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I feel a little guilty writing this post, because casting news is really pretty speculative stuff, and there's really not as much controversy to talk about the way there was with the "Fantastic Four" cast a couple of months ago, which touched off a good debate about racebending and diversity. But good grief, the newly announced cast of the next "Star Wars" movie seems to be all anybody is talking about. The list of names was released yesterday, along with a picture of everyone gathered together for a script reading. The internet happily went bonkers over the news, so what the hell. I'm as much of a "Star Wars" nerd as anybody. I should get to enjoy this moment too.

And my reaction to the announcement is overwhelmingly positive. I love that the new cast is comprised of mostly unknowns, or at least actors who have been under the radar to the general public. I'm familiar enough with most of them - John Boyega from "Attack the Block," Adam Driver from "Girls," Domhnall Gleeson from "About Time" and many other things, Oscar Isaac from "Inside Llewyn Davis" and many, many other things, and Daisy Ridley as the new female lead who hasn't been in a single feature yet. There's also Andy Serkis and Max von Sydow, beloved cinema veterans bringing years of experience to the table. And returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and even grumpy ol' Harrison Ford has been coaxed back into the mix.

I'd caution eager "Star Wars" fans that the cast is far from everything. For the prequels George Lucas had a slew of talented actors, including Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, and Ewan MacGregor, and we all remember how those movies turned out. I remain far more heartened at the involvement of Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote for the original trilogy. I remain non-committal about J.J. Abrams as the director. I liked his first "Star Trek" movie fine, but the second one seriously has me questioning his abilities. The fact that Hamill and the other leads from the first trilogy are coming back as major characters, and not just cameos, points to a potential repeat of some of the same problems that franchise reboot suffered under Abrams' watch. However, considering how Disney has been handling the Marvel films, and Abrams' notoriously jam-packed schedule, I doubt he'll be directing more than one or two installments.

But back to the cast. Right now, the biggest talking point that much of the internet has latched on to is that there's only one actress among the new cast members. Add Carrie Fisher, and that's a grand total of two. "Star Wars" always suffered a serious gender imbalance, with Natalie Portman's character the only major female figure in the sequels, but for whatever reason the skewed ratio pinged as more heinous this time around. There have been a lot of opinion pieces about female fans getting shafted. However, J.J. Abrams and others have pointed out that casting isn't done yet, and there is another major female role that still needs to be filled (rumors about Lupita Nyong'o were circulating recently), so any debate of the topic is operating without a complete picture. We can't connect the actors to specific roles either. Adam Driver is probably playing a villain, but we can only speculate about how large or small the other roles are.

Personally, I'm willing to wait and see. Even if we aren't getting more female characters, how they're used will trump how many there are. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the cast reflects some very positive strides in other areas. On the subject of racial diversity, I'm thrilled at the inclusion of John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. Boyega in particular is one of those young actors who has been on the verge of stardom for a while, and I'm so happy he's getting his shot. Even if he turns out to only be playing a supporting character, another Lando or Mace Windu, this is going to raise his profile into the stratosphere. We're going to have to see how Daisy Ridley fares, but this is a very strong group of talent, and I don't see any of the youngsters becoming the next Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, or Ahmed Best.

It's finally sunk in that the new "Star Wars" movies are really happening, and I find myself excited about the franchise for the first time in a very long time. I was so disappointed by the prequels, I forgot how much fun "Star Wars" hype can be. While I'm fully aware that this could all turn out badly, today I'm just going to put the cynicism aside and enjoy the possibilities. I can't wait for 2015 and "Episode VII."
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One of the major entertainment news stories today is the debunking of the rumor that Bryan Cranston is being courted to play Lex Luther in the new Batman v. Superman movie, a claim that seems to have originated at the shady Cosmic Book News site, and then was inexplicably picked up by Rolling Stone and snowballed from there. This happened, despite the Cosmic Book News story being full of unlikely details, like Ben Affleck supposedly being signed on for thirteen appearances as Batman, and Matt Damon being in the running to play Aquaman. Oh boy. Meanwhile, Latino Review keeps jawing about casting rumors for the next "Star Wars" movie and insists that some big announcements are coming soon. Whether those announcements have any truth to them, or are completely made up doesn't seem to matter to the fans.

I'm complained at length about the rumormongering surrounding big franchise movies before. However, watching the Bryan Cranston item play out over the last few days, I don't think that there's any meaningful way to fix this problem. To explain why, I'm going to use the news aggregator site Reddit as a stand-in for the larger internet. All the content on Reddit is user-submitted or linked to with the appropriate crediting, each item displayed in an order determined by "upvotes" and "downvotes" from Redditors. The real fun is in the discussions attached to each item, where individual comments are also governed by upvotes and downvotes. I use the site frequently and I'm a fan of how they do things, but there are some significant downsides to democratizing the content. Over and over again I've seen obviously false or erroneous items reach the top of the front page, on the strength of sensationalized titles. I've watched misinformation spread through discussions where hundreds of people upvote a comment that sounds good, but may be completely wrong. Corrections or questions about the source of the information can often be buried way down the page, where few people ever see them.

This is the way the internet works too. Users gravitate toward sensationalized content, toward exciting and familiar names. A website like Cosmic Book News can upload complete nonsense, and the nonsense will get page hits if it's talking about the right subject matter. It's not hard to see why the Bryan Cranston rumor took off. The story about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman last week was huge, and Cranston's "Breaking Bad" has been getting lots of attention for its ongoing final season. Cranston being cast as Lex Luthor doesn't sound too unlikely. "Breaking Bad" has wrapped, so Cranston should be available for big film roles. It's not until you actually read the story that the fakery becomes obvious, and of course many of us never bother to. If one legitimate publication like Rolling Stone fails to fact-check before it prints the rumor, these things can spread like wildfire through the whole mainstream media. The temptation to jump into the speculation before the studio returns your calls can be irresistible. People want to write about it because everyone else is writing about it, and those pagehits sure are shiny.

Reddit has mechanisms in place designed to counter this to some extent. There are moderation teams that are quick to remove posts from self-promoters, slap "Misleading Title" tags on questionable content, and keep a close eye on contentious topics. Commenters are good about self-policing too, calling out people who post stolen content, voicing skepticism for unlikely claims, and often providing vital context. However, there are many, many instances where these counterefforts are to no avail and the bad information spreads. Despite multiple debunking stories being posted around the internet today, I can guarantee that there are a lot of Batman fans out there who still think that Bryan Cranston is playing Lex Luthor, because they'll pay attention to the juicy rumor but overlook the retraction. Remember the rumor about all six James Bond actors appearing onstage together at the last Oscars? That one was debunked weeks before the ceremony, but I still ran across plenty of disappointed viewers on Oscar night wondering why Sean Connery hadn't shown up.

Don't think you're the type to fall for these kinds of rumors? Well, I did. I saw the Cranston rumor posted on Reddit without attribution, and while I hadn't seen anything about Cranston being in talks with Warner Bros. on my usual entertainment news sites (Deadline, Indiewire, Filmschoolrejects) it sounded believable. There are always rumors floating around about the biggest blockbuster movies, and some of them turn out to be true, like Vin Diesel talking to Marvel about being in "Guardians of the Galaxy." I didn't bother checking sources or reading the Reddit discussion (which did point out that it was a rumor), because frankly I'm not all that interested in what's going on with the new Batman and Superman movie at this stage, and too many of these early news items and rumors have obnoxious spoilers attached.

It's important to remember that this far out, when these big movies are still in pre-production, everything is up in the air. Actors get cast, but they can also get recast. Directors get fired. Scripts get rewritten. The studio executives can still cancel the whole thing if they want. Nobody knows what the final product will look like, not even the guys in charge. So there's very little harm in speculation and fake stories at this point because it doesn't really affect anything, and debunking is easy. All Warner Bros. has to do is put out a press release saying Lex Luthor will be played by so-and-so, and we all start talking about who's going to play Alfred or Robin or Lois Lane. And this is why Cosmic Book News and Latino Review keep getting away with it.

