Contra my hope that Disney’s announced Star Wars Episode VII would draw storylines from the Expanded Universe—I’ll just have to hope for a Rogue Squadron television show, someday—it sounds like Disney’s going to start from scratch. As E Online reports, “‘It’s an original story,’ a LucasFilm source tells me. In other words, forget the Star Wars novels. Forget the graphic novels. Forget everything you think you know about what happens to Luke Skywalker. According to my sources, Episode 7 will literally be nothing you’ve ever seen or read before from the Star Wars universe.” The Guide To The Star Wars Universe stone-cold nerd in me will admit to being somewhat disappointed (though I still don’t think this means they scrap the continuity for sure—it could just mean they spin out to a different era or part of the galaxy). But I still think it’s worth thinking about what made both Star Wars and the Expanded Universe so addictive, and what could distinguish this franchise from the other ones in play in the media landscape.
One possibility, which I wrote about in Slate today, is that the franchise could jump ahead of its competitors by focusing on the female characters that have always been one of its strengths:
Over three movies, George Lucas and company didn’t just create the ultimate fanboy surrogate in Luke Skywalker, but they also told a story about the rarest of action movie creatures: a woman with a job and political principles, who was more competent and important than either of the two men who showed up to rescue her, and who fell in love with a guy who changed to be with her, rather than the other way around…Introduced in 1991 in Heir To The Empire, the first in a trilogy by Timothy Zahn, Mara got to occupy roles that had previously belonged to men in the original Star Wars trilogy. Like Darth Vader, she was a lethal agent of the late Emperor Palpatine, and like Han Solo, we meet her as a cynical smuggler. But unlike Vader, Mara got to redeem herself of the Emperor’s influence without dying in the process. And even though she became a formidable Jedi warrior, she also got to be the leading lady in one of the Expanded Universe’s most epic love stories, her romance with and eventual marriage to Luke Skywalker…Unlike in the original Star Wars movies, Stackpole’s lineup featured lots of female pilots who came from backgrounds as diverse as a prison planet, an alien race with a particular talent for spying, and the spoiled scion of a powerful industrial family. It’s a world where, unlike action stories in which women are supposed to be able to shoot guns and crush throats in high heels, a woman’s ability to rock an evening dress or willingness to date an alien lawyer had no impact on her performance when she hopped into an orange jumpsuit and climbed into the cockpit of an X-Wing.
And D.B. Grady argues that the new movies should reflect foreign policy realities in a way George Lucas always claimed to want but could never credibly argue that he pulled off:
With Episode VII, however, the disconnect may be righted. Already, we have a good idea of what the world post-War on Terror will look like. In lieu of big military offenses or visible progress, we have sanitized drone wars and covert actions. Gone is a monolithic enemy—that’s been replaced by al-Qaeda, personified by Osama bin Laden. Here to stay are scores of loosely affiliated and undefined groups, each with its own goal. The horror in Benghazi might be a one-off, but it might also be a glimpse at the new normal. Gone is a president whose first act in office was directing the closure of Guantanamo; here to stay, whoever wins in November, are secret kill lists and four-part tests to decide when it’s okay to assassinate American citizens.
Star Wars beyond the Battle of Endor elegantly and naturally speaks to such times, whatever story might be told. What do we know of the New Republic? To be sure, life in the galaxy will lack the stability found in the Palpatine regime. “Fear” kept the local systems in line. Specifically, fear of the Death Star. With the battle station destroyed and the imperium collapsed, it seems likely that governance would fall to the regional governors—all of whom, one would expect, were installed by the empire. Instead of a singular evil to topple, the galaxy is therefore left with dozens of warlords, each with his or her own agenda, each willing to keep power by any means necessary, each actively working toward the failure of the New Republic. Likewise, oligarchs such as the Hutts are newly empowered. After the fireworks spectacular shared with the Ewoks, the messy business of actually crafting new system begins. Absent the political will to send in a fresh clone army to quell unrest in the Outer Rim, how long before Princess Leia is choosing which governor or slug to target as a means of quietly advancing the New Republican agenda?
There are a lot of other things, too: hire someone who can write dialogue that sounds like actual humans would speak it to each other, spontaneously, and often under duress. Pick actors who can enliven even cheesy material—this would be an argument for focusing on grown-up characters rather than adorable, pod-racing moppets or sulky teenagers. And institute a mandatory racist nonsense check on all alien characters, please. But really, think about the big, structural stuff, and think about it hard.