Thursday, November 08, 2012

Culture Shock 11.08.12: Is 'Star Wars' without Lucas still 'Star Wars?'

It has become cliché to note the thread that unites events like the JFK assassination, the Challenger explosion and 9/11.

Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard about them.

But it's also the case that each of these world-stopping events is tragic. It's seldom that good news has even remotely the same impact. Until now.

I was sitting in a coffee shop reading a book when I glanced at my Twitter feed — as I now do habitually between chapters — and saw the news: "Disney buys Lucasfilm for $4B." Followed by "New Star Wars movie due in 2015."

Within 20 minutes, I was at a local gaming shop — a den of geek culture — sharing the news. Jaws dropped. Everyone was sure I was kidding. But in these days of ubiquitous smartphones, it doesn't take long for everyone to see for themselves.

"Remember where you were when you heard the news," I told them. "One day you'll tell your grandkids about this moment."

To some this may seem like an overreaction to the trivial, but to my generation and those that came after, it is almost impossible to overstate the cultural impact of "Star Wars." Believe me, those of us who were disappointed in the prequels weren't disappointed because we hate "Star Wars" or are ambivalent toward it. The crushing disappointment of Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting and child Anakin comes from love.

And now "Star Wars" is back — a new trilogy taking the story forward rather than backward, only this time George Lucas' involvement will be minimal. He's providing the story outline, but the heavy lifting of the screenplay and the direction will fall to others. "Star Wars" is Disney's baby now.

Not long ago, that prospect would have terrified me, but Disney has so far made all the right moves with its other recent acquisition, Marvel Comics, including placing Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") in charge of the Marvel movie universe. Disney would do well to find someone similar, with a similar background running TV shows with complex mythologies, to shepherd the "Star Wars" franchise. My free advice is to hire Ronald D. Moore ("Battlestar Galactica") for the overseer role, then bring in an experienced director to helm Episode VII, the first film of the new trilogy. My pick would be Kenneth Branagh, whose experience with both genre movies ("Thor") and Shakespeare is exactly the mix a sprawling space opera needs.

The prospect of new blood taking over the "Star Wars" saga made even some of the most jaded fans curious. Can a "Star Wars" free of Lucas' increasingly absurd dialogue and disinterested approach to his actors recapture the magic of the original trilogy?

We will know more when we know who is writing and directing the new films, but putting aside any lingering disappointment with the prequels, it's important to remember that this is Lucas' universe. Without him overseeing the franchise, it's possible Episodes VII, VIII and IX may lack something — an ineffable Star Warsness.

It's a bold proclamation even I would dispute, but there is a reason why Camille Paglia, in her new book "Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars," says Lucas is the greatest artist of our time. Lucas grasps the timeless stories and myths that drive Western culture as few others do. As Paglia writes, he has "created characters who have entered the dream lives of millions."

Now Lucas has entrusted those characters to others.

We may get movies that finally erase the bad memories of the prequels. They may even be great movies. But will they feel like "Star Wars?"

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