The rumor mill is an annoyance, but honestly not a very big one. And it's good at keeping me on my toes.
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If you thought that this summer was crowded with expensive blockbuster movies, wait until you see what's coming up in 2015. I alluded to this a little in my previous posts on the upcoming movies I've been anticipating, but I don't think I got across the sheer number of major studio franchise films that are coming our way. Here's the current list of announced projects slated for 2015 release dates, with the most notable titles in bold:


Avatar 2
Independence Day 2
Finding Dory (Finding Nemo 2)
The Batman and Superman Movie (Let's count this as Man of Steel 2)
The Adventures of Tintin 2
The Avengers 2
Hotel Transylvania 2
Prometheus 2
Snow White and the Huntsman 2
Inferno (The Da Vinci Code 3)
Kung-Fu Panda 3
The Smurfs 3
Alvin & the Chipmunks 4
Mockingjay Part 2 (The Hunger Games 4)
Jurassic Park 4
Bourne 5
Mission: Impossible 5
Pirates of the Caribbean 5
Die Hard 6
Star Wars Episode 7
James Bond 24


Fantastic Four


The Penguins of Madagascar
Ant-Man (Marvel Universe film)


Assassin's Creed
Inside Out (new PIXAR film)

We're probably going to see some of these movies delayed or pushed back to 2016, which is normal. And many of these titles are going to be holiday or spring releases. However, we're still looking at a summer 2015 schedule that is going to be jammed with potentially massive films. 2013 is turning out to be a summer of what some have dubbed blockbuster fatigue, where audiences have been subjected to so many of these expensive event films week after week, they've had enough. As a result, we've had a string of expensive flops over the past few weeks. In 2015, we're inevitably going to see some big titles flop because there simply isn't going to be enough room for them all to grab the audience's interest long enough to make a profit. Scheduling is going to be a life-or-death matter, and notably we've got a lot of big titles like "Star Wars" and "Superman" still missing from the schedule, and a lot of prime real estate in May not staked out.

Some of the tried and true franchises that have hung in there for years and years, delivering profits, are going to find themselves going bust. I suspect that this may be the end of the line for such dependable moneymakers as "Bourne," "Pirates," and maybe even the old "Terminator" franchise. There are bound to be some dramatic head-to-heads. "Asassin's Creed" is currently positioned against an original PIXAR movie in June, for example, while the next "Bond Movie" is up against "Ant-Man" in November. Remember that with theater prices continuing to go up, there are fewer audience members to go around and people are getting picker about what they want to see. The studios are going to have to do a lot more work to convince us of the appeal of a fourth "Alvin & the Chipmunks" movie, or why we should take a chance on "Fantastic Four." Right now, there aren't that many movies I think are guaranteed to be hits. After "Dory," "Bond," "Star Wars," and "Avengers," it all gets iffy pretty quick.

While the studios are probably going to lose out from the increased competition, this will be good for theater owners who are likely to see more turnout overall thanks to the increase in big titles. Whether this is good for the consumers depends on what kind of a movie fan you are. If you're a fan of these big blockbuster films, particularly anything involving CGI cartoons or superheroes, you'll be spoiled for choice. If you're not, you may have fewer options because the big franchise movies have been crowding smaller films out of the theaters. Personally, I'd consider paying to watch about half of the films I listed in theaters just based on their pedigrees, but I'd only prioritize and make actual efforts to see five of them. Movie reviewers may see their influence grow too, as audience members become more cautious about which movies are worth investing their time and money in.

There have been some significant discussions about the possibility that 2015 may be the tipping point for the current blockbuster model of making studio movies. Steven Spielberg's predictions of more big blockbuster bombs potentially endangering the whole system seem likelier than ever, and 2015 looks like a potential powder keg from that perspective. Still, 2015 is still two years away, and a lot could change in that time. Maybe we'll see "Star Wars" or some of the other big contenders delayed. Maybe the global box office will grow big enough to sustain more of these big films.

Or maybe not. Looking over the list of 2015 hopefuls, I can't help already feeling exhausted. There are so many big movies crowded on that schedule, with so many big names and big characters, it's hard to think of any of them as a special event. The event films just look like the new normal.
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Since there's a nice lull in the "Star Wars" rumor mill for the moment, I thought I'd take the chance to put down a few notes on what I'd like to see out of the new "Star Wars" movies. Most of these are very general, aspirational thoughts, really applicable to a lot of different franchises, but I get the sense that the "Star Wars" filmmakers and the fandom could both stand to be reminded of some of the basics, considering how nuts the rumor mill has been lately. So what do I really want out of new "Star Wars" movies?

Story vs. Mythology – One of the reasons I'm glad that J.J. Abrams is working on the new "Star Wars" films is that he blew up the planet Vulcan. He ignored decades of "Star Trek" canon and just blew it up, because it served the needs of the story that he wanted to tell. Despite most of the recent "Star Wars" rumors being about whether the older actors from the original series will return or not, I'm not too interested in seeing Han Solo and Princess Leia back on the big screen unless Abrams and writer Michael Ardnt figure out a way to use them right, for the purposes of telling me a new "Star Wars" story. Remember that in the prequels, we had the two beloved droids, R2-D2 and C3PO, running around as comic relief, and I can barely remember what they actually did in those movies. There were altogether too many call-backs and references in the prequels, and the new "Star Wars" trilogy would benefit from toning those elements down. Sure, there should be some "Star Wars" mythology in the mix in order to keep the series' continuity, but the story has to come first.

Character vs. Effects – This is a harder one, because the "Star Wars" movies are known for pushing the envelope on special effects, and its' the spectacle that is the biggest selling point of the franchise. The new movies are bound to introduce new alien races and robots and space vehicles and so on. However, it's very easy for the effects to become overwhelming. If the writing's not in place to sufficiently ground these elements, they become weightless and empty. This has been particularly true of all the CGI characters, who don't have a fraction of the charm that the old puppets and rubber mask aliens did. Now clearly, you can give a CGI character heart and soul, as Gollum and the PIXAR movies have made clear, but Lucasfilm seemed more interested in making their characters looked good as opposed to making good characters, and I hope they don't continue to make that mistake. Also, one of the things that made the original "Star Wars" so distinctive was that it was a more rough-and-tumble universe, where Tatooine was a backwater planetary system and the Millennium Falcon was a hunk of junk. Things shouldn't be looking so pretty anyway.

Old vs. New – This one ties into the "Story vs. Mythology" point. One thing that I can't fault the prequels for was choosing to appeal to a new generation of kids instead of the existing fanbase of "Star Wars" geeks. "Star Wars" was always kid-oriented, based off whiz-bang adventure serials of the 50s the way "Indiana Jones" was. Now that we're thirty years removed from the original films, this point is more important than ever. The new "Star Wars" films have to be made to appeal to modern kids or else the franchise itself just isn't going to last. Of course I'm hoping for a little nostalgia too, but I hope that Abrams and company keep some distance from the fans who want the new trilogy to be more like the old trilogy, lest they end up going too far in that direction. I'm very happy about the apparent involvement of Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote "The Empire Strikes Back," but there's nothing wrong with applying new cinematic developments to the "Star Wars" films as long as they do it right.

The Light vs. The Dark Side of the Force – Finally, one modern trend I hope the new movie avoids is getting too dark. Sure, "Star Wars" has its tragic saga of a divided family and an intergalactic war at its center, but it was never a bleak or cynical story the way that so many are now. Watching franchises like "Terminator" and "Batman" and the James Bond movies get grittier and colder and more merciless over time has been disheartening. At the same time, new franchises like "Transformers" are getting slicker and meaner than ever. I hope that "Star Wars" can hold on to a little idealism and a little magic when it returns to the silver screen.

Mostly, I hope the new movies will give me a reason to be a "Star Wars" fan again.
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As if we didn't have enough Disney-related rumors going around, yesterday a Colombian radio personality claimed that PIXAR was going ahead with a fourth "Toy Story" movie, to be released in 2015, and had already gotten Tom Hanks and other stars to agree to reprise their roles. None of the usual media news sources backed them up, and frankly anybody who was remotely familiar with PIXAR recognized right away that this was probably not reliable information. There is an untitled PIXAR movie on the slate for November of 2015, and Tom Hanks has claimed that "Toy Story 4" is in development, but there have been just as many denials that PIXAR is going forward with another sequel. Now, it's not too unlikely that PIXAR is considering giving Woody and his friends another movie. A Halloween special featuring the characters is in the works, and several shorts have produced. I caught the one with Rex and the bath toys at a Disney store over the weekend. However, nothing is remotely official yet.

