The first time I watched Star Wars, I was five years old. I am too young to have seen them on their original theatrical release, but I vividly remember how the black VHS boxes drew my attention and how exciting they seemed. When I finally got to watch them, they blew my young mind away, and sparked a love of Star Wars, science fiction and film that lasts to this day. The original Star Wars trilogy may not be perfect, but Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) remains my instinctive choice whenever I’m asked to select just one favorite movie.
As a result, I was quite excited when the announcement for Star Wars: Episode VII was released. Like most fans, I had some hesitation after the prequels (though, admittedly, as someone young enough to first watch The Phantom Menace at a relatively young age, I possess less rage towards them than many others who first saw them as adults), but the hope for something better never subsided. JJ Abrams is undoubtedly facing immense pressure and expectations, but I truly believe he is capable of making a great Star Wars movie. To help him and other Star Wars fans, however, here are ten things that will help to endear fans to the new movie further and send it in the right direction to fulfill all expectations.
10. Refer to the Expanded Universe Without Directly Adapting It
Outside of the six Star Wars movies, there are countless novels, comic books, video games, television projects and other products that have expanded the Star Wars universe, stretching it thousands of years before Episode I and decades after the end of Return of the Jedi. While Lucasfilm and Disney have already announced that they will borrow from the Expanded Universe when they see fit, rather than remain loyal to its continuity, that doesn’t mean fans clamouring for EU concepts should be ignored. Even if the film doesn’t include a major EU character like Mara Jade or Grand Admiral Thrawn, it can include small Easter eggs to please fans. A reference to Darth Revan or Darth Bane in a Jedi Holocron, a character bringing up the Force-sensitive witches of Dathomir or a decision to cast beloved Star Wars novelist Timothy Zahn in a background cameo role could make a lot of people happy while allowing the cast and crew to preserve their current vision for the new movie.
9. Don’t Mention Midi-chlorians
One of the most reviled aspects of the prequels was the decision to explain Jedi Force abilities through the pseudo-scientific concept of midi-chlorians, a biological way to measure Force sensitivity. Fans prefer the mystical quality attributed to the Force by Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars film, so returning some of the mystery and magic to the Force would help guide the new film away from those bad memories and establish a new chapter in the Star Wars universe solely connected to the beloved originals. While they’re at it, they should also avoid mentioning Gungans, the Trade Federation or any of the other similarly hated aspects of the prequels. That’s not to say Episode VII can’t include a double-ended lightsaber or other more interesting aspects of the prequels, but selectivity is crucial in borrowing anything from them to avoid immediately alienating long-time fans.
8. Give the Movie a Self-contained Storyline With a Satisfying Ending
Some current major movie franchises have become overly concerned with setting up future installments, at the expense of providing a strong standalone story. There is a delicate balance between leaving plot lines that can be continued in future movies and failing to resolve major plot points, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe serving as an excellent example (though I’d prefer if Abrams didn’t simply borrow their post-credits teaser technique as other blockbusters have increasingly done). The original Star Wars movie also serves as a perfect example, as it resolved every major plot point while leaving enough room to continue the story in the other two movies of the trilogy. If Abrams can leave audiences with a sense of contentment, rather than bafflement or confusion, at the end of the movie (feel free to insert your opinion about the series finale of Lost here), he will have done an excellent job.
7. Play Up the Comic Relief Aspects of R2-D2 and C-3PO
Whether you prefer Statler and Waldorf in the Muppets, Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, Thompson and Thomson in Tintin or any of the various buddy comedies of the last few decades, from Lethal Weapon to Hot Fuzz, it’s impossible to deny the lasting power of the hilarious comic duo. R2-D2 and C-3P0 were originally designed to serve a similar function, themselves inspired by the early 20th century comedy team Laurel and Hardy, and Tahei and Matashichi from Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress (one of Lucas’ favorite movies and a great influence on Star Wars). The importance of this role is often underestimated in the success of the original trilogy, and Abrams would be wise to restore R2-D2 and C-3PO to serve in this capacity. R2-D2 will always fix things and save every character at least once, and C-3PO will translate something, but they work best as characters when they bicker, argue and make us laugh as well.
6. Rely on Practical Special Effects as Often as Possible
Mainstreams films, in terms of special effects, can be divided into before and after Star Wars. The original trilogy pushed the boundaries of what was possible on-screen, and revolutionized the mindset of blockbuster summer film-making. The newer prequel trilogy, however, eschewed many practical special effects techniques in favour of newer digital effects, and often with less satisfying results. The films of Christopher Nolan and the original Lord of the Rings movies, however, demonstrate how a modern big-budget special effects movie can incorporate digital effects while still relying on practical effects like models, miniatures, make-up and creative camera techniques to wow audiences (Jackson‘s Hobbit trilogy, in fact, serves as an interesting parallel to Lucas‘ prequel trilogy in discussing the perils of over-reliance on CGI). Fans want the world and characters of Star Wars to seem real, and a decision of this sort would be important to ensure a spectacular but also believable movie.
