me once misdirect my creative energies towards a project I can never finish, can never even start, and will never possibly ever come about. (And even if it could come out, I'm already doing a fine job pissing off the creators of this project.) Its time for more... Fanwank Corner. This time, let's imagine the script for "Star Wars VII" - and almost certainly do a better job than J.J.
The immediate problem with doing a Sequel Trilogy is ultimately that "Return of the Jedi" perfectly completed that story. George Lucas' quixotic adventure in the Prequels was doomed to failure in a large part because the Original Trilogy is so nicely closed in a plot-sense, not to mention how they have a warm magic that no further film could ever hope to match. Darth Vader's descent into darkness is too depressing and tone-wise out of place for a Star Wars film to really ever work, especially in the unsteady hands of a filmmaker who thought up Jar Jar Binks. The Sequels would really have much of the same problem, not only encroaching upon impossible odds and expectations, but also being forced to take place in a difficult place narrative-wise.
But there's a much bigger problem: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia? They're all old! They're all old as fuck! Mark Hamill is a voice actor now primarily, its been years since he's done live-action work. Carey Fisher has turned into self-parody, doing HBO specials making light of her Hollywood royalty origins and her decades of rampant drug use. Only Harrison Ford still is a bankable star consistently appearing in major motion pictures. And they're all grey, they're all fat, and they're all wrinkled to hell. You'd either have to recast Luke Skywalker, an acting role which would cause any new performer to get devoured, or do something much wiser: focus on a new generation. Phase out the grey remnants of the Seventies and Eighties and let new stars take the reigns.
Now that doesn't have to be quite as awful as it sounds. I know some of you out there love the Thrawn Trilogy, a semi-canonical trilogy of sequel novels that have for twenty years served as the de facto "Star Wars VII", "VIII", and "IX", and which take place only a few years after the fall of Second Death Star. But it just isn't practical. People age, new generations rise up, and there are interesting stories that can told about those passages of time. J.J. isn't stupid - perhaps not an artist - but definitely not stupid, I would suspect he's going to travel down this very same path.
So I would place "Star Wars Episode VII" as taking place exactly thirty-two years after the Battle of Endor, thus equating the real-world time passage between "Return of the Jedi" and "Episode VII". By this point, the Rebel Alliance has been ruling the Galaxy for two whole decades. Our plucky band of rebels have become elder statesmen, ruling over a New Republic. Though obviously, they haven't lived Happily Ever After (or else we wouldn't have a movie). The concept here is: yes, our heroes won the Galaxy from evil, but were they actually able to take on the stresses of rule? How have they handled controlling the Galaxy, with all of the stresses that come with that position?
In the past thirty-two years, the Galactic Empire has become nothing more than a dark memory. Former Imperial officers and subjects have quickly adapted to the New Republic, once again based in Coruscant. Leia Organa has been the Chancellor of a revived Galactic Senate for most of this period, and has ultimately been unable to remove herself from her position due to overwhelming popularity. However, she has begun to whisper of an incoming retirement, unwittingly revealing the unsteady position of the Republic. Grumbles of discontent and poverty can be heard on all levels of the system, which has still never quite recovered from the Imperial Period. Han Solo, Leia's husband, is the commander of the Republican Military. We'll get to Luke in a moment.
Artistically the main concept I would have for this Sequel Star Wars is recycled technology. The Prequels due to Lucas' obsession with computer generation ultimately appear too clean, too peaceful. Every scene that actually features actors is shot in opulent luxury in palaces or the high court of Coruscant, which is an artistic decision I don't agree with**, but one I can use. The primary space ship of the Prequels is a shining silver pleasure cruise belonging to Queen Amadala which gets redesigned every film to sell more toys. The primary space ship of the Original films is the Millennium Falcon, a dirty smuggler ship that has been retrofitted with a variety of illegal engines and weapons, which looks like its been a hard workhorse for decades. See the evolution? We move from clean luxury to beat-up classics to finally, in the Sequel Trilogy, recycled technology as the heroes sew together disparate elements from other weapons and Star Wars films just to hold their space ship together. Even Solo's Republican Fleet is a mash-up of Imperial ships and Rebellion craft (albeit, somewhat in better shape and at least painted in unified colors due to better resources), using whatever materials at his disposal to keep up a military presence.
This is the age of smugglers, pirates, and freelancers. The Republican fleet can hold Coruscant and other important planets together but any hotshot with an old Jedi Starfighter can start his or her own mercenary adventure. The main characters of the film are a disparate band of adventurers, leeching out a living in the midst of space taking on odd jobs and using their separate skills to keep one step ahead of the law. Let's break it down: SPACE PIRATES. Our heroes are Space Pirates.
