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'Star Wars': 5 Tips for Sequels That Won't Suck

A five-point plan for what Lucasfilm and Disney should do to make sure The Force is strong with the new trilogy.

1. Bring back Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher as Han, Luke, and Leia — but only as supporting characters

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull serves as exhibit A on the dangers of trying to make an aging action star carry a film. Ford had previously lobbied for Han Solo to perish, so why not give the man his ''dying wish'' and have Han bite it 20 minutes into Episode VII? That could act as the jumping-off point for the entire film. As for Luke, his role should be running a new Jedi Academy for precocious younglings while dispensing wisdom à la Yoda and original-trilogy Obi-Wan. (And sure, he can pick up a lightsaber in a pinch.) When it comes to Leia, we're curious to see her new Force abilities in action, but like the other two characters, she would serve the story best in a mentor-type capacity.

2. Look to the novels for new plots

There are six Star Wars movies from which to draw inspiration when plotting out Episodes VII through IX, but there are also more than 150 expanded-universe novels, many of them filled with stories and characters that could easily make the hyperspace jump to the screen. The books that match up best with how the original actors have aged are the Legacy of the Force novels, which take place 40 years after the events in A New Hope. That series tells an intriguing tale of Han and Leia's children, Jacen and Jaina Solo. After Jacen turns to the dark side, murdering Luke's Force-sensitive wife, Mara Jade, and becoming Darth Caedus, Jaina must face — and eventually kill — him. Young Solos and Skywalkers abound, and with Jaina, the new films could be built around something fans have accused the other movies of lacking: a strong female protagonist.

And there are other characters from Star Wars novels who have become fan favorites and should definitely be considered for the big leagues. The blue-skinned Imperial alien strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn and the aforementioned Palpatine agent-turned-Jedi Master Mara Jade, both of whom first appeared in Timothy Zahn's excellent Thrawn trilogy, would be particularly welcome.

3. Ban all Ewoks and Gungans

Listen, Star Wars doesn't have to go all Christopher Nolan. We don't need another bleak, uncompromising look at a society in complete decline — that's never been what this franchise is all about. Even the darkest (and best) of the original films, The Empire Strikes Back, still makes time for scruffy nerf-herder jokes and a scene in which Yoda and R2-D2 play tug-of-war over what appears to be a really cheap-looking lamp.

However — whether in the interest of juicing toy sales or dumbing down the content for younger viewers — the films have also displayed a famously nasty habit of introducing cutesy alien critters who serve no purpose other than to annoy every audience member over the age of 10. This needs to stop. Perhaps that surly barkeep who wouldn't let C-3PO into the Mos Eisley cantina had the right idea after all. If only we could hire him to ban Wicket the Ewok, Jar Jar Binks, and any other characters who exist solely for juvenile comic relief from the new films. They are all hereby banished.

Lucasfilm should look to a movie from another Disney-owned studio, Marvel, for a successful blueprint on how to make a movie that appeals to all ages without alienating older viewers: The Avengers. That film managed to find laughs without a kooky sidekick while also combining light popcorn fare with high-stakes action. The lesson: There's a way to reel in the tykes without turning off the people who actually pay for the tickets.

4. Go easy on the phony-baloney bluescreen, please

Planets seen in the Star Wars prequels, like Mustafar, Utapau, and Kamino, were painstakingly created with superrich detail using the finest computer technology available. Which was exactly the issue. They looked nifty but felt fake — as did many of the interior locales, such as the Geonosian droid factory. That's what happens when so much acting is done in front of giant blue- and greenscreens.

We're not bagging completely on CGI. There are certainly times when such technology can expand the scope and scale of environments to an impressive degree. But if those environments don't feel real to begin with, then you have a problem. Here's hoping the new Star Wars films use CGI as a means, not an end. The unrelenting desert of Tatooine, the desolate frozen plains of Hoth, and the murky swamps of Dagobah all feel like real places instead of overblown computer programs.

5. Pay another visit to the underworld

What fans want most from the new films is for them to be...well, cool. What was the coolest part of Return of the Jedi? The visit to Jabba's palace and subsequent sail-barge battle. And who is considered the coolest of all Star Wars characters? Silent but deadly bounty hunter Boba Fett. If Disney wants to reenergize the franchise, the company should focus on the ''wretched hive of scum and villainy'' known as the criminal underworld. Especially when there is so much more scum and villainy to explore!

Steve Perry's book Shadows of the Empire introduced readers to the nefarious Black Sun organization, led by charismatic criminal mastermind Prince Xizor, who was at one time the third-most-powerful person in the galaxy after the Emperor and Darth Vader. And while purists don't consider the animated Clone Wars series to be fertile ground for inspiration, toothpick-chewing bounty hunter Cad Bane has managed to transcend the cartoon with a look and feel straight out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western. (Bane will have aged out by the time of the new films, but his offspring or another one of his Duro species could make for a formidable presence indeed.)

Don't forget, Han Solo was once a smuggler himself. He went on the run after jettisoning Jabba's cargo and failing to repay the Hutt for the losses. Perhaps the underworld will finally catch up to him in Episode VII. Hopefully about 20 minutes in.

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