Of course, that didn't stop bloggers and smaller sites from spreading the rumor around, and getting the internet worked up into a frenzy. The discussion went from questioning the news sources to talking about potential ideas for a new sequel to complaining about how PIXAR had jumped the shark by indulging in this kind of sequelitis very quickly. By the time the inevitable denial articles came around from sites like IGN and Ain’t it Cool News, the "Toy Story 4" rumors had already been digested and debated and absorbed like it was a real piece of news. The same thing happened with the rumor that Harrison Ford was returning as Han Solo to the "Star Wars" franchise a few days ago. That one came from a more reputable source, a Fox News Latino correspondent, and was reported by many legitimate news outlets, but ultimately there was no concrete evidence that any of it was true, just like the rumors about the possible "Star Wars" spinoffs about Yoda and Boba Fett and the young Han Solo that were running wild last week.

Entertainment news runs by different rules than regular news. It's a gossip-based economy, where there are almost no bad consequences for making up completely false claims and spreading around bad information. Being first to break this kind of news is much more important than getting the details right. The studios allow them to proliferate because they're fairly harmless. Rumors can even help gauge the public's reaction to certain ideas and possibilities, which is why some suggested that the new "Toy Story 4" rumors might have been planted on purpose, to see how people would react. If this happened with hard news, there would be scandals and backlash and recriminations. Rumors related to the business side of Hollywood are treated much more carefully, because there are hard consequences to getting that kind of information wrong. However, conjecture about projects in development, or who might be attached to play which role, rarely has so much impact, so there's more permissiveness.

I find this attitude a real a pain in the neck, personally. Sure, sometimes the rumors are fun on a slow news day, but they can also be such distracting, annoying, and kind of disheartening. I'm not going to put down anyone for getting excited over a possible "Toy Story 4," but this was such a bad rumor to begin with. A news item from Colombia based on the word of unnamed sources? Why would anyone believe this for a second? Why would countless bloggers and websites pass this around without waiting for any kind of confirmation? Is there any degree of skepticism at all in this process? Geographically I don't live too far from the PIXAR studios in Emeryville. I could know somebody who knows somebody who's working on the development of this new sequel. I could make up just about anything I want, let it loose on Twitter, and cause a media storm of similar proportions. I could say Brad Bird has been working on "The Incredibles 2" all this time, alongside "Tomorrowland," and offer no proof at all, and someone out there would believe me.

Let's just be clear that the preceding paragraph is a total hypothetical, before some data-scraper program gets too excited. Okay?

Sigh. I don't mean to get all worked up, but the rumor mill can be really frustrating sometimes. I particularly dislike that it tends to drown out smaller, but more concrete media news items that I find much more interesting. On the animation front, Dreamworks' "Peabody and Mr. Sherman" recently got pushed back to 2014, and "Me and My Shadow" was pulled from their slate, preceding a potential round of layoffs. And we just got a new batch of promotional material for "Ender's Game" - you know, that movie that Harrison Ford is actually appearing in this November. It's nothing as big or exciting as the recent rumors, but at least these stories are actually real.
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When J.J. Abrams was announced as the director of the next "Star Wars," there was a nice sense of relief. Finally the fanboys could stop speculating and we would get a break from some of the wilder "Star Wars" rumors that were circulating. But this week, Harry Knowles went and started up the rumors about a possible Yoda spin-off movie. We've known for a while that Disney was considering more stand-alone "Star Wars" films apart from the upcoming trilogy, but the newest round of conjecture got Disney CEO Bob Iger to confirm that there was active development going on, and that writers Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg were working on them. Today there were more rumors that stand-alone movies about Boba Fett and the young Han Solo were in the works, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, their cinematic universe is expanding at a furious rate. The post-"Avengers" "Phase Two" films are all pretty much locked. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are getting their new sequels, and "Guardians of the Galaxy" just landed a leading man. These will lead up to "Avengers 2" in 2015. Most of the current speculation and rumor mongering has been about "Phase Three," which currently has only one confirmed project: Edgar Wright's long-awaited "Ant-Man." "Doctor Strange" is a major candidate to get his own movie after that. This week, there's been a lot of buzz about the possibility of a new "Hulk" movie, possibly an adaptation of the beloved comics storyline "Planet Hulk." There's already a furious debate going on in various corners of the internet about potential directors.

Since the success of "The Avengers" and the conclusion of "Harry Potter," planning out these massive, multi-film series years and years in advance has become the new normal. Nobody's worried about that first 2015 "Star Wars" film being a flop, or the potential failure of an "Avengers 2," which might shutter all the follow-up films, because those properties are so well insulated by their brands. Barring monumental catastrophes, we're going to have at least eleven connected Marvel films by the time we're done with Phase Two in 2015, and potentially many, many more if Marvel can manage the tricky transitions to new characters and the inevitable replacement of aging actors. And if the "Star Wars" prequels have taught us anything, it's that fans will show up to any "Star Wars" movie, hoping it will live up to the originals, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. That should get Disney through at least three new "Star Wars" films, even if they turn out to be terrible. However, J.J. Abrams is not in the habit of making terrible films, so I think it's safe to push that number up to four or five.

And now the fan speculation is free to get weirder and wilder than it ever has before. For years, "Star Wars" fans have idolized the bounty hunter Boba Fett, a minor villain in the original trilogy. Now there's a pretty distinct possibility that the powers-that-be are considering giving him his own spin-off movie. Who could be next? Mace Windu? Jabba the Hut? Admiral Ackbar? And if the fairly obscure Marvel superhero Ant-Man can have his own feature, why not Luke Cage? Or Wasp? Or the Power Pack? The ideas that would have been dismissed as wild fantasizing a few years ago have all suddenly become much more plausible. It's really tempting to want to join in the fun and think about the possibilities of more daring storylines and crazy cross-overs. Why not Avengers vs. X-men? Or if Warners really gets desperate a few years down the line, why not Avengers vs. Justice League? You could do a whole trilogy on that one alone.

However, I'm trying my best not to get carried away. Even though it looks like the sky's the limit right now for these franchises, the risks are still considerable. For Marvel, the longer the series goes on, the more difficult it is for newcomers to find an entry point, and tackling the less popular, more fringe characters means the later films may grow increasingly niche. Also, with two Marvel films being released each year for the next three years, I worry that we're going to hit a saturation point eventually. With "Star Wars," it's even harder to predict what's going to happen. The earliest we'll see the next film is 2015, and how well it does is going to determine how risky the other films are going to get. It's not easy to get these big action franchises off the ground, and Disney has stumbled multiple times trying to launch new ones - most recently with "John Carter" - and ended up buying its way into "Star Wars" and the Marvel Universe.

There's no question that Disney has the ambition, but living up to those ambitions is another matter entirely. Right now, I'm more interested with what's going on with the films already pretty far along in the pipeline. Is swapping out Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston for the much less experienced Alan Taylor and the Russo brothers as directors going to hurt the next Thor and Captain America films? And how on earth are they going to pull off something as mad as "Guardians of the Galaxy"? As for "Star Wars," J.J. Abrams should do a competent job, though the idea of cross-contamination with the "Star Trek" universe is a concern. Take heed from one of the rare fans who enjoys both equally - these are universes you do not want colliding. And then there's Abrams' penchant for trying to do everything. The latest is that he's apparently been talking to Valve about a possible "Half-Life" or "Portal" movie on top of everything else.

