Should We Be Scared About the Fate of Star Wars Episode VII?
For the past several years, a friend of mine and I have been noticing a bizarre and seemingly ubiquitous piece of bathroom graffiti which reads “I saw Toy Story 3: Same as the First One, Only Reverse.” Now, I’d say this inexplicable “review” is not correct. Toy Story 3 is awesome and original and better than any of the other installments! What’s relevant here is Toy Story 3 is significant enough to be scrawled about on the walls of bathrooms. Why was it so good? Well, just like Little Miss Sunshine, Michael Arndt’s script had something any good memorable movie has, but is hard to define: his writing has heart.
Now, with Arndt mysteriously leaving his screenwriting duties on Star Wars Episode VII, is there reason to be afraid this film will also be losing a little bit of heart? Well, if you’re not afraid yet, you will be. You will be.
Generally, big budget films which go through numerous rewrites and have several different teams of writers working on them do not turn out well, at least not in a way that creates good solid internal continuity (Best contemporary example: Prometheus). However, there are some notable and super famous exceptions like Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back! In fact, Empire is still considered to be the best of the existing Star Wars films. Plus, Lawrence Kasdan, one of the screenwriters on both Raider of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back is NOW working on Episode VII! So what’s the problem? The movie’s script is in good hands, right? Well, not exactly. My assertion is that Kasdan’s work on Raiders and Empire are not the main reasons why those films are so great, in fact, in both cases aspects of those scripts were altered during filming, both by very talented directors- Steven Spielberg and Irving Kershner respectively. Further, my concern with Abrams and Kasdan re-writing or doing whatever they’re doing to Arndt's screenplay is one simple problem: they’re too old school.
Okay okay. So J.J. Abrams is 47 and Lawrence Kasdan is 64 and Michael Arndt is 42. But what I mean here isn’t chronological age, I mean style. J.J. Abrams has been trying to make a Star Wars-esque movie from the beginning of his career, which is fine for directorial flavor; clearly the man knows how to move a camera. But his writing? The movies he’s directed? Well, I’d say they all lack heart.
Now, on paper, an old school Star Wars guy like Kasdan means things will be true-ish to the spirit of the old films. But is that really what we need or want? George Lucas INVENTED Star Wars, and still wasn’t able to bring a fresh, exciting tone to the prequel films. Do we really need old-school thinkers working on a new Star Wars? Sure, it’s an old film franchise at this point, but it seems to me the bold, heartfelt writing chops of Michael Arndt could refresh Star Wars with an element youthful humanity.
To put it another way, the initial hiring of MIchael Arndt wasn’t an obvious choice to pen a new installment in the Star Wars cinematic story, which is why the decision was so exciting. Now, that exciting choice has been replaced with a predictable and safe one. Will Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams retooling of the Episode VII screenplay ruin it? I’d say no. But the odds of the story being less original and more generic are super, super high. At one point in time, the Star Wars films were iconoclastic because they were hopeful and popcorn-infused in an era of cinematic cynicism. Now, however, the Star Wars brand is the norm, and the generic style of those films is emulated ad nauseum, with Abrams being the poster-child of Star Wars-esque overkill.
Anrdt’s humanistic and quirky ideas might have been our last hope for the new Star Wars not coming across super safe and generic. Now... matters are worse...