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'Star Wars: Episode VII' Burning Questions — 8 Directions It Could Take

By Christian Blauvelt, Hollywood.com Staff

Yesterday's news that Disney purchased Lucasfilm and now plans to make Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of a new Star Wars trilogy was a bombshell that hit with the force of a superlaser slamming into Alderaan. But in a good way! Theories are abounding about the direction the saga may now take. (Check out Moviefone's take here.) Only one thing is certain, though. When ""A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."" next pops on screen, it won't be preceded by that symphonic 20th Century Fox fanfare.

George Lucas and new Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy say they already have a treatment for a new Star Wars trilogy, though we don't know who's written it or anything at all of what it will be about. The thing is, Star Wars: Episode VII could take the franchise literally anywhere, because that legendary Galaxy Far, Far Away is one of the most expansive, detailed fictional universes ever created. Lucas, and the writers and artists he's authorized to explore his galactic playground through the franchise's Expanded Universe of novels, comics, and videogames, has created a Star Wars galaxy full of hundreds of memorable planets, alien races, spaceships, and nifty gizmos, thousands of characters, and millennia of galactic history. Quite simply, there's no other legendarium riper for the cinematic picking. The six films that have already been made barely scratch the surface of what diehard fans know the Star Wars galaxy has to offer.

The funny thing is, until yesterday, it seemed entirely likely that we would never see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen again. George Lucas quickly reduced his initial plan in the early '80s for nine to twelve episodes of the space opera to six, with Return of the Jedi as the natural end point. The Emperor and his forces were destroyed, Darth Vader was redeemed, and Luke Skywalker could now begin the task of rebuilding the Jedi Order. All wrapped up in a neat bow, huh?

Well, not quite. Even if the Skywalker family had come full circle, common sense would tell you that the Star Wars galaxy itself would still have a lot of challenges to face. Namely, that the Empire still controls just about everything, even without old Papa Palpatine around to administer his unique form of lightning-based governing. Through a series of several-dozen novels—and a few graphic novels—written by various authors, Lucasfilm has allowed for the period after Return of the Jedi to be explored extensively. These books show how the Rebel Alliance becomes the New Republic and continues to beat back the Empire until the once-mighty dictatorship is just a sad little rump state full of petty, scheming Moffs. These also show Han Solo and Princess Leia getting married, having three kids named Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin (after the lad's grandfather), and Luke setting up an academy to train a new Jedi Order. Right now, the timeline after Return of the Jedi has been explored up to about 40 years after the events of that film, and Luke, Leia, and Han are nearing the galactic equivalent of AARP status, meaning that many of the novels published today focus as much, if not more, on the "next generation" of Jedi. Keep in mind, Lucasfilm has established that all of these books are canon. So that means this established galactic history, along with the template provided by the recent, highly successful reboot of another space-set franchise, may offer a roadmap for what we can expect from Episode VII. Here are eight points to consider when pondering what direction the new trilogy will take.

1. Will Episodes VII-IX still be about the Skywalker family?

I would venture to say, yes. George Lucas has made it very clear that the core arc of his big-screen saga is the story of the Skywalker family. That's not to say that other non-Skywalker-centric movies could be produced. Especially considering that, in an investors' phone call yesterday, Disney stated they're looking at producing a new Star Wars movie every two to three years, beyond even this new trilogy. Joe Johnston, director of Captain America: The First Avenger and creator of Boba Fett back in 1978, may yet get to make the Fett movie he's talked about for ages! But when we're talking about the actual Episodes, those have always been about the Skywalker clan, their discovery of their unique gifts, and their struggle to maintain the purity of their intentions in a chaotic universe. In that family, and in the particular father-son dynamic of Anakin and Luke, Lucas found a mythopoetic struggle between darkness and light, between intent and consequence—in short, a heroes' journey worthy of his spiritual muse, Joseph Campbell. If Episode VII isn't directly about Luke or Leia, it could very well be about Leia's children or Luke's son, Ben. That said, is Star Wars: The Next Generation really what the fans want to see?

2. Could Luke, Leia, and Han be recast?

Let's face it. What Star Wars fans really want to see are more adventures with Luke, Han, and Leia. Their swashbuckling heroism and screwball interplay have pretty much set the standard to which all subsequent action-adventure films aspire. But it also seems pretty unlikely that we'd have fifty-something Carrie Fisher, sixty-something Mark Hamill, and seventy-something Harrison Ford playing these characters. Luckily, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot brilliantly established the idea that you can replace beloved actors in iconic roles. Who would have imagined anyone as James T. Kirk but William Shatner? Or anyone donning Spock's pointy ears but Leonard Nimoy? Yet Chris Pine ably took his seat in the captain's chair, and Zachary Quinto proved himself a fine 21st century logician. The new Star Wars trilogy could indeed take place just a few years after Return of the Jedi…but with new actors in the roles made famous by Hamill, Fisher, and Ford. If that's the case, could any of the Expanded Universe novels or comics be tapped as story material for the new trilogy? Yes, and there are three likely contenders.

