Disney announced today that filming on Star Wars: Episode VII will begin in May. That makes for a pretty ambitious production schedule if they want to make the December 2015 release date. It’s not like other films haven’t run their post-production practically until the first showings on their first day of release. But you’d think that, with everything that’s riding on this, Disney and J.J. Abrams wouldn’t be cutting it this close. We’re talking 19 months from cameras rolling to eyes on the screen. That might work for some films, but the next chapter in a sprawling galactic adventure? I don’t know.
What worries me most about the compressed production is that it seems like it leaves little time to pull off what was promised to be a less CGI-dependent set of films. One of the worst things about the prequels was how artificial they felt, as so much of them was filmed on green screen sets with very few tangible elements the actors could sink their teeth into. It was said the new trilogy wouldn’t lean so heavily on that, but I’m having trouble seeing how they can pull that off in the time they have. A lot of pre-production work, like location scouting and set construction, depends on a script, which by all indications we didn’t have long enough ago for a lot of the work to have been done. Unless they wrote the script based on a series of planned locations. Which doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the story.
I’ve seen plenty of ready-made scorn heaped on the whole enterprise, particularly at Abrams, thanks mostly to his past penchant for keeping details about his films insanely locked down. Add in the fact that we’ve had exactly one casting announcement, and it seems like he’s up to it again. In fact, today’s announcement is the first real substantive piece of news about the film to come from an official source in quite a while, and it’s nothing more than a scheduling note and a quick mention that the film takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Well no kidding; we’re 30 years after the release of that film, so some educated guessing could have sussed that one out.
The mess that was Star Trek: Into Darkness hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence in people either. After seemingly pulling off the trick of both respecting the property and reinvigorating it with his first Trek film, Abrams failed to do either with the sequel. It merely ticked off Trek talking points without investing them with any import or excitement. Granted, his Trek screenwriters aren’t along for the ride this time, but he’s still the one directing it. It’ll have his sensibilities all over it. Will we get the Abrams of the first Trek, or the second?
And yet I still find myself oddly optimistic. Not the fanboy raving I experienced back in 1997 when Episode I got underway; I’m not going down that road again, not after where it led. But I’m encouraged by people making Star Wars movies who seem to actually want to make them as opposed to seeming like they have to. There’s still danger ahead — the remaining casting, just how original stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher will be used, just what the story is — but I feel a little more positive about the whole thing than a lot of my online cohorts. Maybe deep down, I’m not expecting that much, so there’s less room for me to fall.