Yeah, these franchises are going to be crazy enough enough without all the speculation. Hang on tight everybody.
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It's been a few weeks since the announcement that Disney had bought out George Lucas and was looking to revive the "Star Wars" franchise. Everyone has had a chance to weigh in, indulge in speculation, and now we're finally getting down to some cold, hard, reality checks. It's been a wild ride already, and from the developments so far, it's pretty clear what the existing fans want: nostalgia, and a fresh chance to forget about the prequels. There have been several headlines about old cast members of the original "Star Wars" trilogy being hounded about participating in the new movies. Most have voiced cautious interest, without promising anything of course.

The more film-literate have been more interested in the behind-the-scenes talent. It came out pretty early that Michael Arndt, writer of "Toy Story 3," "Little Miss Sunshine," and the next installment of the "Hunger Games," has been working on a story treatment for the next "Star Wars" trilogy since before the Lucasfilm deal was announced. Now the discussion is all about potential directors. There have been dozens of articles, professional and fan-penned, weighing the relative merits of everyone's favorites. And then the bigger names started publicly saying no to the directing job, before any offer was even made. Steven Spielberg said no. Quentin Tarantino said no. Zach Snyder said no. J.J. Abrams said no. Joss Whedon will be directing "Avengers 2," slated to come out in 2015 around the same time as "Episode VII," so he's out of contention. There was a persistent rumor that Brad Bird's secretive science-fiction feature, long in development, was actually the next "Star Wars" movie. That theory was shot down too. And just yesterday, Colin Trevorrow of "Safety Not Guaranteed," who had been hinting that he'd been attached to a major franchise, clarified that the franchise was not "Star Wars." These protestations may be misdirection, but probably not.

So who's left? The speculation has turned to directors like Jon Favreau of "Iron Man" and "Cowboys & Aliens," Matthew Vaughn of "Kick Ass" and "X-men: First Class," and Disney regulars Gore Verbinski and Joe Johnston. These are all very solid, respectable directors, but they're also clearly not the superstars that the fans had initially been daydreaming about. There are a couple of fans still holding out for the possibility of Christopher Nolan or Alfonso Cuaron or another bigger name, but they're not likely to go for the job, simply because Disney has a tight schedule to keep and a very corporate production process that probably won't allow for the kind of artistic freedom that these directors would want. Instead, the key word here to remember is franchise. Disney wants a certain kind of easy-to-market, easy-to-digest blockbuster, and it's going to go with someone who has a good track record of making those kinds of films. So, we'll probably end up with someone who helmed a few "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies or a Marvel film as opposed to a real auteur.

Further reigning in expectations have been the latest round of casting rumors. Now that we have Mark Hamill and the old guard safely squared away, there's been some early speculation about younger actors who might be involved in the new "Star Wars" movie. With the last "Twilight" film finished, somebody asked Robert Pattinson if he'd be interested in appearing in "Star Wars," and he said yes. Of course he said yes. No young actor in their right mind wouldn't say yes to a film as hotly anticipated as "Episode VII." The "Star Wars" fanboys reacted about as well as you'd expect to this. Then again, "Star Wars" fans should remember that the original trilogy was stacked with unknowns, while the prequels boasted Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, and Ewan McGregor. We all know how that turned out.

We're going to be swimming in "Star Wars" rumors for a long time. Having been through this game once already with the prequel trilogy, I think the older fans are being more cautious, but there's still a tendency to let expectations run a little crazy at this stage. So it's gratifying to see the brakes being applied so early. This means that we’re not going to end up with another "Phantom Menace" level disappointment. That’s not to say that Disney doesn’t run the risk of bungling the films, but at least we’ll be able to see it coming this time. No, the new "Star Wars" films are not going to be everything we want them to be. There will be people involved we don't like, and they won't be as good as they could have been if someone else had been in charge.

However, I'm sure they're also going to learn from George Lucas’s mistakes with the prequels, not to mention Disney's own mistakes trying to launch their last few action franchises, and give us something big and shiny and entertaining to see in 2015. And that's certainly still worth anticipating.
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Huge news out of Hollywood today, something I don't think anybody saw coming. The Walt Disney Company is acquiring Lucasfilm Ltd for $4 billion, roughly the same amount they spent to acquire Marvel and its properties three years ago. The deal will include the rights to the "Star Wars" franchise, and Disney has wasted no time in announcing that they will be producing a new "Star Wars" trilogy, the first installment projected for release in 2015.

A couple of preliminary thoughts here. George Lucas has long been pointed to as an example of a filmmaking maverick. After the success of the original "Star Wars," he set up shop in Northern California, shunning the Hollywood establishment for decades. Though the "Star Wars" films were distributed through 20th Century Fox, he retained almost total control over his productions, including the all-important merchandising rights that made him a fortune from "Star Wars" toys and other products. He founded one of the most famous effects houses, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), which is still a huge player in the effects industry, and recently resurrected its own animation division and made the Oscar-winning "Rango." ILM, along with gaming company LucasArts, and Skywalker Sound will be part of the acquisition. Lucas turning over his companies to one of the largest entertainment corporations in the world can be seen to represent a further consolidation of filmmaking resources, a trend that some may find troubling.

This falls right in line with Disney's recent strategy of acquiring major brands, including Marvel, PIXAR, and the Jim Henson Company. And I suppose it makes the most sense for Lucasfilm to have been sold to Disney over any of the other Hollywood behemoths, considering its existing ties to Disney and PIXAR. PIXAR originated as a Lucasfilm division before being spun out into a separate company, and Disney and Lucasfilm have partnered together before for "Star Tours" and "Captain EO" at the Disney theme parks. But after holding out for so long, why would George Lucas decide to sell now? Does this means he's quitting the film business? Maybe he's just saying goodbye to heading the corporate empire and going back to the little experimental films he made back at the beginning of his career. Maybe he got tired of starships and aliens, and figured Disney was in the best position to look out for the "Star Wars" franchise. Or maybe the money was just too good to pass up. We'll never know.

The new "Star Wars" trilogy in the works is a big announcement, one that I find myself inexplicably happy about even though we know absolutely nothing about it right now. I disliked the prequels, but I I still think the "Star Wars" universe has a lot of potential with the right talent involved. And after a twelve year break since "Revenge of the Sith," I think I'm ready for someone to take another shot. I liked the Extended Universe novels when I was in high school, but part of me is hoping for a really radical reinvention that will put some significant distance between the new "Star Wars" films and the older ones. I wouldn't even be opposed to a reboot at this point. However, the major caveat is that George Lucas may still be involved with the new movies creatively, and the greater the extent of his participation, the less interested I'll be.

I have to wonder how this is going to affect the current plans in place for the franchise that we already know about. Are we still getting more 3D conversions of the first six "Star Wars" films? What about that "Star Wars" universe live action television show? Are Marvel universe cross-overs a possibility now? I guess "Clone Wars" is moving to the Disney Channel if it continues. Also, is there a possibility of Disney doing anything with some of the other Lucasfilm properties like "Willow" and "Monkey Island"? Of course the other big Lucasfilm franchise is "Indiana Jones," but Paramount still has a piece of that one, which will probably complicate matters. Also, I don't think the fanboys have quite gotten over "Crystal Skull" yet. It may take a few more years.

And what about the existing films? I think Fox still controls the distribution rights for now, but if Disney is at the helm, does this mean an end to all the special and upgraded editions that have swapped out the old practical effects with CGI? Will we finally be getting decent releases of the original, unaltered films? Disney is pretty notorious about home media releases itself, with the Disney Vault and all. They've also edited some of their own films for content over the years, but never as drastically as George Lucas did.

So many questions and so many possibilities.

But first, to find the inevitable commemorative mash-up fanart. Vader Mickeys, here we come!
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One of the first posts I wrote for this blog, a little over two years ago, asked "Where did all the once ubiquitous 'Casablanca' parodies go?" And I concluded that the seminal 1942 film had hit its cultural expiration date sometime in the 80s, and not enough media consumers were familiar with it any longer for "Casablanca" parodies to have an audience. Time marches on, and popular culture marches with it. You're hot one day and forgotten the next. And that's all I could think about when I was watching Teddie Films' Gotye parody, titled "The 'Star Wars' That I Used to Know.” Despite the fact that the "Star Wars" franchise is still very much alive and well with the "Clone Wars" and the 3D re-releases, and parts of the fandom are still as rabid as ever, I can't help feeling that the beloved tradition of "Star Wars" parodies is starting to get a little long in the tooth.