Finally we have Luke Skywalker, the hero of the Trilogy and the last of the Jedi. Unfortunately, after several years of spirited attempted to rebuild the Jedi Order, Luke has abandoned the New Jedis, leaving himself a hermit in the deserts of the Universe like his mentor, Obi-Wan. There is a Jedi Order within the Republic, but its membership is tiny, focused mainly around Luke's arrogant first Padawan, one of the few Jedis who is Force-sensitive enough to actually pose a major threat. I should give him a placeholder name using the Star Wars Random Name Generator: Solomon Maru. The rest of the Order is filled with lightsaber wielders with very little actual Force power, mostly going after the prestige involved with the art. Luke himself was slowly passed out of his own organization, and eventually left, hiding out to communicate directly with the Force. He has not been seen in years, and some say he's already dead. If any single object represents the decay and corruption of the New Republic Era, its this malformed and crippled New Jedi Order.
There has been decades-worth of materials which describe new adventures for the Star Wars characters to have after the fall of the Galactic Empire. Most of them, unfortunately, pretty much just bring back new Sith Lords, clone the Emperor, or have them face off against Imperial armies that were hiding in the shadows someplace. The problem here is that "Return of the Jedi" pretty clearly had the Ewoks sing "Yub Nub" and ended the war for good. We aren't just going to elect a new Emperor have the situation go on as before, with just a slightly weaker Empire. (In the Special Editions they show the Emperor's statue getting torn down in Corcuscant - one of the additions I think were positive - and that's shows that the Empire isn't going to continue for much longer.) I've already placed the Old Heroes in a position of strength. A shaky position, but I still want them to be the more dominant force***.
There are a few things you could do. You could completely subvert everything and have the next generation of heroes fight the Old, turning Princess Leia into a vile witch at the center of a false democracy. But nobody really wants to see that, old heroes shouldn't become the villains of this piece. You could also just bring back the Emperor or Darth Vader with a cloning process, but that's cheap and lazy, let's not go that way. Or you could have a race of extra-galactic alien conquerors come into the picture and attack the New Republic, but that's a little too wild, it wouldn't feel like Star Wars to me.
Obviously the main band of cast members are not going to be high-government folk, they're the outcasts of the world. They find themselves through usual circumstance being the only ones who can save the Republic - a government they've never liked. The villains of the story, however, are more or less a similar band of disgruntled rebels, a kind of ironic Rebel Alliance. These villains are a foil not just for the heroes, but also for Luke, Leia, and Han back in the good old days of fighting the Empire. They are terrorists, pulling together a shoestring but brilliant plan to attack Corcuscant directly. You never really how they're going to hit the planet until the very end of the movie, but it isn't with a Death Stars, its much more low tech.
Another big idea of mine: these terrorist space pirates who make up the villains are not just Sith Lords who we never knew about, and they're not some last band of Imperial soldiers still fighting a war long over. They're a dark secret of the Republic, an experiment gone very wrong. With a fading Jedi Order, several high members of the Republican government put together a plan to artificially create Force-sensitive soldiers, to repopulate the failing ranks of the Jedi. These guys aren't out to create a New Empire (though they use it as propaganda to frighten their enemies), they want revenge. There are only five members of the Shadows and they are supported by a small army of mercenary forces, and each of them have their own special powers.
Also, one more small point: the leader of this terrorist group, I'll call them "The Shadows" just as a placeholder", is wearing a Darth Vader mask. Who is it really? Well, that's my and the marketing department's little secret.
The Cast of Heroes
What a movie without a central cast? Leia, Han, and Luke all are basically background characters at this point. Luke eventually is going to have to move back into the story to be a mentor character, but I'm imagining that's not going to happen until "Star Wars VIII", for now he'll just be a strange old man the heroes encounter. The real central focus is on a group of bounty hunters, on board the smuggling ship "The Moonrider" (naming things isn't my strong suit).
Yes, it is vaguely "Cowboy Bebop"-ish. Sorry.
Marcus Falstom - Captain of the Moonrider and oldest member of the group. He was a former Alliance starfighter and keeps his X-Wing parked inside the ship's docking bay. Marcus is the most cynical of the group, the classic angry commander type, having seen the Republican Age pass without life improving very much. However, he has seen it all, with as much experience as Han Solo. His primary skills are being an exceptional pilot, negotiating through difficult deals, and keeping his head afloat despite what madness comes his way. Though he acts like the kind of guy would keep his ass alive no matter what happened, he actually is rather selfless.
