Star Wars Episode VII: The Grantland Staff Considers the Future of a Disneyfied Franchise

Getty Images/Composite Darth Vader and George Lucas

Yesterday, in a development only marginally less surprising than if Jabba the Hutt landed on Earth and declared he was the new Republican nominee for next week’s presidential election, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced the company had acquired Lucasfilm for over $4 billion, and with it, the once-sacred Star Wars franchise. And then he announced a seventh Star Wars film is coming in 2015, followed by more every two to three years. And then he announced he is really Luke Skywalker’s father. (He said a lot of things; it’s already too hard to remember them all.) Nevertheless, the Grantland staff has assembled to sift through the still-smoldering wreckage of our mental Death Stars in search of some answers, or, at the very least, a new hope. Join us as we collectively work through our daddy-who-is-as-much-spare-evil-robot-parts-as-human issues. Usual disclosure: Disney owns us too. Hi, George!

George Returns to the Magic Kingdom

Bryan Curtis: I’ve never really thought much about George Lucas or Star Wars … haha, just kidding. It’s my whole life.

Two thoughts:

  1. Lucas is really retired. There was some (well-deserved) snorting when Lucas announced this earlier in the year, since he has been continuously retiring since A New Hope. He wasn’t bluffing. He’s done. Only the magic art films remain.
  2. The big riddle to me is the 180-degree change in Lucas’s m.o. Since THX 1138, Lucas has said — and said and said and said — that the artist should control the rights to his material. This was the impetus behind American Zoetrope; behind his infrequent filmmaking in the ’80s and ’90s (no one could tell him to make another Star Wars); and this is the source, more locally, of L’Affaire Greedo. Lucas was puzzled the fanboys didn’t understand that his ownership of that laser blast represented a victory for the artist. (By then, Lucas in the fanboy mind had become a suit.) But here, Star Wars is going over to the suits. Now, maybe Lucas has retained some kind of control over at least the movies he made. Dunno. That’s the thing I’d most like to ask him. After guarding his art like the Hovito idol, why would he let it go, even for $4 billion?

Last thing: Randal Kleiser — Lucas’s USC classmate, onetime star, and, later, the director of the immensely profitable Grease — told me a funny story. It was Kleiser’s birthday, and a bunch of his USC pals, including Lucas, blindfolded him and stuffed him into a car and took him to Disneyland. Years later, after they were multimillionaires, Kleiser directed the show Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, and Lucas produced Star Tours. Kleiser was struck that the two pals had returned to Anaheim.

Guess what? George is back.

It Depends on What Your Definition of “Pretty Intense and Detailed Treatment” Is

Alex Pappademas: Bob Iger mentioned on a Walt Disney Company conference call today that the Lucasfilm deal included “a pretty intense and detailed treatment [for] the next three movies,” beginning with a seventh Star Wars now in “early-stage development.” When he was in full wunderkind-baller mode in the early ’80s, Lucas used to say he had ideas for a nine-film series, but around ’83 he started talking about Jedi as an endpoint and admitting that he’d never really broken the story for a third trilogy, something people like original Star Wars/Empire producer Gary Kurtz have subsequently confirmed. (Lucas in 2008: “There will definitely be no Episodes VII–IX. That’s because there isn’t any story. I mean, I never thought of anything … The Star Wars story is really the tragedy of Darth Vader. That is the story.”)

The questions this raises for me: Who actually wrote the “intense & detailed” treatment? Was it Lucas? If it was Lucas, did he write it recently, or did Disney just pay $4.05 billion for 12 pages ripped from a legal pad in 1976 with, like, “Wookies but w/ detachable heads” and “TRIANGULAR DEATH STAR?” written on it, and does that make this basically the biggest cocktail-napkin script sale in human history? And if it wasn’t Lucas, who was it? Tom Stoppard during breaks from punch-up on Revenge of the Sith? David Koepp? Joss Whedon? Damon Lindelof in a fake mustache? A glowing blue-haloed Leigh Brackett apparition? A team of 40 Jawas who were subsequently murdered in the desert to ensure their silence?

(Because, obviously, the most important thing about Star Wars is the writing.)

Trust in George Lucas, But Tie Up Your Tauntaun

Mark Lisanti: This is a gross oversimplification of everything that’s happened since the premiere of The Phantom Menace, but no one ever went broke oversimplifying things on the Internet: George Lucas lost his fucking mind in 1999 and ruined all of our lives forever. He had become childhood-despoiling Death, the ravenous destroyer of worlds whose neck-wattle is swollen with the misbegotten souls pilfered from a fan base once so mindlessly devoted to his legacy it took them three prequels to figure out he hadn’t thought anything through beyond the Jedi haunting at the end of the Ewok jamboree. And then he locked Indiana Jones in a refrigerator and blew him up with an atom bomb, but that’s a betrayal for a different time.

This is perhaps a man we should not trust.