5. Ensure the Action is Based in Character, Not Just Empty Spectacle
Which lightsaber fight is more exciting: the one between Luke and Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back or the one between Anakin, Obi-Wan and Count Dooku at the end of Attack of the Clones? If you said the former, then you are correct. But why? The choreography of the latter is far more complex, the special effects are better and the action is faster-paced. The former, however, has a sense of inevitability, a feeling that it serves as a crucible in Luke’s Jedi training and an ability to put audiences on edge more than the Attack of the Clones scene. The former’s reliance on mood, atmosphere and character development far outweigh the empty spectacle the latter possesses. If Abrams can make his action scenes equally important to plot and character development, while providing the technical achievements and advanced fight choreography available to him today, he has the potential to craft scenes that could become just as iconic as Vader’s “I am your father” pronouncement.
4. Don’t Include a Romantic Subplot Unless It’s Both Important and Well Written
One of my greatest pet peeves is the inclusion of a romantic subplot in a movie out of a sense of obligation, rather than in an organic style that fits with the rest of the story. I love a great romantic movie (Casablanca, When Harry Met Sally and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are a few that immediately come to mind), but I also don’t think it’s a necessary component for a good story. The Empire Strikes Back proved a Star Wars movie is fully capable of providing a great romantic subplot, filled with nuance, quippy dialogue, undeniable chemistry and wonderful expressions and body language, and I can’t imagine the movie without it. Any fan who had to suffer through Hayden Christensen‘s awkward, wooden scenes with Natalie Portman in Attack of the Clones, however, will admit they probably would have preferred the movie to be romance-free. If it can be done as well as in Empire Strikes Back, then include a romantic subplot by all means. If it’s not able to meet that lofty standard, however, I’d rather not have to suffer through yet another sub-par movie romance.
3. Pass the Bechdel Test and Create Several Strong Female Characters
So far, Episode VII has cast Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, Game of Thrones veteran Gwendoline Christie and newcomer Daisy Ridley to appear alongside Carrie Fisher, but the cast still remains predominately comprised of men. It is therefore important that the female characters of the movie not be relegated to one-dimensional love interests, but rather be women of strength (mental, emotional or physical), intelligence, depth, and agency. The female characters should be crucial to the plot, play important roles in the events of the movie, and serve as strong role models to girls and women. One way to measure these factors is the Bechdel test, which assesses whether two female characters have meaningful interactions about topics other than men, but Episode VII needs to go beyond that seemingly simple requirement to create more female characters as independent, strong-willed and driven as Princess Leia. If JJ Abrams is capable of channeling the same instincts that helped him create Sydney Bristow in Alias or Olivia Dunham in Fringe, he should have no problem in doing so.
2. Keep the Best-loved Familiar Aspects of a Star Wars Movie…
Some elements of Star Wars, from the opening scroll to the line “I have a bad feeling about this,” are as expected as martinis and fancy cars in a Bond movie or a Batcave and Batmobile in a Batman movie. With indications that Tatooine, the Millennium Falcon, many of the original cast (such as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) and a John Williams soundtrack will all be part of the new movie, Episode VII seems to be headed in the right direction to meet fan expectations. It’s still important for JJ Abrams to remain focused on including these Star Wars staples seamlessly and in a way that will demonstrate his familiarity with and love of the original movies.
1. …While Also Being Willing to Do Something Distinctive and New
Lucasfilm and Disney didn’t hire Abrams because he was capable of serving as a conduit to fulfill studio demands, but because his talents, ideas and experiences made him an ideal candidate to bring something new to the Star Wars universe. Abrams shouldn’t be afraid to use his distinctive visual style (lens flares, for example) or to use the movie to express ideas or explore themes that best harness his passions. Making a movie in any big franchise, particularly one as iconic as Star Wars, comes with its own expectations, but also provides room for personal expression and creativity. For recent examples, look at the way in which Sam Mendes directed Skyfall, Justin Lin put his own personal touch to bring the best out of the Fast and Furious franchise, or even how Abrams brought his own approach to rebooting Star Trek. It’s impossible for Abrams to please all fans, no matter what he does, so I feel his best approach, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, is to make the Star Wars movie he would love to see and that he feels is his best possible work and to then hope at least most other fans are excited about it as he is.