Next: Three post-Return of the Jedi books that could provide a roadmap to Episode VII.[PAGEBREAK]

3. Storyline Inspiration Part 1: Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire

When Timothy Zahn published Heir to the Empire in 1991, it arrived with seismic force. This was the first glimpse any Star Wars fan had ever gotten of the timeline after the Original Trilogy. Set five years after Return of the Jedi, the heroes of the Rebel Alliance have formed the New Republic but face a dastardly new Imperial menace in the form of Grand Admiral Thrawn, a blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss, who's part Sherlock Holmes, part Erwin Rommel—a charismatic nemesis who's always one step ahead of our heroes, but who represents an entirely more intellectual, less operatic kind of villainy. Think Khan from Star Trek more than Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine. Heir to the Empire was the first of a trilogy chronicling our heroes' fight against Thrawn and has long been the fans' pick for the existing storyline they'd most like to see adapted into a new film saga. Best of all, it introduced crimson-haired bounty hunter Mara Jade into the mix, a feisty new romantic foil for Luke, who one day becomes Mrs. Skywalker.

4. Storyline Inspiration Part 2: Dark Empire

If, however, Disney, Lucasfilm, and whatever new scribe(s) and director they bring in to helm the franchise wants to tap more into the mythological well that made the Original Trilogy so great, they may look to Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy's Dark Empire comics. Set a year after Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy, or six years after ROTJ, Dark Empire shows that, though Emperor Palpatine's body died at the end of the Original Trilogy, his spirit lived on and flew across the galaxy to his private planet Byss. There, the disembodied Sith Lord lodged his spirit in a fresh clone body that he'd set aside for just such an occasion. And, like Voldemort, was resurrected! Immediately reassuming command of the Empire, the revived Palpatine launches a blistering attack on the New Republic. He also attempts once again to turn Luke to the Dark Side. And this time...he succeeds. This could be a way of reviving themes from the Original Trilogy, but giving them a fresh spin. And if Kathleen Kennedy wants to take a darker, more psychologically resonant, Nolan-esque approach to Star Wars, they would do worse than to look at Dark Empire.

5. Storyline Inspiration Part 3: Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy Trilogy

A lot of Anderson's 1994-95 trilogy is pretty silly, but at its core could be the impetus for new big-screen Star Wars storytelling: Luke Skywalker's goal of recreating the Jedi Order from scratch and the challenges he and his new disciples face when trying to build an Order that would have been worthy of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.

6. Or will it really just be Star Wars: The Next Generation?

Fans definitely want to see the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han. But there may also be a timidity on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm to meddle with such beloved, iconic characters. In that case, they may focus on an all-new dramatis personae. But since Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are still likely to be about the Skywalker family, that means these characters could be "The Next Generation." Many books have already illuminated the adventures of Leia's children, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin, along with Luke's son, Ben, and by focusing on them it could be a way to bring the Star Wars saga full circle. Luke himself could now be the aging sage, the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure who mentors the younglings as they become Jedi.

NEXT: Could we see Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford after all? [PAGEBREAK] One Star Wars book series, Legacy of the Force, shows Leia's son Jacen falling to the Dark Side until he becomes the ultimate Sith Lord, Darth Caedus. To see how Luke grapples with his nephew falling to the Dark Side could be a psychologically resonant echo of the working out of his own daddy issues regarding Darth Vader. Considering that Disney also typically aims young, a "next generation" adventure with young Jedi could be appealing to them from a marketing standpoint. It also means, quite counter-intuitively, that…

7. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford could come back!

But likely just in small or supporting parts. Abrams' Star Trek reboot lays the template again for this. He built his film around a hot young cast but still included Leonard Nimoy as an anchor to the great tradition that is Star Trek of old. Mark Hamill, in particular, could fulfill this function in Episode VII. (As much as I'd love to see Wishful Drinking-style Princess Leia.) He could be included in the film as a nod to the fans, while not actually having the film be about him.

8. Or will it just rewrite Star Wars canon after all?

This is entirely possible. This whole article has been about preexisting storylines that might be incorporated in or serve as inspiration for a new film. But Disney and Lucasfilm might very well just want to start from scratch. Why be tethered to plot continuity that exists in books that only the most diehard fans have read? Lucasfilm Animation's ongoing Cartoon Network series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, continually flouts pre-existing canon, making it clear that what's on screen is more important—and can overwrite—anything that's previously been on the page. Episode VII would still likely be about the Skywalkers, but otherwise the story could be anything. Again, look at how Abrams' Star Trek not only disregarded decades worth of Trek lore, but essentially erased that lore with its time-travel plot.

One Final Note: Expect the fans' point-of-view to be better represented.

I actually admire the integrity of George Lucas's vision in the Star Wars prequels. He told the story he wanted to tell on his own terms and nobody else was going to tell him otherwise. That's pretty iconoclastic, regardless of what you think of the results. And it's certainly far afield from so much of today's franchise-movie filmmaking-by-committee approach, in which marketing impulses trump anything close to a personal vision. Lucas's prequels do have a personal vision.

However, going forward, Disney, and whatever screenwriter and director they bring in, will undoubtedly listen more to the average Star Wars fan's point of view. And that point of view is pretty simple to articulate: more witty repartee, less monologues about sand and the taxation of trade routes; more action, less political mumbo-jumbo; and most importantly, hire better actors! Beyond those basic gripes, most fans would probably like to see the Millennium Falcon again, Boba Fett and some other steely bounty hunters, and even just something as basic as the hyperspace starlines that were such a sensation in the Original Trilogy but were left out completely in the prequels.

Most of all, if Episode VII is anywhere near as good as Star Wars: The Clone Wars is these days, I'll be one very happy fan.

[Photo Credit: Lucasfilm (2)]

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