But then he starts saying all the right things, that he wants nothing more than to pass Star Wars on to the next generation, and it’s time for new filmmakers to take over. He does everything but promise us all individual bantha rides to the double-lightsaber store. We begin to believe again. And we forget, if just for a minute, that George Lucas retroactively decided the Force is a blood disease, that George Lucas believes in mercenary self-defense, that George Lucas turned something called Hayden Christensen into Darth Vader.

So maybe we’ll get the hands-off George Lucas who throws the landspeeder keys to Rian Johnson and Damon Lindelof and checks back in three years from now to see how much of his outline they threw out, clapping them both on the shoulders as he laughs, “Ha, yeah, I thought the thing where Luke and Leia turn out to be the same person in Episode VIII was kind of bullshit. Good call, guys.”

Or maybe, just as soon as that Disney check clears, we’ll get more of this:

Don’t worry, this is all going to turn out great.

The Good Way and the Bay Way

Dan Fierman: Look, we know there are two ways this could go. There’s the good way, in which John Lasseter writes the screenplay, Brad Bird directs, and George Lucas is locked securely in a broom closet. (They can tell him they need very detailed specs on the exhaust ports of land speeders. Or they can just pack it full of money. I don’t care. The point is: broom closet.)

Then there’s the bad way. The bad way is pretty much anyone else in the Disney stable getting involved. (You know you’re thinking it, so let’s just say it out loud: Michael Bay is definitely on the phone with Bob Iger RIGHT NOW explaining his vision for the updated gold lamé bikini Megan Fox will wear as “Leia’s super-hot daughter.” Face your fears. There now. Was that so bad?)

But here’s the bottom line: This franchise has been debased so badly that the stakes here are pretty low. Lucas’ legacy is already forever tarnished. The icon that is Darth Vader has been pretty much destroyed in our memory. Even if we still cling to the idea that Han shot first, there’s that alternate timeline lingering out there when he didn’t. There’s nothing but upside for Disney and whoever takes over as the writer/director. It’s a hell of an opportunity for the right person. Let’s hope s/he can not only make us care again, but make our kids care too.

We Have Completely Lost Sight of How Excellent Jedis Can Be

Sean Fennessey: Whether hanging-on-by-their-fingernails devotees or every other person in the sensible world, we have allowed a simple truth to go untold in these un-Lucas times: Jedi is the greatest hero-type of all time. He/she is fierce like a warrior, stoic and thoughtful like a monk, dashing like a swashbuckler, mentally unconquerable, and handy with a LASER SWORD. A Jedi is samurai/cowboy/Robin Hood/Gandhi. Except, the Jedi Experience has only been portrayed as a dead religion with few remaining practitioners (Episodes IV-VI) and a threatened, eventually exterminated police force (Episodes I-III). We must amend that. Here is the pitch: Old-Timey, Deadwood-Style, Birth of Justice, Origin TV Show. Get Shawn Ryan to talk it out with Joss Whedon. Let David Milch rewrite the script. David Fincher shoots the pilot. No Mace Windu. No Obi-Wan. No Yoda. Strictly O.J.s (Original Jedis). Cast Scoot McNairy and Neal McDonough as your leads. Put Shannyn Sossamon in it. Maybe Ian McShane and Ray Winstone are free to cameo as cantina-haunting crime lords. Just book this thing. Your title: Dark Saber.

Let’s Go All the Way and Remake It

Amos Barshad: Back in February, I tweeted, apropos of nothing, “Gonna remake ‘Star Wars’ shot for shot with Fassbender/McAvoy as Han/Luke.”

First, I need to admit to you that my reaction to the “there’s going to be a new Star Wars movie” part of yesterday’s news was, unequivocally: “Yes. I’m into it.” I belong to a weird Star Wars fan demo: I grew up watching the movies but didn’t let Lucas fully sink his hooks into me until 1997, when he rolled the 20th-anniversary re-releases into theaters. Two years later we got The Phantom Menace and the others nerds and I actually cut school to go wait in line on the day of the premiere. We were all out-nerded, however, by [name redacted; I know it’s been a while, but I don’t know if he wants this stuff out there], who dressed up as Darth Maul for school that day: the full red-and-black face paint, little horns, the black robe, even a piece of plumping pipe fashioned into a surprisingly realistic double-edged lightsaber.

Keep in mind that this was before anyone had seen the movie; he’d based his devotion to the dark lord Maul on the trailer alone. I remember [name redacted] telling us his plan, and I remember pleading with him to not go through with it, fearing the lifetime of mental trauma it would unleash. And I remember the school bus pulling up, and seeing [name redacted], and thinking, “He did it. That crazy bastard actually did it.” At this point, looking back, I can’t help but be awed at the insane courage [name redacted] had.

