In early June director J.J. Abrams will begin shooting the much-awaited Star Wars sequel, otherwise known as Episode VII, at London’s Pinewood studios. The cast will probably include Adam Driver as the chief villain, and possibly Benedict Cumberbatch and Gary Oldman in good-guy roles. Let’s not speculate about Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher delivering quickie cameos. I really wish they wouldn’t, to be honest. Leave it there and move on.
I don’t know anything except that shooting will begin about 10 weeks hence. That’s a fact. So here’s a thought for Abrams if he’s reading this (and I’m told he peruses HE from time to time):
Remember what George Lucas said to one of his colleagues on The Empire Strikes Back when director Irvin Kershner was taking a lot of time to light the sets with a bit more character and uptick the performances and add layers to this and that? Lucas, concerned about budget, said “It doesn’t have to be that good.”
Your movie, Mr. Abrams, does “have to be that good.” You have to aspire to the level of Irvin Kershner and The Empire Strikes Back . It has to be 100% committed to blowing the Lucas prequels out of the water and out of people’s memories for good, and kicking Richard Marquand‘s ass from here to kingdom come.
Back in ’99 or thereabouts Chris Gore and I were lucky enough to interview Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz. Kurtz told us a few Lucas stories and said nothing to discourage our suspicions (long since accepted as fact) that Lucas is more of a toymaker and a franchise profiteer than a seriously Catholic filmmaker. The world agreed long ago that Lucas’s Star Wars prequels were the unfortunate proof.
I hope that a photo of Irvin Kershner is hanging on your office wall, my good friend. Because he is the man.
Kershner made the only escapist popcorn space epic in Hollywood history that was dark and brooding and haunted and unsettled. An action-adventure flick that was about heroes getting the shit kicked out of them from start to finish. A story that was about heroes facing their inner darkness and being betrayed and scrambling for dear life. It was about one good guy losing a hand in a light-sabre duel and learning the supervillain is his dad and another good guy being captured and frozen in carbon, and it ended with everyone bruised and battered. The finale was “wow, that didn’t work out too well, did it?”
Lose, lose, lose, lose, lose.
This is what made The Empire Strikes Back the only great Star Wars movie ever made. Because it wasn’t looking to thrill and delight and sell popcorn and push CG in people’s faces as much as deliver a cliffhanging second act to an Arthurian saga that ended with a big fucking “uh-oh.” It didn’t tromp on the pedal as much as insert an ominous chill into the air. It was escapism first and foremost, but it came damn close to being a film noir.
May Kurtz and Kershner be your friends and guiding lights through this chapter in your life. May they be the spectral figures whom you talk to and ask questions of during principal and post. Don’t go to the dark side by emulating the Lucas approach or replicating his signature. Do the right thing, man. Make your movie for Empire die-hards like me and eff the fat-bellied fanboys. You don’t have to worry about selling tickets. The world will beat a path to this thing. Know that I’m pulling for you, pal. A lot of us are.