Now I love these movies as much as anyone, and I've happily watched the evolution of the "Star Wars" parodies from "Spaceballs" and the "Saturday Night Live" spoofs all the way up to the recent "Robot Chicken" and "Family Guy" versions. And then there are the fan films, from "Hardware Wars" to "Chad Vader," that really exploded in the early 2000s when online video distribution took off and niche audiences had their day. And then there was the whole saga of "Fanboys," the endlessly delayed and reworked 2009 feature film about a group of high school friends who break into Skywalker Ranch to see "The Phantom Menace" early. "Star Wars" remains a huge cultural force, and the loving parodies it has generated over the years is a testament to its longevity and impact. However, when you look at some of the most recent ones coming out of fandom, there has been a noticeable shift.

As of this year, the original "Star Wars" is thirty-five years old. And at least as far back as 2006, in "Clerks II," "Star Wars" fans have been in a noteable funk. The original fanboys and fangirls are getting older and they've watched their beloved trilogy supplanted in the pop culture firmament by other franchises, like "Lord of the Rings," and perhaps compromised by the existence of the "Star Wars" prequels. There has been a strain of melancholia running through much of the fandom and its output as a result. "The 'Star Wars' That I Used to Know” is not just nostalgia for the days when being a "Star Wars" fan was simpler, but also an acknowledgement of the clear generational divide. Watching it, I tried to think of the last time I'd seen any "Star Wars" parody or homage that had really evoked the first 1977 movie, instead of sticking Darth Vader in a supermarket or trading on all the baggage of being in the "Star Wars" fandom. There are even a couple of fan films about the woes of making "Star Wars" fan films now.

And then I thought about the last time I saw a "Jaws" parody or a "Godfather" parody, or even a decent reference to "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial." These are all movies that a lot of people remember and get nostalgic about, but the American culture is pretty much done with them. They're too iconic to be rebooted, nobody wants more sequels - witness the disgust at the existence of "Raging Bull II: Continuing the Story of Jake LaMotta" - and that's fine. The original "Star Wars," for all its popularity, is on the same track, and the ones who really love it recognize that. Sure, the franchise will probably be able to keep perpetuating itself for years with more spin-offs and tie-ins and merchandise, but the spark isn't there anymore. You don't see too many fan films about the prequels, and there's very little of the original trilogy left to talk about that a thousand other fans haven't covered over the past three decades. So lately there's been a lot of meta, and a lot of what should probably be called "expanded universe" material.

I take it as a sign that "Star Wars" is on its way out at last. I believe that it will always be a classic of American cinema, like "The Wizard of Oz," like "Gone With the Wind," but its time is passing quickly. Unless something really big happens in the next few years, like a full reboot of the movies or if that live action television series makes it to air, that's it for cultural relevancy, and all the parodies and homages and spoofs along with it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

But we'll always have "George Lucas in Love."

Here's looking at you, kid.
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It's like hearing a new verse of an old familiar song. The "Star Wars" movies are being released to a new format, Blu-Ray. We'll be getting some new extras that the hardcore fans have been looking forward to, as well as better quality picture, sound and presentation. On the other hand, it's come out that George Lucas has been tinkering with them again. The puppet Yoda from "The Phantom Menace" will be swapped out for a digital version. Darth Vader is getting new lines in the most climactic scene of "Return of the Jedi." There are other, subtler changes rumored, such as blinking Ewoks, beefed up Krayt dragon calls, and more color-changing lightsabres. And once again, some "Star Wars" fans are outraged, some are defending George Lucas's right to edit the films how he likes, and some are scolding both for caring so much about a couple of space-cowboy shoot-em-ups.

As I've mentioned before, I'm generally on the side of the purists who would prefer that Lucas leave the existing films alone, aside from some basic restoration. However, there's nothing wrong with him creating new versions as long as he makes it clear to potential buyers that they're not getting the original "Star Wars" movies. Director's cuts and special editions are a very common marketing tactic, and Lucas is not the only one who has withheld the original theatrical cuts of his movies in favor of pushing new and improved ones. Disney made edits to several of their Renaissance era animated films, including "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast" for Special Editions. Though less noticeable than Lucas's alterations to "Star Wars," the current official versions of these Disney films are not the ones that played in theaters. In fact, the unaltered originals have never been released on DVD.

The concern for fans and film lovers is maintaining access to the older versions of these films. The first "Star Wars" film in particular is such an important piece of cinema historically, artistically, and culturally, it has long been recognized to have considerable value beyond the simply commercial. In 1989, it was among the first films to be preserved by the National Film Registry, and "The Empire Strikes Back" followed in 2010. After the release of the Special Editions of the first "Star Wars" trilogy in 1997, however, Lucasfilm seemed determined to replace the original versions of the films with the altered ones, and for several years the theatrical versions were not shown on TV, not screened for the public in any setting, and were unavailable except on VHS after 1995.

However, Lucasfilm did eventually release the original theatrical cuts on DVD in 2006, after the "Star Wars" fan base made their displeasure clear. George Lucas may be stubborn about treating the new versions of the "Star Wars" films as the definitive ones, but he's not stupid. So I expect that Lucasfilm will probably release the unedited theatrical versions of the "Star Wars" films on Blu-Ray if there proves to be enough demand for them in the future. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the current controversy was planned - Lucas baits his older fans with yet more edits, which generate publicity and press, which generate disc sales, and after all the hubbub has died down he'll give the purists exactly what they want, just like last time. When the films are transitioned to the next new format, be it an intangible digital file or something else, we'll probably see the cycle repeat itself again.

I'm not happy that George Lucas has chosen to expend so much of his time and energy on continuously improving and revamping these few existing films. However, I can think of a few benefits to the way "Star Wars" has been handled so far. For one thing, with Lucas continuously updating the specials effects, there is much less of an incentive for others to try to remake the first "Star Wars" trilogy, which is a prime piece of nostalgia that the reboot-obsessed studios would probably love to pounce on. Also, the first "Star Wars" is quickly approaching its 35th anniversary, and no matter how much the original fans love it, the visuals have become dated and thus less accessible to the current generation of kids who like CGI-slathered summer blockbusters. I see no reason why there shouldn't be different versions with continuously updated effects.

In his own way, Lucas's actions have probably drastically improved the longevity of the original trilogy. So he wants to make 3D versions next to draw in new audiences? As long as the originals are still around for us creaky old geezer fans, bring it on.
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There are two kinds of media-fan documentaries. First you have the documentaries that are made about the fans themselves, such as "Trekkies," which explored the "Star Trek" subculture and "Ringers: Lord of the Fans," which charted the impact of the Peter Jackson "Lord of the Rings" trilogy on the established Tolkien fandom. And then there are the documentaries about media properties that have been mounted by the fans themselves, usually without the official involvement of whoever actually has the rights to the films or television shows being examined. I've run several of these floating around the Internet, including fan-made documentaries about "Firefly," "Doctor Who," "Return to Oz," "Johnny Quest," and the "Karate Kid." The two different breeds of documentary frequently cross-breed, such as in the "Troll 2" magnum opus, "Best Worst Movie," or "The People vs. George Lucas," but I mostly want to talk about the latter variety - the documentaries made by amateurs.

One recent example is the fourteen-part "Star Wars Begins" that Cinematical's Erik Davis has been raving about. Its creator, Jambe Davdar, describes it as an "unofficial commentary to Star Wars," which incorporates footage from the original film trilogy with behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and bloopers. This is probably the most high-profile fan-made doc out there at the moment, and a unique case for a couple of reasons. Like all fan-made documentaries, "Star Wars Begins" is clearly a labor of love that was meant to fill an informational void left by the official production company. The difference here is that "Star Wars" has had several documentaries covering its creation already. You have Ken Burns' "Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy," and the History Channel's "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed," each running at least ninety minutes apiece. I even remember "Star Wars" getting a good chunk of an episode of the PBS "American Cinema" installment that covered the "Film School Generation." How much of a void could there be left to fill? For a serious "Star Wars" obsessive, plenty I guess.

