First Step Into a Larger World


mifuneWhile everyone has been breathlessly awaiting the announcement of who will be directing Star Wars Episode VII, out of nowhere came the news that Zack Snyder is working on a stand-alone Star Wars film supposedly based on The Seven Samurai.  It’s not like Star Wars and Akira Kurosawa haven’t crossed paths before; George Lucas has admitted the influence of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress on the original Star Wars film, and he considered go-to Kurosawa leading man Toshiro Mifune for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  There’s an awful lot of the bushido in the Jedi, so the possibility of going back to that well for a new Star Wars film makes plenty of sense.

But what’s got me really excited about this news is the idea of letting directors loose in the Star Wars universe unhindered not only by the ongoing Skywalker saga, but by the story and style of the previous films.  It’s an idea that’s been working in comic books for years now, where creators have been allowed to tell completely out-of-continuity stories (like DC’s Elseworlds titles) or stories that focus on the less super-powered corners of their universe (Marvel’s Damage Control and DC’s Gotham Central, for example).  It’s a chance for experimentation and innovation, to try out new storytelling ideas, and to deconstruct the old ones.

So I can only hope Disney and Lucasfilm are willing to allow the same kind of variety.  There’s a rich universe waiting to be tapped in Star Wars, outside the Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker through line.  It’s one of the few things the expanded universe novels have gotten right, in concept if not in execution.  They’ve provided fast-paced military action with the Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron series, grittier stories involving bounty hunters and gangsters, and personal stories of secondary characters that never got a second glance in the main saga.  There’s even an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper novel out this month.  When you’ve got an entire universe to play in, pretty much any kind of story is waiting to be told.

What kind of stories would I like to see?  Well, off the top of my head…

  • A sweaty, dust-blown spaghetti Western-style tale of bounty hunters and double-crosses, full of epic alien vistas and morally ambiguous characters, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with spaceships.
  • A “men on a mission film” in the vein of classic war films like The Guns of Navarone or The Bridge on the River Kwai, where a small group of dogged Rebel commandos take on a seemingly impossible assignment against the might of the Empire.
  • A film noir story, with greedy Hutts and desperate gamblers and gangsters stabbing each other in the back for the sake of one big score, a Maltese Millennium Falcon.
  • A horror tale, steeped in the psychologically twisted lure of the Dark Side of the Force, as our hero struggles to maintain their sanity against the near-overwhelming pull of the Sith.

And that’s just the first burst of brainstorming.  There’s an opportunity here to stop worrying about fitting into the existing mosaic and just tell good stories using one of the most enduring fictional universes every created.

The problem is that Disney didn’t spend $4 billion to experiment with unknown quantities.  They’re going to demand a return on that investment.  There’s a chance they might view Episode VII and beyond as the cash cows that allow them to go off the beaten path with the other films, but it’s more likely they simply want another avenue to sell toys and video games, and will make sure nothing strays too far from the formula.  And The Seven Samurai with Jedi really isn’t that much removed from what’s come before.

I hope I’m wrong.  I’m hoping this news signals a dual course, where one set of films is there to meet expectations and another is there to challenge them.  It’s a lot to expect from a sprawling media giant like Disney, and I’m fully prepared to be disappointed.  I’d just like for Disney and Lucasfilm to surprise me.  As unprofitable as that can be these days.

UPDATE:  Snyder is apparently denying the report.  But Disney’s plans definitely include stand-alone films separate from the numbered episodes.  So my thoughts on the possible direction of those films still apply.  It just means that damn Toshiro Mifune picture I worked on for an hour is now irrelevant.

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