Lucasfilm has been a regular fountain of breaking news since Disney bought up George Lucas’s cinematic empire last October, and today a bit more good news trickled down from Northern California: the postponement of STAR WARS Episodes II and III theatrical releases in their planned 3D conversion. One might say this qualifies more as ‘no news’ than good news, but look deeper at what’s not happening to find the value of what will be happening in its place. First, the official decree from up North:
Lucasfilm has decided to postpone this fall’s scheduled release of Star Wars Episodes II and III in 3D. Given the recent development that we are moving forward with a new Star Wars trilogy, we will now focus 100 percent of our efforts on Star Wars: Episode VII in order to ensure the best possible experience for our fans. We will post further information about our 3D release plans at a later date.
This is indeed promising news if it reflects a true shift in intention and purpose within Lucasfilm, now run by LFL’s new President Kathleen Kennedy, to bet all-in on new STAR WARS films that hope to revitalize the franchise. Also serving as executive producer of upcoming Episodes VII through IX, Kennedy has wisely decided to shelve the 3D-conversions of prequel Episodes II and III originally slated to poke your eyes out in September and October of this year in order to fulfill her main mission at the helm.
“We will now focus 100 percent of our efforts on STAR WARS: Episode VII in order to ensure the best possible experience for our fans.” Those are some key word choices, moviegoers, so let’s parse them to find out why.
By default, it appears that converting Episodes II and III for 3D theatrical runs left Lucasfilm with something less than 100% of its attention on producing a new, original STAR WARS feature film — a product that hasn’t been offered to fans since 2005, if you’re still counting. Episode VII’s release will mark ten years passed since Episode II: Revenge of the Sith capped off Lucas’s prequel trilogy. News of a third new trilogy of STAR WARS films rocked the industry and the franchise’s loyal fan base as few press releases could. That means Episode VII will be under tremendous scrutiny when it hits theaters in 2015 and Lucasfilm (now under Disney’s wing) had better deliver the goods to critics and audiences alike. Focus 100% on this galactic gamble to jump start a ‘completed’ film franchise? You bet your sweet Bantha that Kennedy will hone her attentions with laser precision on making Episode VII a success and then some!
This 3D postponement and official statement also signal the welcome end to a pre-Disney chapter in Lucasfilm history: the continual retreading of STAR WARS as a profit center instead of a creative venture. Indeed, the 3D conversion of The Phantom Menace and the prequel trilogy was the latest ploy to keep STAR WARS a money maker for Lucas without actually creating any new STAR WARS feature material.
The last decade and a half have been George’s Tinkering Years: first the Special Editions of the original STAR WARS trilogy in 1997 was greeted with enthusiastic if mixed feelings by devoted fans as classic favorites received digital facelifts; then his somewhat revisionist prequel trilogy of Episodes I-III proved to be too much of the tail wagging the dog (from the front!) for first-generation fans who balked at midichlorians and a golden age of the Jedi that was far too CG-polished for many viewers’ tastes; at last, the whole merry-go-round was spun up again last year with 3D spectacle attempting to lure fans back into theaters one more time for a new formatting of very not-new films. We can only suspect that Episode I’s 3D box office haul of a mere $45 million domestically over 16 weeks didn’t make converting and re-releasing all six existing films look like such a promising economic prospect either.
Yet with all the expense incurred to revamp, reformat and retread all six films, Lucas still denied the STAR WARS devoted the one release they still desire most: a remastered edition of Episode IV: A New Hope in its original theatrical cut, a restoration chore that George insisted was too expensive and time-consuming to deliver. That explanation remains a baffling conundrum given how much the Maker was willing to spend, and spend, and spend spiffing up and stereo-scoping his preferred versions of all six STAR WARS films when most of the requisite restoration on A New Hope must have been done to create its CG-tinkered Special Edition in 1997! Han still shot first in the cantina for many fans, and here’s hoping that Kathleen Kennedy will one day restore that bit of justice in the galaxy.
She’s taking a big step in the right direction, at least, by halting further 3D releases and targeting all of Lucasfilm’s attention on making Episode VII turn out right and well for 2015 — for if she does not, then this entire Disney-owned revitalization (it’s far too early to call it a rebirth) of STAR WARS is likely all for naught. If Episode VII shoots first and right through its own foot upon opening, then how much hope can be held out for the rest of this third trilogy in the Saga?
And don’t think that recently confirmed director of Episode VII, franchise rebooting guru J.J. Abrams, isn’t sweating out that prospect. No doubt that successfully re-energizing the STAR TREK brand for Paramount was a formidable task, but let’s face it: his TREK of 2009 had nowhere near the global expectations that are already piling up over the prospects of STAR WARS: Episode VII.
This will be the start of a third STAR WARS trilogy that George Lucas himself had denied for decades would ever be filmed. Once he decided to go backward along the Skywalker timeline instead of forward, Lucas reframed his saga in terms of telling Anakin Skywalker’s cautionary tale of a Jedi knight who fell from grace but finally redeemed himself. Okay, Anakin found redemption after costing billions of innocent lives in a galactic holocaust of war, but at least Pops finally got the gumption to save his son’s life at the last moment. With Vader vanquished and balance restored to the Force, George said that’s all, folks — there was no reason to tell a third trilogy because the story of his hero, Anakin not Luke, had ended in a funeral pyre on Endor’s moon. Ashes to ashes, Sith to dust, game over.
It was Lucas’s own proclamations as such that quickly boxed him into a tight corner of the STAR WARS universe: he was a Maker with very little new to make. Sure, he developed the CG-animated cable series STAR WARS: The Clone Wars to cover some interstitial ground between two prequel episodes, but in franchise terms the series — however artful and sincere it may be — still does little more than tread water since it cannot break free of its own Episode II-III story constraints. The Clone Wars is a fruitful side venture in the STAR WARS saga, but it can never actually forge new Skywalking drama without undermining established — dare I say it? — canon established by the features. The box remained perilously tight for Lucas and the future of STAR WARS as long as it existed between Episode I and VI bookends.
That’s what this entire new venture of the Kennedy regime boils down to: STAR WARS is first and foremost a cinematic saga, two (now three) film trilogies that first erupted on the big screen thirty-five years ago, taking the world and audiences’ imaginations by storm and never letting go. It is only on the big screen where STAR WARS will truly gain new storytelling ground, break into new vistas of visual and technical wonder, and as a byproduct keep the franchise alive and fresh for all generations.
Kathleen Kennedy, the reigns of Lucasfilm and STAR WARS now held firmly in her grasp, had bloody well better focus 100% of her company’s energy and effort on making Episode VII the best possible experience for fans — because they’re her fans now. To quote a certain Grand Moff of the Empire, “I’m taking an awful risk, Vader. This had better work.” Kennedy may not be taking this risk all by herself, but the responsibility for making it pay off hangs around her neck now, with director Abrams and screenwriter Michael Arndt at her side like the Rebel’s award ceremony on Yavin: sure, you just won the battle and got the job… now the real war begins.
Today’s announcement postponing all future 3D conversions and releases of existing STAR WARS films is a good omen. New is a quality that the franchise needs very much, if indeed they tell these new episodes well enough to justify the venture. Yet a new hope is how this entire saga started before we knew enough to number its episodes. Hope is alive, and giving 100% effort to the task makes that hope shine all the brighter for the next two years, and perhaps beyond.
Hope in 2D is better than hokum in 3D any day.