Another issue, related to the first, is potential legality problems. All fan-generated work falls into a gray area of intellectual property law, but most rights holders have no reason to go after fan-made-documentaries for obscurities like "Return to Oz," since the potential audience is tiny, the fan documentarians never make a cent, and the rights holders have little economic interest in creating their own documentaries. Also, in America at least, there are various exceptions for critique and informational uses that documentaries have a better case for than most. There's no real harm going on, so there's no reason to cry foul. "Star Wars" is a different matter. The Lucasfilm business empire clearly still has an economic interest in the kind of material covered by "Star Wars Begins," especially the footage that has never been officially released. As I mentioned in a previous "Star Wars" post, George Lucas and company still get a lot of mileage out of releasing bits and pieces from their archives, like the never-before-seen alternate opening for "Return of the Jedi," which will be included with the new "Star Wars" Blu-Rays. It could be argued that "Star Wars Begins" would lessen the value of some of this material by making a good chunk of it so freely available.

On the other hand, this bootleg archival footage has been around for decades, and any "Star Wars" fan worth their salt has seen it already. Lucasfilm is also much looser about fan-generated content than many others. They recognized a long time ago that unofficial, but loving fan films and spoofs like "George Lucas in Love," and "Thumb Wars" help to keep interest in "Star Wars" going. They even help to sponsor the Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards every year now, though IP issues are probably a big reason why the Best Documentary category disappeared after the first year. "Star Wars Begins," which is a very complimentary, positive expression of one guy's passion for the "Star Wars" universe, is in the same spirit as other fan films. So, I expect Lucasfilm will happily ignore it as long as Davdar keeps emphasizing that the documentary is unofficial and doesn't give them a reason to ring up the lawyers.

After all, it wouldn't look very good for Lucasfilm to come down on someone for putting all this time and effort into such a geeky paean to the original "Star Wars." Frankly, I wish some of my favorite media fandoms could generate a documentary like this - or rather, generate the passionate, talented media fans that could generate a documentary like this.
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I hated the "Star Wars" prequels. My experiences with them comprise a litany of woe and disillusionment that I chronicled in the following article a few years ago to work through some frustrations. For those fans coming to the end of their own film franchises, who may be tempted to wish for more, I've dusted it off and posted it below for your edification, your amusement, and your cautionary warning.


The first time I ever saw a "Star Wars" film was in 1992. NBC was running slightly edited versions of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" across two nights as a part of a 15th Anniversary "Star Wars" celebration. I'd been on Star Tours at Disneyland, seen the "Droids" cartoon as a kid, and have fond memories of the Ewok films, but I'd never seen the actual trilogy before those two nights. I was twelve or thirteen at the time, and instantly hooked. My brother and I raised a fuss and got to see the original "Star Wars" shortly after that by way of rented video, but I always liked the other two a little better.

My fandom resume is pretty decent. For a while in junior high, I borrowed the film novelizations from the public library whenever I couldn't find anything else I wanted to read. I worked my way through about a dozen of the other Star Wars universe books, mostly on loan from a true Star Wars ubergeek in high school. At some point I could recite the entire battle of Endor along with my brother after countless viewings of "Jedi" - we had that '92 broadcast taped, complete with aftershock warnings scrolling along the bottom of the screen. I saw all three of the Special Editions in theaters in 1997, dragging friends along with me. Not having much of a budget back then, I never bought any toys or merchandise. Still, I was always happy to indulge in camaraderie with the hardcore fans, and appreciated the Star Wars markers a friend got me for Christmas (you have to admit that a big black marker with a Darth Vader design on it is pretty darn cool). I knew who the Bothans were. I could spell Kashyyyk. When a friend named her cat Mara Jade, I needed no explanation. And, for better or worse, I was a Star Wars fan.

The release of "The Phantom Menace" was something I remember looking forward to for months and months in advance. Every promo image, every clip, every trailer was dissected and reflected on ad nauseum. I still have the first teaser on video tape, caught in its first airing at exactly 5PM on my local FOX affiliate, thanks to a friend's forewarning. I remember getting excited just seeing ad banners of Queen Amidala and Qui-Gon Jinn at the mall. Even graduating high school and going to college didn't seem to compare to that anticipation.

I don't remember being particularly disappointed with the film itself - I viewed it as a lot of fun spectacle for the most part. Sound and fury and all that. Everyone knew the substantive stuff wasn't going to come around until Episodes II and III when "Ani" grew up anyway. It was so far removed from the original trilogy, I was fine with just seeing the universe broadened out a little. Jar-Jar and the pod race were for the kids. The shiny new CGI probably needed a little time to be fine-tuned to make things look less plastic. Ewan MacGregor was all the eye candy I needed anyway. I mean, who cares about little technicalities like midichlorians? So I didn't love the first movie. It wasn't a big deal. The good stuff was sure to come and I was willing to be patient.

That patience wore out by Episode II. In the throes of college life, seeing the next installment was not high on my list of priorities at the time. My boyfriend and I went to a matinee on a whim, a few weeks after it had opened. I'd seen mixed reviews. Some of the hardcore fans had loved it and others had hated it. I wasn't expecting much but an introduction to the grown up Anakin and maybe some nice lightsaber battles. When I walked out of that movie, all I could do was express my outright horror - the movie was *awful.* It wasn't overanalyzation of geekdom minutuae. It wasn't some deep-set resentment against George Lucas. It was a pure gut reaction. I *hated* "Attack of the Clones."

My first thought was to blame Hayden Christiansen. Never mind that Lucas had cast him specifically after auditioning every other young actor on the planet. The wooden acting, the angsty, whiny teen attitude - Jake Lloyd was a blessing in comparison. I realized later that it was the dialogue that was mostly at fault, especially the parts connected to a pedestrian romance I could barely believe was meant to be taken seriously. Romance in the Star Wars universe had always meant Han and Leia trading barbs, exchanging glances amidst laser fire, and saving heartfelt confessions for the very last minute. Why have Padme so swoony and Anakin so emo? Why were they talking like they were in a badly written daytime soap opera - and rolling around in a field?! What was going on?

"Attack of the Clones" finally also made me realize how poor the action scenes and special effects had become - oh the technological feats were flawless, but they were so terribly used. Where one lightsaber looks awesome, ten look silly. The CGI aliens seemed to have no weight, no substance - and they were all moving much too fast. All the little moments to sit back and appreciate the craft of the creations were gone. I mourned the Muppet Yoda, replaced by a leapfrogging CGI doppleganger with half the charm.

By round three, I counted myself among the skeptics, but the hype won me over. Promises of a darker storyline, Lucas warning small children out of the theaters, and constant gossip about other the contribution of other writers did their job of allaying some fears. The reviews were sparkling, some going so far as to compare "Revenge of the Sith" to the original trilogy. "Better than the original Star Wars!" one of them crowed. Pity I didn't remember the original "Star Wars" had been the one I liked the least.

Little had changed from films one and two. Ewan MacGregor was out-acting everything else on screen, but looking bored. Natalie Portman was being used as attractive scenery, and still completely underdeveloped. Hayden Christensen, despite a fabulous new hairstyle, was as wooden as ever. The effects were still showboating and obnoxious, the scenery overdesigned and unconvincing. I spent the greater part of the romance scenes wondering how much the interior designers on Coruscant made, and thinking that George Lucas really should've left the dialogue to someone else. Hearing James Earl Jones as Vader after so long should have been a treat, but with Anakin's stiff dialogue and the already infamous "NOOOO!" I was clutching my head.

I was just so tired of it by the end. Chewbacca showing up with Yoda was just one of a long string of nods to the original trilogy that were getting too obvious and self-satisfied. On the other hand, probably the best moment of the film for me is when the droids are sent to Captain Antilles, and we see that classic old 70s style cruiser set again. Or the last shot of all, where young Owen and Beru show baby Luke the famous double sunset. Ian McDiarmid wound up stealing the show, and the final duel wasn't bad, but there was so much trashy, prime-time soap opera material to wade through, dressed up as something better.

