BTS: Jon, this has been a fun discussion. It’s reminded me of so many reasons why I like Star Wars, and has me mire excited than ever at the prospect of more. When Disney made their announcement a few weeks back, I was surprised and reticent, but done well, this could be an amazing opportunity for fans. What are some things you’d like to see in future films?
JS: I want any new films to both honor the older films (esp. the original trilogy) — WITHOUT copying them (i.e., stop reusing the same exact dialogue quips) — and reach for something new. One good thing that the prequel movies did was they introduced new depth to the Jedi-Sith conflict. I’d like to see Jedi (and Sith) presented in some new, interesting ways. I want the new directors/writers to reach for new types of characters. Stop using the “scoundrel, bounty hunter, princess, droid sidekick” archtypes. Those only worked in the originals because they were fresh takes on old standbys. Develop new characters and character types. I’d really love a series of films based on Tim Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, but I don’t think we will.
BTS: It’s interesting to hear you mention good things the prequels did. It seems people are split on them. Old school trilogy fans tend to hate them for lacking the true spirit. Fans who had their first experience with them often call them superior for their special effects, etc. I thought the acting and character development and over reliance on CGI were their prime weaknesses. I liked the action and some of the new characters. I enjoyed the new settings and ships a lot as well. Were there other things you thought they did well? (We’ll get to the bad more after).
JS: I thought the fight scenes, especially the duel between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan/Qui-Gon, and then Yoda versus Palpatine and Obi-Wan versus Anakin in the third movie. Most of the space battles were also good. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine was excellent, and I also enjoyed Liam Nielson and Ewan McGregor. Some of the CGI was beautiful. Other than those things, I wasn’t much of a fan.
BTS: McDiarmid, Neeson, McGregor, Portman and Jackson all didn’t need the hand holding that other actors did and did their best to rise above the weaknesses and, thus, stood out. I enjoyed the underwater sequence and the water planet concept. I really like the Council scenes on Coruscant and having the chance to see so many diverse creatures. The Jedi HQ and clone stuff interested me as well. Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christiansen were two big weaknesses. Sadly, I’ve seen Christiansen give decent performances elsewhere with director’s guidance. The films would have been much better with a director who guided the actors more. AND then there’s Jar Jar…
JS: I didn’t particularly like either incarnation of Anakin. Young Ani (ugh, that nickname… “Ani! Ani!”) was nice enough, but Lucas wasted the entire first movie by portraying Anakin as a young kid. I didn’t care one bit about his miraculous conception, his slave status, his pod race, or his crush on Amidala (and her eventual attraction to him is a little weird). And don’t get me started on his piloting of a starfighter at the climax–that was the height of absurdity. Then in the second movie we get Petulant Teenage Anikan. That was slightly better because at least his theatrics tied in somewhat with the plot, but it was still annoying as hell. I refuse to believe that Darth Vader came out of a whiny kid with a ponytail. Now, a brooding, quiet, loner kid? Yeah, that would make some sense. It kills me to say this, but the Harry Potter movies did it better, portraying young Voldemort as a dark, scary kid. That’s what the movies needed. Alas, Lucas has become addicted to candyland storytelling. I could almost stand Anakin in the third movie. The hair was a little 80s’ glam for me, but he finally came to posses a little of the Vader swagger, and his relationship with Obi-Wan started to take on a more realistic quality. As for Jar-Jar, I feel bad for the actor who played him, but it was one of the worst character choices in film history. At least Lucas started to realize his mistake and cut back on Jar-Jar’s screen time. What really makes me ill is that the prequel movies could have been good. The basic premise–the evolution of Vader–was powerful. Lucas just failed in the execution of major parts of those movies.
BTS: Agreed. They could have and should have been better. And I think we see him start to crack a bit with Return Of The Jedi, with Ewoks and other things that seem to have been part of the failure of those latter films. Empire, being directed by someone else, was still quite strong. And the first film, he’d done so many drafts and had so much input from studio, his now ex-wife, etc., that it was strong. It’s when we see those influences fade, when Lucas is so big he can do what he wants unchecked that his failures overcome his gifts sadly. I also afree that the Thrawn series would be amazing movies but given the role the original trilogy cast plays in those, and the age of those actors, I don’t see how it would be feasible without major changes. On top of that, they’d have to completely change the Star Wars timeline, unless they want to do the Tron3D aging trick they pulled with Jeff Bridges, and, even then, Hamill and Fisher would have to lose some serious weight to pass. But there are tons of storylines they can do, including something with their kids and other characters introduced later in the Expanded Universe, and I think they’d be wise to consider it. There’s a lot of mythology to build on that’s well established and well thought out and already existing and liked by fans. Why not use that stuff? I just hope they don’t pull a JJ Abrams-Star Trek scenario.
JS: Wow, you are reading my mind. I agree SOOOOOOOOOOOOO much with what you just said. Part of me wants the future movies to break away from the Skywalker and Solo families, but I understand that they could be a useful tether to the past films if handled properly. For instance, if Han and Leia’s kids kept muttering Han’s dialogue lines from the original movies (“I can arrange that! He could use a good kiss!”), I will leave the theater. Generational films/series require a deft touch that, frankly, Lucas did not possess. The new films need to be more than just enhanced-CGI versions of the previous movies. Entirely new themes and story arcs. New approaches to the Force–no midichlorians, ffs.