What’s my point? Right, yes: The Phantom Menace turned out to be garbage, and any notion of the sanctity of the Star Wars franchise for me was forever eradicated. So they want to make more Star Wars movies? Please. Go right ahead. But, since the original trilogy rules mostly despite Mark Hamill’s complete and utter lack of presence, I again propose we start with a remake of A New Hope that subs in McAvoy as Luke. I know up above I called it a shot-for-shot remake, but here’s what I’m saying now: We have James reshoot all the Luke scenes and, since we need to keep their chemistry and banter crisp, we have Fassbender reshoot all of the Han scenes. Then, using the full might of cutting-edge Lucasfilm editing technology, we seamlessly drop them into the original footage. It’s not like we won’t still have the original. We’ll just have this one as an alternative. And if we feel like dropping in Lizzy Caplan as snarky Princess Leia, yeah, sure, that could work too.

A Dormant Geek Machine Stirs

Emily Yoshida: Look, I’m not mad at #DisneyLucas. Star Wars has felt a stone’s throw away from Mickey & Co. ever since I saw the original trilogy and rode Star Tours in the same year (1990, you were good to me). Not even mad at the idea of a third trilogy; that was always the plan until sometime prior to the prequels’ release; only in the last decade has that become something I was relieved was off the table rather than outraged. Though I initially reacted with horror, dizziness, and not a little nausea at the idea of dipping back into those thoroughly contaminated waters, I was soon able to put myself back in a childlike state of naivete, in which I would wander unquestioningly into any old urine-filled wading pool.

Nope, here’s what I’m mad about: the fact that I will, perhaps against my better judgement, have to care a lot about these sequels. I will add Ain’t It Cool News to my bookmarks again. I will watch trailers frame by frame in HD, I will buy the soundtrack a month before Episode VII’s release and try to figure out what the track titles mean. I was so ready to live in a world where my deepest, longest-running pop cultural obsession was able to lie dormant and irrelevant, where I could point and laugh at all the nerds getting worked up about the latest Marvel adaptation and go years without visiting the toy aisle in Target. It was fun pretending to be cool for a little while there, but I guess it’s time to fire up the geek machine.

Team Jar Jar

Molly Lambert: I vote for more Ewok movies.

Rembert Browne: I just hope they remake the SNL–Nick Winters–Bill Murray–Star Wars song with Nick Jonas and heavy dubstep.

It Can’t Get Worse

David Cho: Why are people on the Internet upset about this? Who loses here? Fun fact, Star Wars fans: IT CAN’T GET WORSE. Disney can’t retroactively create Jar Jar Binks! If you’re worried about Star Wars VII ruining the movie franchise, the reality is, that pure thing that you love from your childhood has already been mangled, ruined, and Lego’d up. (Sidebar: Star Wars Legos, both the toys and the games, are really dope!)

Also, Disney’s track record of doing this sort of thing is actually pretty good! Pixar continues to make good movies (you can’t count Cars 2 and Brave against them unless you’re willing to give them credit for Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3), and the first Disney-owned Marvel movie to come out was The Avengers. Now, while I agree that it does seem a little sacrilegious to say that an Episode VII will exist — even the juxtaposition of the word and number looks weird — it seems worth giving Disney the benefit of the doubt, if only because now we definitely know that George Lucas will be less involved.

Conflicted I Am

Daniel Silver: The best part of all this is that the keys to the creative car have now been (at least partially) taken out of George Lucas’s hands. He now has to answer to SOMEBODY. No longer will George get to run around like a drunk Wookiee at the Mos Eisley cantina and wreak havoc and do whatever he wants with the galaxy far, far away. Yes, he created it, but after Jake Lloyd, Star Wars fans’ internal Admiral Ackbars sensed the shield down and started to attack.

On one hand, as my buddy David Cho said, “This is a good thing, because how can this actually get any worse?” But let’s take a look at the facts: Disney’s track record on deals like this is pretty respectable. Both Marvel and Pixar have thrived under Disney’s seemingly hands-off, if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it/just support it approach. And when combined with the fact that the uber-producer Kathleen Kennedy (who’s got way too many top-tier credits to list) is now calling the shots as the head of production at Lucasfilm, Star Wars fans should rest easy, simply based on Disney and Kennedy’s stellar track records.

And then there’s the other hand. The one holding all of the unknowns. If the plan is to actually produce an Episode VII, will Lucas write and direct it? Like Anakin, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda, Boba Fett, and Chewbacca, who will be the connecting characters? This means Han, Luke, and Leia HAVE to be in it, right? And more than anything, does this mean yet another re-release of the the series on Blu-ray, DVD, or digital file? I’ve already spent the equivalent of actual lightsaber on these films.

But more than anything, the first thought that went through my head after I realized this was not just some kind of post-Sandy hallucination was, How am I going to watch a Star Wars film that does not start with the 20th Century Fox music and animation?

It’s the little things.

Counterpoint: Go Crap in a Darth Vader Voice-Changer Helmet

Bill Simmons: Dear nerds,

Let it go. There hasn’t been a good Star Wars movie in 30 years.

Bill Simmons

Filed Under: Disney, George Lucas, Star Wars