Star Wars Episode 7: Lessons in How Not to Ruin a Franchise

Please, Disney, do not ruin Star Wars.

When it comes to Star Wars, I take it very much to heart. The only other film franchise close to being that sacred to me is The Lord of the Rings. I cannot help it. When I was seven years old, I was the target audience. I have always loved those brown-robed Jawas and their crazy voices! I have been quoting Yoda for years, and I owe him for broadening my philosophic understanding of the world we live in.  My friends and I used to videotape the trailers for the prequels and gather together to discuss each one in detail.  Those were good times. 

With all of this in mind, I have a message for Disney. Don’t ruin Star Wars. I know they must feel some monumental pressure with such an undertaking. Kathleen Kennedy is at the forefront, and that is a good choice because the woman has been associated with some of the most successful films and filmmakers in Hollywood’s history. J.J. Abrams is directing – I’ve already covered that ground.  George Lucas is to serve as creative consultant, to basically make sure that the story they come up with doesn’t go against the basic Star Wars storyline (as it exists so far). John Williams is doing the score. To date, everything is looking pretty good.

Yet, my fears – which I am certain I share with many other fans – are still there. After more than 30 years, I feel I know a thing or two about my beloved franchise. Therefore, although I am fearful, allow me to offer some suggestions on what not to do.

To not ruin the franchise, you have to be realistic about the process. First of all, there is not a single other film ever made with more special-effects shots than any Star Wars film. The geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound have cornered that market. Thus, we have to be patient with the release schedule.  Even if the principal shooting is done in two weeks, it takes time to get all of those awesome shots done and done right. That's why historically, the franchise has released a film every three years, and why it should not go with this ridiculous schedule of a new Star Wars film every year.

Second, don’t try to be cute and clever by throwing every actor that was ever in Star Wars into these films. I have read a lot about this news since it was first brought up. Will it work? I don’t know. Harrison Ford is 70 now, Carrie Fisher isn’t all that stable, and I don’t want a Christopher Lee/Count Dooku treatment done to Mark Hamill. Now, Jonathan Rhys-Myers is rumored to have been cast. Sounds like a decent choice to me, but I am only certain of one thing: It's better to search for lesser-known actors that are looking for an opportunity than grab A-listers that are big fans of Star Wars.  Abrams has historically been pretty good about this. 

Finally, whatever you do, get the villain right! The Star Wars saga to date was about one man: Darth Sidious/The Emperor.  That’s a mighty big act to follow and even larger shoes to fill. I think it would be wise for the new film to start with the villain and reverse-engineer the entire trilogy of episodes seven, eight, and nine around this.. To test this villain, I would suggest focus groups, some Star Wars fans and some not, but either way if the villain isn't resonating, throw him out. The bottom line is, if you succeed with a villain, the rest should take care of itself. 

Of course Disney will succeed in creating that mythology once more, and of this I have no fear. It’s Disney after all, and they can work serious magic. Look at Pixar and Marvel.  Plus, George Lucas just won’t let Disney completely transform his invention into something unrecognizable. I just hope that the creative team pays attention to these other possible pitfalls before they ruin a beloved franchise. 

May the Force be with them.

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Jef Cliber

Avid fan of Star Wars, fantasy, and comic books, Jef is a classically-trained studio artist that works in theater management and is a published movie critic.

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