Mara Sunfell - Second in command of the Moonrider and Marcus's long time lover. Mara actually fought with the Imperial side of the Rebel wars, but never loved the Empire and quickly adapted her skills towards bounty hunting. Much warmer and hotheaded than her cold, stern husband. While Marcus is the ship's pilot and commander, Mara focuses on engineering and robotics. She long ago decided to never get involved with a fair fight, and uses every re-purposed droid she can find, including two outdated junker droids she found a few years ago floating through space, called C-3PO and R2-D2. They are the only two droids she has that aren't used for combat. Her other "pets" are three Trade Federation Destroyer Droids that she carried into combat, two unmanned midget fighters she sends to support Marcus while he flies, and a probe droid she uses for reconnaissance. She also loves mines, explosives, and flamethrowers, anything to outsmart her opponent.
Jorul Karn - Lightsaber specialist though a failed Jedi. He never is a very weak Force-sensitive who was kicked out of the New Jedi Order for drunkenness and fondness for women. While Marcus is stern and tough, Mara is violent and quick to anger, Jorul is cool and collected, probably the very last guy to ever explode, but always has a quick quip on his lips. Jorul is a gambler, a womanizer, and an all-around cheat, but still a good man with some sharp skills with a lightsaber. He may never be able to do much with the Force than change the direction of a roulette wheel, but he's endlessly impressed by what little Force actions he can pull off. Ironically, since he's the biggest Force-sensitive on the team, he's the greatest mentor for the younger teammate:
Jonathan Lars - The central protagonist of the film, and the one least acquainted in the ways of the Galaxy. He's basically the new Luke Skywalker, an adolescent Joseph Campbell archetype looking for adventure. The "Lars" part of his family name comes from being a distant cousin to Luke and Leia, though his Jedi Powers are entirely independent. Jonathan begins the film as a shipmate on a starcruiser passing through the Galaxy on route back to Tatooine, until that ship is hit by the Moonrider in the opening space fight. Jonathan is a decent enough pilot, but after piloting one of his company's star fighters (a nasty mixture of a Rebel ship and a Tie fighter which flies as well as you would expect) he finds himself stranded and ends up in the crew of the bounty hunters who attacked him. Jonathan wants to be the hero, he's eager to prove himself, but has much to learn. His closest friends, however, wind up being the two droids. And of course, the love interest:
Ayla Solo - The daughter of Leia and Han, and pretty much the "Princess" of the Galaxy. She's kept out of the public eye and spends most of her time with her uncle, Luke, hoping to learn the ways of the Force. Her relationship with her mom is typical of that between an adolescent girl and her parents, though with the added problem of an entire Galaxy to rule. Ayla is the most competent Jedi in this film. She first shows up under attack from the Shadows, and when the Moonrider comes to rescue her, it embroils her in the shadow war within the Republic. Ayla is important enough to Chancellor Leia that she can be used by the Shadows to extort some McGuffin or another, which is central to their plans. Jonathan always wants to be the man to save Ayla, but more often than not, has to be rescued by her.
This is a movie that will never ever be made. So luckily I don't really have to worry about sequels. I've tried to keep things relatively small, with most of the fighting happening between two bands of space privateers without entire galactic armies getting involved (until the ending). Both the good guys and the bad have limited resources and have to outsmart their superior foes. We can eventually ramp up the tension in "Episode VIII" as the Shadows move further into their plans and connect with an even deeper and more terrible conspiracy. And "Episode IX" would again have the massive space battle for the future of the Galaxy.
If I were a smarter person, I would just use all this and write a novel about it instead of fanfictioning Star Wars. Unfortunately, my parents never taught me common sense.
* I haven't seen it, and I don't plan to see it.
** I imagine - if I can pretend for a moment that the Prequels weren't designed with the singular mindless philosophy to make everything "look pretty" - that the easy life of the Prequel protagonists reflects upon Lucas' own place in life. In the Original Trilogy, we had a band of Rebels, living at the bottom of society, with only each other, fighting against an evil faceless Empire, with dirty lived-in technology. In the Prequels, we have bureaucrats and politicians already well-entrenched in the system fighting to hold onto order. When Lucas made "Star Wars" in 1977 he was a rogue Indie director, when he made "The Phantom Menace" he was an industrialist living in a palace. See the difference?
*** Another problem with the Prequels: Lucas made his Republican heroes in positions of great strength. They were members of a government that ruled the Galaxy, if not a horribly impotent and unrealistically corrupt one. So to compensate, he had to make villains who were even stronger. That's Palpatine, a dark wizard who somehow controls both the Republic and the Separatists (whose reason for rebelling is never even remotely explained), has them fight a fake proxy war, all to amass even more power... actually his plan doesn't make sense. At all, really. Was it all just to manipulate history to make Darth Vader? That's even more stupid. Let's not even think about it, because clearly, nobody making the movies did either.