Sadly, the only thing running through my head as I left the theater was "it's only a movie." The "Star Wars" films, before that, were never "just movies." And just like that, I realized I was no longer a "Star Wars" geek.
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Oh, the teeth-gnashing and the hair-pulling from the "Star Wars" fandom! Oh, the wails and lamentations from the geekiest corners of the internet! The announcement last week that George Lucas and friends are going to re-release the "Star Wars" films converted to 3D over the next few years has sent many a loyal fanboy into paroxysms of despair. Admittedly it's hard to see this move as anything but another attempt to wring more dollars out of the "Star Wars" faithful. But really, by this point what did they expect?

The beloved "Star Wars" franchise, which played no small part in creating the summer blockbuster culture, has followed almost every media trend and cash-in opportunity available. It's been multiple cartoons, a Christmas special, a theme park ride, TV movies, special edition directors cuts, and metric tons of merchandise that lesser sci-fi franchises can only dream of. With the rise of 3D as the latest moviegoing fad, of course George Lucas was going to jump on it. He loves shiny, new, gee-whiz, technological advancements like this, and must have been itching to bring it to the "Star Wars" universe since "Avatar" hit the theaters last year. I'm more surprised at James Cameron announcing that he'll be using a similar conversion process on "Titanic," a period disaster film where 3D would be useless for the bulk of its running length.

The real issue may be whether it's actually going to be profitable to go through with the scheme. Box office analysts have been warning for months that the 3D trend is already seeing declines, and the conversion process isn't going to be cheap. Lucasilm has laid out a schedule that would see the release of one film per year in a 3D format, starting with the prequel films. This makes sense, as the more recent installments of "Star Wars" relied far more heavily on digital effects and would be easier to convert than the older films from the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately the prequels are disliked by much of the older "Star Wars" fandom, especially "The Phantom Menace," which will be first in line to get a 3D version. Lucasfilm will be looking at its performance to decide whether or not to proceed with converting the other five movies.

But who knows? Maybe the 3D technology will have improved by 2012, the projected re-release date for "Phantom's" big 3D debut. Lucasfilm and ILM might be able to do something with the format that we haven't seen before and buck the trend. Maybe thirteen years will have been enough time for the younger fans to start waxing nostalgic for the prequels and start pushing back against all the hate. Or maybe the film's backers will figure out how to sell it to yet another generation of kids who aren't familiar with all the fandom history and drama. Yes, 3D is a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that might help to ensure that "Star Wars" endures after the current generation of fans is gone. By the time the original "Star Wars" returns to the big screen, it will have been nearly forty years since its debut. If the original fans aren't feeling their age yet, they soon will be.

Finally, the fact that 3D versions exist won't alter the original films or their place in cinema history. Well, any more than George Lucas has already altered them with the Special Editions. Alfred Hitchcok's "Dial M for Murder" had a 3D version that few people know about, and it's still considered a suspense classic. A few critics even thought the 3D version was an improvement of the original, after it was resurrected for a successful run a few years ago. If Hitchcock can work in 3D, there's no reason why "Star Wars" can't. I have to admit that some of those big space battles would be awfully fun to watch with the ships and asteroids popping out of the screen at the audience. Just think of the famous opening shot of the original "Star Wars" with a little added depth. If Lucas can do it right, it sure would be something worth seeing.

Then again, the man responsible for Jar Jar Binks could also screw this up in so many different ways, and I understand why some exasperated fans no longer want to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I'll also echo the commonly expressed sentiment that all this time and energy spent retrofitting the older films would be better spent on creating new "Star Wars" content. The recently quashed live-action television series would have been a good place to start. That sequel trilogy Lucas used to talk about would be nice too. Some part of me wonders if the new 3D re-releases might be meant to generate funds for a new, secret, "Star Wars" project that Lucas has planned for the future. It's probably wishful thinking, but here's another thought. Even if Lucas doesn't want to continue the franchise, it's gotten so big and been so successful, eventually somebody will.

Lucas's actions may ensure there's still an interested audience when the time comes.
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"Star Wars" is back in the news again. Over the weekend at the Star Wars Celebration V convention in Orlando, George Lucas and Lucasfilm unveiled one of the minor holy grails of the original franchise: the deleted alternate opening of "Return of the Jedi." The clip, along with several other deleted scenes, are among the promised extras that will accompany the "Star Wars" films' premiere on Blu-Ray next year. This is a great marketing move, only the latest of many similarly shrewd bits of promotion by Lucasfilm that has gotten fans to buy multiple copies of the trilogy over the years.

Let me give you an example. I broke down and finally replaced my "Star Wars" VHS tapes a few years ago when a set was released that contained "archival editions" of the films, unaltered versions that didn't contain any of the "Special Edition" changes that Lucas added back in 1997 when the trilogy was re-released in theaters. Subsequently, all screenings and television airings were of the new versions. A special retrospective screening at a Los Angeles film festival was even canceled back in 2003 because Lucasfilm wouldn't let them show an original print, resulting in controversy. Deep down, I have to wonder if this was all a marketing ploy to get us to grab the releases of the unaltered films when they finally became available on DVD. I definitely prefer the older versions because those were the ones that I grew up with, but they'll almost certainly be available again in the future at some point, and probably better quality than the ones I've got now. I admit I fell prey to the hype, like so many others.

This time around, it's no different. The deleted scenes are an extra that piques my interest, as I'm sure they've gotten the attention of a lot of other fans. As a "Star Wars" enthusiast since I was a kid, it was common knowledge that George Lucas filmed and deleted several sequences from the first trilogy. The proof could easily be found in many pieces of "Star Wars" merchandise. The "Return of the Jedi" opening that was screened in Orlando was described in detail in the film's novelization. I also remember coming across a children's "movie book" version of the first "Star Wars" that had several color stills from the famously excised Biggs Darklighter scenes on Tatooine. A lot of the deleted footage has been unofficially acquired and collected by fans over the years, and compilations will occasionally pop up on Youtube. Yet Lucasfilm is almost certainly holding on to clips in its archives that we haven't seen yet, and might surprise us with something we didn't even know about.

George Lucas encourages this kind of speculation, consciously or not. By never officially giving the fans a chance to see these deleted scenes, keeping them out of all the previous DVD releases, and yet continuing to acknowledge their existence and the interest in them, the lost footage has gained a sort of aura of mystery that Lucas can now exploit as a selling point for the new Blu-Ray releases thirty-odd years later. Not that there's anything wrong with that. This is a perfectly legitimate way to keep up interest in the "Star Wars" franchise, especially since there's not much new material in the works right now. It's a rare fandom that can summon up this much excitement for this kind of minutiae, and there's no reason why Lucasfilm shouldn't take advantage of it.

For my part, I know the allure of the deleted footage is mostly hype. I fully concede that those missing Biggs scenes would have helped set up the relationship between Luke and Biggs when the character showed up at the end of the first movie, but most of the footage was probably best left on the cutting room floor, along with the additional endings of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the airplane hijacking in "Lilo and Stitch," and the famous Audrey II rampage from "Little Shop of Horrors." The alternate "Return of the Jedi" opening scene contains less than a minute of new footage, and shows Luke Skywalker completing his replacement lightsaber on Tatooine before his confrontation with Jabba the Hutt. It's nice to be able to see it, but if this had been in the final film, it would have taken away from Luke's wonderfully built-up entrance at Jabba's palace.

The deleted scenes aren't some truly important discovery, like the recently recovered thirty minutes of "Metropolis" that revealed new insights about the story and characters. The small subset of "Star Wars" fans who care enough to buy the new Blu-Ray for the extra footage probably already know exactly what they'll be getting, where it all fits in continuity, and why it was cut in the first place. And after the footage becomes widely available, the fascination will fade, and younger fans may be left to wonder what all the fuss was about.
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Back in 2005, when "The Revenge of the Sith" was still fresh on the minds of "Star Wars" fans, we got a few hints of new projects conceived for television that would continue the franchise. One was a new "Star Wars" cartoon, which turned out to be the "Clone Wars" CGI action series, that regularly airs on Cartoon Network and spawned a feature film. The other was a live action "Star Wars" series, conceived to fill in some gaps between the first trilogy of "Star Wars" films and the second. Details about the project's development have been scarce over the years, but the story would have focused on new characters from other corners of the "Star Wars" universe. But according to a report from Digital Spy all plans for the show have been put on hold at Lucasfilm, because it's apparently too expensive to produce. I think the franchise just dodged a bullet.

