Nothing in George Lucas’ resumé suggested he was qualified to run a new universe.
Back in May of 1977, the then-33-year-old director only had two movies under his belt – the arty sci-fi prison flick THX 1138 and the 1950s period piece American Graffiti. Neither seemed like the foundations of an empire (galactic or otherwise), which is why theatre owners were hardly clamoring for Lucas’ latest. Star Wars opened on barely 30 screens, around 0.3 per cent of the 10,000-plus that will present The Force Awakens on Dec. 18. Twentieth Century Fox had such low expectations that they let Lucas have the merchandising rights, an early sign of both Lucas’ prescience, and his trademark fastidious control over the property. That’s why his decision to sell Lucasfilm to Disney and step aside to let other filmmakers take the helm on five new Star Wars movies is a universe-changing event.
As the force behind The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams is the first to face a complicated challenge: can he cut a bold path for himself through these well-traveled galaxies? Or will he fail to escape the tractor beam created by the combined force of nostalgia, fan expectations and Disney’s relentless drive for dominance?
The new Star Wars movies are bound to be different than what came before, which is a relief to everyone who loathed Lucas’ second trilogy (which is to say, pretty much everyone who actually thought about them). But how much latitude their directors will have is another tricky matter. Lucas’ team went to great pains to ensure consistency. In fact, they’ve collated characters and timelines in a vast database called The Holocron. And while Disney has thrown out all continuity except that found in the films — which likely only affected the true diehards who kept up with the Star Wars universe through books and comics— early word is Disney may be even more protective and persnickety.
Fans are equally unlikely to tolerate radical reinvention, which may be a good thing given Abrams’ sometimes confusing penchant for meddling in alternate universes. Though Abrams’ first Star Trek effort offered a savvy spin on the source, that allowed Trekkies (or whatever they like to be called now) the opportunity to support a new cast without betraying Shatner and the original crew, Star Trek Into Darkness was a bar-band cover of The Wrath of Khan. In any case, Lucas himself achieved his greatest results when he put his trust in collaborators like The Empire Strikes Back’s writing team of Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. If we learned anything from the Rebels’ assault on the Death Star, it’s the importance of teamwork. One man may have built this universe, but it’ll take an army to create it anew.
The New Star Warriors
Introducing the recruits set to go beyond The Force Awakens:
NAME: Rian Johnson
MISSION: Writing and directing Episode VIII (out May 2017), plus writing IX.
TOP QUALIFICATION: Time-traveling with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in the dead-cool Looper.
NAME: Colin Trevorrow
MISSION: Writing treatment for Episode IX (out 2019).
TOP QUALIFICATION: Teaming Chris Pratt with digital dinos in the summer mega-hit Jurassic World.
NAME: Gareth Edwards
MISSION: Directing the standalone entry Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (out Dec. 2016).
TOP QUALIFICATION: Creating superior creature features with his indie fave Monsters and his intense reboot of Godzilla.
NAME: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
MISSION: Directing a Han Solo spinoff (out 2018)
TOP QUALIFICATION: Making everything awesome in The Lego Movie, not to mention refreshing the buddy-action genre with the Jump Street flicks.