BTS: GEORGE, “some people are stronger in the Force” was an acceptable explanation for decades. We didn’t need you to dig deeper. *shakes head* Mid-chlorioans, my ass…. Sorry, I digress. But hey, the actors are older. I have no desire to see Leia in a bikini at middle age, and watching Han and Luke cough and grab their jiggling bellies mid-fight as two middle aged men running around would do, also has little appeal. On the other hand, give me Luke as Master of a Jedi Academy, and I’d be all over that. Han as negotiator and Leia and stateswoman also are perfect. They can still play key leadership roles without having to be the center of the action now. There’s an opportunity to recapture their personalities and the fun of their characters and use that bolster the introduction of new characters. If Star Wars as a franchise is going to have a future, they have to do that well, I think.JS: I think (hope) that’s what Disney has in mind, to allow those actors to come back in cameo roles, although they could definitely be more substantial roles if couched properly, as you said. They could also make movies about other events. The galaxy is a huge place with millions (if not billions) of inhabited worlds. What was everyone else doing while Luke and his friends battled the second Death Star? A series of films could carve out another sector of space where the war was being fought by different people, and how they react when the emperor is defeated. A galaxy of warlords–some imperial, others Alliance, and a bunch out for themselves–battling for control of the old empire is rich with possibilities.
BTS: Absolutely. I’d love to see other planets and races. This is a chance, for example, to make Lando no longer the only non-white in that era. Obviously, they had one in Amadala’s service as well as Mace in the prequels, but surely there are whole planets of humans with varied racial profiles, not to mention aliens, etc. And they could also explore some of the aliens we’ve already met more in depth such as Chewbacca, etc. I can imagine humorous scenarios with Han training pilots and getting annoyed with a cocky student and a little competition developing, etc. I also think they need to come up with a solid villain again. Vader is gone. And so is Palpatine. Maybe competing factions, maybe they can find new stories involving Thrawn somehow.
JS: I love those suggestions. I hope that someone at Disney is thinking the same way. This franchise has limitless potential. And the choice of villain, as in most action-adventure films, is key. They need a solid idea, and talented actors to pull it off. We could use a Heath Ledger’s Joker to up the ante.
BTS: A high caliber performance, yes. The darkness of the Batman films would spoil Star Wars, in my opinion. They have always had a hopeful lightness even at their darkness moments, unlike the Nolan films, and I think that’s part of the charm and should be preserved. I also think there’s an opportunity to introduce conflicting elements. With the Emperor and his lead henchman dead, why wouldn’t competing forces arise to threaten the Empire’s power? The Hutts, perhaps, or the Corporate Sector Authority as set forward in the Daley Han books. Surely there are plenty of options which could be explored to keep it more interesting. I’d also like to see them use the same level of humor. They can exploit the aging heroes and how age affects their ability to join the action as Lethal Weapon did so well, but they can also exploit the generational differences with new characters and even the cross cultural clashes inevitable with aliens.
JS: Yes, keep the charm of the franchise (lightsaber duels, starship battles, seat-of-the-pants heroics, etc…) and also strive to tell new stories. I think that’s the recipe for success. They could even do multiple film series at the same time, like the EU book series. I’m fine with a series of films that is tilted more Young Adult as long as there is also one or more series aimed at me, the aging SW nut who fell in love with the franchise back in ’77, too.
BTS: One of my writing goals, silly as it may sound, is to write a Star Wars tie-in. Just once, I want to play in that sandbox. I have several ideas but I know they’re assigned. My dream would be to do something with Han Solo in his later years, post-Chewie’s death (a storyline I don’t like but which has been done and offers great dramatic possibilities for the character nonetheless) where he takes in a young kid as apprentice. Have you ever thought of writing a tie-in novel?
JS: There aren’t many franchises for which I’d be willing to write a tie-in, but Star Wars is one of them. I don’t have any specific stories in mind, but I’m sure I could come up with a few ideas if given the chance. But my dream job (in addition to my writing) would be quality control for all future Star Wars movies. Just let me sit in during the storyboarding, the casting, the filming, and the editing and I could prevent so many problems from getting made in the first place. If we’re talking dreams-that-will-never-come-true, I’d love to tear apart the prequel movies and remake them from scratch.
BTS: I’d like to erase memory of them from my head for good and wait for your versions, sir. Heh, I’d give anything to script one of them but since my film school and screenwriting days are behind me, I consider that a “never going to happen” thing. But yeah, consulting would be a blast. We’d have a long line to wait in, though, I’d guess. I’m glad we took time to revisit this though, Jon. And I think it’s a good reminder why we love them so much and how much they’ve affected us and inspired our work and our storytelling. Any fina thoughts as we close this out?
JS: I hope the Star Wars franchise enjoys a long life of more films, books, comics, and memorabilia. It’s a part of our national identity and it has served as a major influence in my life.
BTS: Well, I don’t know how I could say it any better than that, so, thanks for sharing this journey with us and Happy Holidays. We wish you a wonderful 2013 to come!
Jon Sprunk grew up in central Pennsylvania, the eldest of four and attended Lock Haven University. He graduated with a B.A. in English in 1992. After his disastrous first novel failed to find a publisher, he sought gainful employment. Finally, after many more rejections and twists and turns of life, he joined Pennwriters and attended their annual conference in 2004. His short fiction has appeared in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of Elves, Dreams & Visions #34 andCemetery Moon #4. In June 2009, he signed a multi-book contract with Pyr Books by whom his Shadow Trilogy dark fantasy series have been published. He can be found on twitter as @jsprunk70, on Facebook and via his website athttp://jonsprunk.com/.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.