Live action "Star Wars" projects have found their way to the small screen before with mixed success. The notorious "Star Wars Christmas Special" was something even the late, great Bea Arthur couldn't save, though the Internet parodyists have gotten a lot of mileage out ot it. Then there were the two made-for-TV films about the Ewoks from "Return of the Jedi" that were aimed at family audiences. Some fans dislike or ignore them, but they were well-received at the time, and I always thought that they were exactly what a regular "Star Wars" television series would look like: a smaller scale production focused on one or two aspects of the original films, with the occasional reference to familiar events, a cameo here and there, and maybe one or two big effects-heavy episodes at the end of each season. Such was the model for shows like "Stargate," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "The Sarah Conner Chronicles," and other genre favorites adapted from feature films.

This doesn't sound like what the folks over at Lucasfilm had in mind. If the new "Star Wars" series is too expensive for them to produce, assuming that this isn't some kind of smokescreen answer, it sounds like they would have been trying to aim for the same level of production quality as their recent films. And frankly, that would have been a terrible mistake. Special effects have advanced to the point where shows with similar premises like "Battlestar Galactica" and "Firefly" featured enough spaceships and extraterrestrial worlds to make them look on par with theatrical features at times, but got by just fine on TV budgets. When "Firefly" made the jump to the big screen with "Serenity," you could definitely see more money on the screen, but you'd be hard pressed to find any Browncoat who would choose the film over the series due to the quality of the effects. The full gamut of high-end special effects is not a necessity for a solid science-fiction TV show. Some of the best episodes barely have any.

In fact, one of the biggest problems I had with the "Star Wars" prequels was that they were too concerned with stuffing the screen full of CGI effects to the detriment of the plot and characters. The effects may have been amazing, but in many cases they were used badly, with the mentality that digital was better than practical, and more was always better. The result was constant visual clutter, chaotic action scenes that were dull to watch, and human characters who seemed adrift amidst the blue screen environments. One Jedi with a light saber was awe-inspiring. A dozen was a mess. A television show would have been a good opportunity to edit down the spectacle and give audiences a better look at the fundamentals of the "Star Wars" universe, but the unwillingness or inability of Lucasfilm to scale back or explore some cheaper options suggests that the live-action television project would have had the same problems as the prequels. And if that's the case, I think it ought to stay on the drawing board.

As the recent history of popular franchise properties has shown us time and again, if something can't be made well it shouldn't be made at all. Everyone salivated for sequels to "The Matrix" until "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions" hit the theaters. A "Star Trek" series set before the days of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock sounded like a great idea to a lot of "Trek" fans, before "Enterprise" left us all clutching our heads in dismay. "Star Wars" itself should serve as a cautionary example. The prequels were some of the most highly anticipated films in movie geek history, but resulted in disappointment so extreme, someone went and made a movie about it. Frankly, the "Star Wars" franchise does not need to be a live-action TV series, especially one that doesn't understand the concepts of subtlety or restraint with regard to special effects. Something following the lead of original trilogy, able to take advantage of those films' moments of humanity and spirit might have been worthwhile. But a series in the vein of the prequels? Forget it.

Don't get me wrong. I love "Star Wars." I grew up with "Star Wars." I want the franchise to endure and maintain its place in the popular consciousness for a long, long time to come. But I've learned to be wary of Lucasfilm. The planned live-action series could have been great, but it also could have been another "Star Wars Christmas Special." My guess is that it would have been somewhere in the middle, about on par with the "Clone Wars" CGI series, a shiny, stiff little show that left me very underwhelmed. All it really succeeded at was further diluting the appeal of "Star Wars" with its mediocrity, and we really don't need any more of that.
missmediajunkie: (Default)
Among the titles getting play at the SXSW film festival this week, one that caught my eye was a new documentary, "The People vs. George Lucas." My knee-jerk reaction was that this was yet another indulgent fanboy-coddling geek screed against the "Star Wars" franchise, the latest sign of fannish entitlement getting way out of control in the digital media age. But reading up on a few of the reviews, it sounds like this one strives for balance between the pro- and anti- Lucas camps, and is more concerned with the fan-creator relationship than chronicling the animosity of the players. And though the subject matter is slight, I have to admit that it does intrigue me as someone who loved the older films and didn't care for the revamped editions or the prequels.

I think every movie fan of a certain age had a stake in "Star Wars." I was definitely one of them, despite discovering the first trilogy about fifteen years after everyone else and initially watching edited-for-TV versions of the films - out of order no less. I have fond memories of seeing the 1997 Special Editions in theaters, though I wasn't keen on the so-called improvements. And I was in high school when "The Phantom Menace" arrived and got swept up in the momumental wave of hype. But though the prequels disappointed me, I was never embittered by them the way a lot of other "Star Wars" fans were. I more or less gave up on the series after "Attack of the Clones," realizing that Lucas was keen on permanently mucking up the image of Darth Vader, one of my favorite villains. I didn't bother seeing "Revenge of the Sith" until it hit the rental shelves.

Looking back, I have to admit that despite reading the extended universe novels and being able to recite "Return of the Jedi" dialogue from memory, I really didn't have much emotional investment in "Star Wars." It was a memorable part of my teenage years, but I didn't have much difficulty letting it go. Sure, I vented my spleen with other fans and engaged in some George Lucas bashing, but the urge was fleeting. When being a "Star Wars" fan stopped being fun, I just moved on to the next fandom: "Lord of the Rings." There was so much going on in the geeky media-sphere in the early 2000s, it seemed like a waste of energy to keep griping and listing out my druthers.

But the true "Star Wars" obsessives can't let it go and can't move on. It would be easy to mock these older fans who got so caught up in this universe and devoted so much to it, but I know better. The original "Star Wars" is special, a film that changed Hollywood, science-fiction, and all of media fandom for better or for worse. It was one of the first modern summer blockbusters, a cultural touchstone of the 70s, and sits atop many lists of the most influential pictures ever made. That the second and third films turned out as well as they did was a minor cinema miracle. Watching the original trilogy dazzle audiences back in the day must have been thrilling, and I don't begrudge anyone who cherishes those memories. And I truly sympathize with those who believe that something they feel so strongly towards has been cheapened or tarnished.

But blame George Lucas? Stepping back from my own preferences, I think Lucas understood what he was doing with the prequels. As many have pointed out, he didn't make the second trilogy for the existing "Star Wars" audience, but aimed them squarely at kids of a new generation. Always a technical innovator, he opted for cutting edge digital effects over older, more familiar methods. And since the plotty bits weren't his strong suit, he favored action and bombast over thoughtful scripting. In short, he did pretty much everything he did in 1977 that made the first "Star Wars" the success it was. Whether he was successful or not this time around is up for debate, but taking his failures as a personal affront seems petty to me. Time moved on and so did George Lucas.

I'm far less forgiving when it comes to how Lucas has handled the first trilogy, pushing the Special Editions with their updated effects and music, and often removing access to the untouched versions. Those films are a part of cinema history and the collective memories of millions of children of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and the originals always should have remained available. Deep down I know that "Return of the Jedi" ends with the Ewok song and a glimpse of the ghostly image of Sebastian Shaw. And nothing George Lucas does or says will ever change that. To an certain extent, the "Star Wars" films no longer belong to Lucas alone, but to everyone who grew up with them and loved them.

But on the other hand, "Star Wars" as a larger entity does not belong exclusively to the original fans, no matter how strong the love. Eventually the fans of the prequels and the fans of "The Clone Wars" cartoon, and the fans of all the "Star Wars" media to come will grow up and have their say. They'll be the ones who keep "Star Wars" alive when we're gone and shouldn't be easily dismissed.

And no doubt they'll hate George Lucas for the next round of edits and retcons and wacky creative decisions just as much as we did.


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