Shared movie universes are one of Hollywood's hottest trends - with decade-spanning stories, and spinoffs, scheduled for both DC and Marvel in the coming years. However, following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, the Mouse House has similar plans for the Galaxy Far, Far Away - with an entire new Star Wars trilogy and three tie-in "Anthology" movies already in development.
Some have described The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Joss Whedon's latest (last?) Marvel Cinematic Universe installment - as over-stuffed; saddled with too many connections to the larger shared universe instead of standalone story and character development. Not all fans will agree, and there's no question Avengers 2 offers solid popcorn entertainment (read our review) - but Disney may already be learning from long-running MCU hurdles, promising that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will not be overrun with references to Episodes I-VI.
Speaking with Vanity Fair (via The Playlist), director J.J. Abrams indicated that The Force Awakens (a.k.a. Episode VII) will only include "essential" references to the original trilogy (and, presumably, the maligned prequels). In fact, the director specifically states that Lucasfilm does not want viewers thinking the studio has prioritized building a foundation for future projects over the in-moment movie experience:
…we’ve obviously had a lot of time [during the development process] to talk about what’s happened outside of the borders of the story that you’re seeing. So there are, of course, references to things, and some are very oblique so that hopefully the audience can infer what the characters are referring to. We used to have more references to things that we pulled out because they almost felt like they were trying too hard to allude to something. I think that the key is—and whether we’ve accomplished that or not is, of course, up to the audience—but the key is that references be essential so that you don’t reference a lot of things that feel like, oh, we’re laying pipe for, you know, an animated series or further movies. It should feel like things are being referenced for a reason.
After George Lucas fumbled one Star Wars revival with Episodes I-III, viewers remain cautiously optimistic that Abrams will find the right balance between old and new - delivering a fresh episode that pays homage to the iconic originals but also forges a unique direction for the series going forward (in-line with modern moviegoer expectations).
Practical effects and makeup (along with subtle teases of the original series cast members) certainly imply the filmmaker knows that cheap nods and throwaway lines are not going to please fans - fans eager for a Star Wars story that is less style and more substance. Add the director's most recent quote, and it's clear that Abrams isn't taking the responsibilities of his Star Wars movie lightly.
As indicated, the news comes at an interesting time - when fellow Disney-backed Age of Ultron has some fans asking if shared movie universe storytelling might actually be hurting superhero movies (even if it is helping to pad box offices gross). Over the past week, Avengers 2 director Joss Whedon has discussed, on multiple occasions, that studio pressure led to a number of changes to the final Age of Ultron film. While Whedon stops short of claiming that Disney or Marvel are responsible for the film's most noted shortcomings, it sounds as though Abrams is attempting to set slightly clearer expectations for his viewership going forward.
The new trilogy will rely on the foundation (and select characters) from the past - but will not be hammering audiences over the head with throwaway references. No doubt Abrams needs to play on story material from the past, but it's a relief to hear that only "essential" ones will make the cut. As Abrams indicates, the exact mix in this balancing act is one that will be left for fans to ponder - since there's no definitive answer to the equation.
Still, the very fact that Abrams is aware of that line (and that it is a delicate one), and that there can bee too much of good thing - should be encouraging. Tunnel vision prevented George Lucas from separating what was essential from what was indulgent, resulting in one of the biggest drawbacks of the prequel trilogy (unchecked self-indulgence). After all, looking backwards (to chronicle the fall of Darth Vader) proved to be less interesting (and fulfilling) than Lucas originally thought - meaning the more time that Abrams spends introducing new characters and driving the story forward, the better.
Hopefully, the director will have learned from these prior mistakes and find subtle ways to allude to the past without hammering fans (and less-knowledgable moviegoers) over the head with on-the-nose dialogue and superficial connections to prior adventures in that Galaxy Far, Far Away.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters December 18, 2015; Star Wars: Rogue One on December 16, 2016; and Star Wars: Episode VIII (subtitle TBD) on May 26th, 2017.
Source: Vanity Fair (via The Playlist)