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Saving Star Wars

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While Hurricane Sandy was pounding on our windows, Disney quietly slipped the announcement that it had purchased Lucasfilm under our doors. For just over $4 billion, Disney will not only acquire the special effects machine that George Lucas built, but it will also get its hands on three treatments for a new series of Star Wars films.

The first of these Star Wars movies, Episode VII, will be released in 2015.

This is both an opportunity and treacherous territory. Will a third trilogy make up for the flimsiness of the second? Or is this going to be another round of Happy Meal entertainment--dumb accents, lame characters, and everything else?

Whoever Disney hires--and whatever these hires produce--there are some basic rules that the next Star Wars team must keep in mind:

We aren't kids anymore:

Yes, you read that right. We've grown up. We've lived through recessions, wars and political turmoil. We've started families, raised children and dealt with heartbreak. Everyone who saw the original movies in the theaters is a lot older now. We don't want another pathetic attempt to replace Chewbacca or the Ewoks with some kind of second-generation Jar Jar Binks. We want something that speaks to us as adults. And if you do it right, we'll still take our kids to the theaters with us. We promise.

Get back to storytelling:

The Sarlacc Pit? X-wing fighters? A dome-shaped robot? These were all the curious inventions of the original Star Wars franchise. They propelled the original trilogy forward. Don't even try to achieve this again.

Trinkets, gadgets, unique aliens and spacecraft will be in the next trilogy. But they will not be substitutes for epic, beautiful storytelling. In the first trilogy, the visual landscape Lucas brought forward was so new that it could at times be a substitute for the story. Not this time. It will feel flimsy and cheap.

Use the Force (a lot less):

The original trilogy included an exploration of George Lucas' sci-fi spirituality. That has now been thoroughly explored. Don't try to rely on the Force as a plot device or scene accelerator. It won't work. It's been done. This time around, the Force can only be the lightest of background props--a subtle nod to Lucas' creation, but nothing more.

Avoid the cheap tricks:

Ever since 9/11, there have been about 72,000 movies in which some metaphor for Al Qaeda is attacking some metaphor for New York. In some cases, the moviemakers don't even bother to find a metaphor. They just attack the city again. Maybe it's an alien invasion. Maybe it's the Decepticons. Maybe it is a Batman nemesis. Please don't give us yet another post-9/11 metaphor dressed up in Star Wars garb. Give us something new.

Avoid the other cheap tricks too:

The Death Star was the original mega evil device. Since then, there have been about 84,000 movies with various evil devices that needed to be stopped/destroyed/stolen/buried forever. You can't recreate the Death Star or anything like it. George Lucas already did that. Skip this plot device, and avoid all variants of it.

Study the Star Wars universe:

When Senator Palpatine became the emperor, he defeated democracy. When Darth Vader destroyed Princess Leia's home planet, he committed genocide. When the Rebel Alliance blew up the Death Star, they smashed a dictatorship.

These are heavy matters. Sure, we didn't always understand the storyline in these terms. But one reason why the original Star Wars trilogy lingered for so long in our minds was that as we climbed through our childhood years, the Star Wars universe gave us more and more to think about. The next movies must do this as well--but our minds are now much older, and much more stuck in their ways.

Write a Star Wars mythology for today:

Multiple human societies are now in the midst of dramatic and diverse kinds of turmoil. At the risk of being grandiose, we need signs and stories to help us navigate the days ahead. We don't all necessarily think we do, but we do.

Someone will soon make the movies that help us understand this global moment. As laughable as it now sounds, if those movies have the words "Star Wars" in the title, if they can credibly embed these issues in the Star Wars universe, they will achieve a status that rivals the original franchise.

Can Disney pull it off? Would Disney even want to? I'm a little skeptical. Still, the creatives and executives tasked with producing the next Star Wars trilogy are going to be held to these standards, whether anyone realizes it or not. Powerful childhood experiences are not easily recreated. But that's what anyone taking on the next Star Wars trilogy is agreeing to do.

This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.