The email from Disney came in January of 2013, confirming what had already been rumored for the last couple of days -– J.J. Abrams had been hired to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
I specifically remember this because I had just landed at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, after returning from the Sundance Film Festival. I thought about this a week ago -- when once again I landed at JFK for the same reason –- because, one year later, that’s still all we really know about "Episode VII." This is kind of odd.
Okay, fine, Abrams has officially confirmed that R2-D2 will be in the movie -– which, on a scale of revelations, ranks right up there with “The new ‘Star Wars’ will open with a title scroll” or “Rob Ford likes to be tickled.”
Oh, and yes, Abrams recently confirmed that the new script (that he co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan) is finished. Well, I’d hope so, since this movie comes out next year and all.
For a comparison, “The Phantom Menace” started filming in June of 1997, just two years shy of its release, whereas “Episode VII” has yet to even make a casting announcement. Then again, the original “Star Wars” started filming in March of 1976, only 14 months before its release. So, based on the final product of the above two movies, the lesson here is that reading into a film’s production schedule in an attempt to predict the quality of a movie is a good way to be wrong.
So, what do we know?
Speaking of that script: poor Michael Arndt. The "Toy Story 3" writer will now go down as a footnote; the guy who wrote the fist “Episode VII” script that has nothing to do with the final movie. Someday, his script will sit beside Leigh Brackett’s curious first draft of “The Empire Strikes Back” as nothing more than an interesting piece of trivia. (Though, like Brackett’s draft, I do hope someday we’ll get to read Arndt’s work.)
The Hollywood Reporter ran a story a few weeks ago revealing the reason for Arndt’s script being tossed was that Abrams wants “Episode VII” to focus on the characters from the original trilogy -– Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa -– as opposed to their offspring.
This set off a some spirited Internet debate between those who want to see more of Han, Luke and Leia and those who want a new story. The thing is: Han, Luke and Leia are the big three of “Star Wars.” Lightning struck when these characters were put together onscreen in 1977 and it’s really hard to duplicate that kind of chemistry. Which is why the prequels didn’t work as well -– we weren’t watching Han, Luke and Leia. If we are watching new characters, well, who knows what we’re going to get? Which can be said for any new movie, really. So, I least get what Abrams is thinking here because, for me, “Star Wars” is Han, Luke and Leia. Then again, it’s been 30 years since the cast has played these characters and, yes, that’s a concern.
Literally not one human being has been officially cast in “Episode VII” –- not even Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher; it's to the point that Ford will dodge every question even remotely about Episode VII (I speak from experience) -- even though it seems that almost every living human being is under some sort of consideration. (The latest names thrown around have been Michael Fassbender, Hugo Weaving, Adam Driver and Jesse Plemons from “Breaking Bad” -- because, why not?)
It’s an odd trichotomy at the Lucasfilm camp these days. What once was solely controlled by George Lucas himself –- with all major decisions coming down from one guy, really -– has now been split into three. There’s Abrams, there’s new Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy, and then there’s the parent company, Disney itself. The system itself is almost designed to create friction, which, yes, can slow down the process. (As we saw when “Episode VII” was moved from May 2015 to December 2015.)
As I’ve written before, I refuse to freak out about “Star Wars” (I’m really trying my best, I swear). Again, the smoothest “Star Wars” productions were the three prequels and the most difficult, by far –- which included a complete script rewrite just like “Episode VII” -- was “The Empire Strikes Back.” Today, “Empire” is considered the best of the six “Star Wars” movies, while even Lucasfilm seems to be trying to bury the prequels in obscurity.
And to Abrams’ credit, he seems to want to make an announcement soon, just to get it over with, as he said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Jan. 20, “I look forward to that so that we can get past it and we can get on with it.”
So, the lack of news about “Star Wars: Episode VII” means nothing in terms of how that movie will turn out. But it still would be nice to hear something.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.